With Barack Obama and John McCain in the White House, 2009 was a pivotal year in American politics. Democrats and Republicans worked together to pass a jobs bill, close Guantanamo and end the recession. Obama rallied liberals behind a version of McCain’s health-care voucher program, providing insurance to everyone, while McCain found enough GOP votes to push the DREAM Act through Congress.
Of course, this didn’t happen. But it could have if David Orentlicher, the author of “Two Presidents Are Better Than One: The Case for a Bipartisan Executive Branch,” had his way.
“A coalition presidency carries the potential for many important benefits,” Orentlicher writes in the book, to be published by NYU Press next year. “A balancing of power between the executive and legislative branches, a dampening of partisan conflict in Washington, an executive branch more representative of the entire electorate, real opportunities for third-party candidates to win election, and wiser presidential decision making.”
Orentlicher teaches law at Indiana University, but his conviction that a dual presidency would benefit the republic was forged outside the classroom: From 2002 to 2008, he was a state representative in Indianapolis.
“I saw part of the conflict at the state level, and I thought: ‘Why does this have to be so partisan?’ ” he said in an interview. “It’s not the people we elect — it must be something in the structure in our political system.”
Creation of a dual executive would require a constitutional amendment, but Orentlicher is confident that such a system would end gridlock in Washington. If both the winner and runner-up of November’s election took office, they would have incentive to cooperate rather than compete.
“What do presidents want to do when they win? Leave a legacy,” Orentlicher says. “It leads them to do things that can be monumental.”
Besides, Orentlicher thinks partisanship is the byproduct of the race for votes. “There is a lot more overlap than you get the sense of from them fighting,” he says. “In the election, they have to persuade voters and draw distinctions. You could get agreement on 80 percent of most of the issues.”