International Spotlight: Politics in France

Thus far, the political systems I’ve investigated in this series have been constitutional monarchies: systems that divided their powers of state and government between a figurehead monarch and a prime minister, respectively. In France, the power is again divided between two primary political figures – but in this case, neither of the high offices are ceremonial.

 

Overview

The French government exists within a semi-presidential framework. Essentially, this means that the country divvies its highest political influence between a popularly-elected President and the Government, which is in turn headed by the prime minister. For Americans and those in the United Kingdom, this system might seem redundant; why would a nation need both a president and a prime minister? Wouldn’t having two major leaders share power make governing more complicated, rather than less?

 

In practice, no. France’s model of government works within a system of checks and balances which ensures that its leaders and lawmakers remain accountable to the nation’s government and don’t overstep their authority in pursuit of their own agendas. Let’s unpack this idea by taking a closer look at the branches of government.

 

Branches of Government

 

Executive

The executive branch consists of an elected president, who serves as head of state, and his appointed prime minister, who acts as head of government. Unlike those heads of states in nominally monarchical systems, however, the president holds considerable political authority within the government and must be elected to the role. After his inauguration, the French president is responsible for appointing a prime minister, lower ministers, ministers-delegate, and secretaries.

 

However, an elected president cannot simply choose his political allies to serve in these influential offices. Given that the National Assembly has the ability to force the resignation of government, the President must select a government that reflects and will uphold the interests of the parliamentary majority. Thus, a president of a different party than the parliamentary majority will find his power somewhat handicapped; by that same rule, though, a president of the same party will have considerable sway in determining and carrying out the national agenda.

 

The executive branch is responsible for ensuring that the nation’s armed forces, civil service, and governmental agencies operate productively.

 

Legislative

The Parliament of France serves as the nation’s legislative branch and is responsible for passing legislation and setting the nation’s budget. This body is divided into two disparate houses: the National Assembly and the Senate. The National Assembly is considered to be the principle of the two; it consists of 577 elected deputies who each serve five-year terms. As stated earlier, the National Assembly has the ability to pass a motion of censure and force the government to resign; however, this hardly ever happens in practice.

 

The Senate is the lesser house of Parliament. Comprised of 346 senators elected via an electoral college system to serve nine-year terms, the Senate has considerably less influence than the National Assembly. While the Senate may argue over legislation brought to the parliamentary floor, the National Assembly is given the final say on disputed matters.

 

Judicial

The Judicial branch is two-part. The judicial subsection handles high criminal and civil matters, while the administrative manages appeals against the executive branch. Both of these divisions have their own independent court of appeal. Moreover, while France is a unitary nation with national laws, its ruling government is forbidden from intruding into the decisions of smaller administrative departments.  

 

As a hybrid presidential-parliamentary system, France might seem somewhat confusing to those accustomed to one system or the other. However, its careful allocation of power serves a checks-and-balances system which ensures that no single branch of government holds too much power. As only the surface of the French governing system in covered in this this post, I highly recommend that any interested in its history and details conduct further research on the subject – there’s far more to learn!

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International Spotlight: Politics in the UK

These days, it seems like you can’t scroll through a social media stream without stumbling over a paparazzi photo of Princess Kate or a post on the latest Game of Thrones plot twist. However, despite the glitz and glam of sensationalized kingship, very few modern nations place their power in a monarchy-based system. Even in the United Kingdom, the inspiration for countless historical dramas and fictional television shows, real monarchs have little power of governance. To understand how political power distributes in the UK, we need to cut through the media romanticization and look at the facts.

 

Overview

The United Kingdom is a constitutional monarchy; that said, similarly to Spain, the nation’s monarch serves as the ceremonial head of state rather than that of government. Hence, executive power is instead centralized in the government’s executive branch and its elected Prime Minister. As a unitary state, the UK holds governance over Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland – however, most executive power is delegated to devolved governments in these countries. Each sub-government has its own legislature and executive, although all are subject to UK-wide rulings.

 

Branches of Government

The UK government is tri-part, consisting of executive, legislative, and judicial branches.

 

Executive Branch

Headed by the Prime Minister, this branch is responsible for exercising governmental power. The ruling monarch is responsible for appointing a Prime Minister from the House of Commons, and traditionally chooses the leading member of the political party with the largest majority to serve. The Prime Minister, in turn, selects ministers from the parliament or peerage to act as members of her cabinet and serve as heads of the various departments within Her Majesty’s government.

 

Legislative Branch

Parliament holds legislative power in the UK. This governing body is twofold: the (upper) House of Lords and the (lower) House of Commons. The latter is particularly important to the Prime Minister, who needs its support to continue holding office. The House of Commons is responsible for drafting bills and is comprised of 650 elected representatives who hold their positions until Parliament dissolves for elections. The House of Lords is similarly comprised of 650 members; 558 officials are appointed to lifelong membership by the ruling monarch, often on advice from the prime minister. The remaining 92 members hold similarly lifelong, hereditary appointments. Responsible for reviewing legislation before enactment, the House of Lords is capable of delaying bills it deems problematic. Ultimately, though, the government is responsible to the House of Commons.

 

Judicial Branch

As a united country of formerly disparate nations, UK judicial matters can seem somewhat confusing from the outside. English law applies to the mainland and Wales, while Scotland and Northern Ireland maintain semi-independent systems. In England and Wales, the Courts of England and Wales maintains the law and are in turn presided over by the Senior Courts of England and Wales. The latter consists of three sections, each handling a different subset of legal matters: the Court of Appeal, the High Court of Justice (for civil concerns), and the Crown Court (for criminal cases).

 

Political Parties

The UK has a multi-party system; however, the Labour and Conservative parties have maintained their frontrunner statuses over the past century. That said, both have relied on the support of various smaller, third-party political factions to rise above the other during election seasons.

 

In the press, on television, in glossy magazine pages; the monarchy is flashy. However, a monarch’s role in government is largely relegated to figurehead and master of ceremonies in Western nations. But while that might be disappointing to those who appreciate the allure of the throne, it can’t be denied that elected governments today are far more efficient, democratic, and fair than those in the past.

International Spotlight: Politics in Spain

 

In the course of my work, I regularly integrate my international experience with learned knowledge of local political systems to meet the nation-specific needs of the campaigns I advise. This has certainly been the case with my work in Spain: Since beginning work in Barcelona, for example, I’ve delved into the country’s political framework and become an expert in the system by which I guide clients. The following post contains a high-level, introductory overview of the Spanish governing system that can serve as a springboard for research. That said, readers should keep in mind that understanding—let alone navigating—Spain’s national politics requires a great deal more information than is provided in this post.  

 

Overview

Let’s consider Spain’s government for a moment. Interestingly enough, the modern Spanish political framework has only been in use since 1978, when the nation shook off years of military dictatorship to embrace a democratic system of government.

 

Spain is officially considered a Parliamentary Monarchy; in this framework, an elected Prime Minister serves as head of state while a hereditary monarch retains their historic role of state head. This parliamentary system holds authority over 17 autonomous regions a 2 autonomous cities. Each of these regional areas are governed by a similar, albeit much smaller, parliamentary systems.

 

Branches of Government

 

As in the United States, the Spanish Parliament is broken into three defined sections: Executive, Legislative, and Judicial.

 

Executive power is collectively exercised by the Cabinet of Ministers, a body comprised of the Prime Minister, the deputy Prime Ministers, and other ministers of education, defense, environment, etc.

 

Legislative power is held by the Cortes Generales (General Courts), a bicameral cabinet comprised of the Congress of Deputies and the Senate. The Congress of Deputies (i.e., the “Lower” house of parliament) is made up of 350 elected members, and is proportionally representative of Spain’s constituencies. Each congressman is allotted a four-year term following election. The “Higher” house of Parliament, the Senate, has 265 active members. Only 208 are elected by popular vote; the other 57 are appointed by regional legislatures. As with members of Congress, elected and appointed Senators are expected to serve 4-year terms; however, appointed senators can be recalled by their regional legislatures at any point during their term.

 

Judicial authority is maintained by the Supreme Court of Spain, which serves as the highest court in the nation. The judicial branch is entirely independent of Spain’s other two branches of government and is considered to have jurisdiction in all territories and over all affairs excepting constitutional matters. If constitutional disputes arise, they are resolved by Spain’s Constitutional Court.

 

Political Parties

While regional parties hold considerable sway in determining region-specific, minority governments, the two main political parties in Spanish goverment are the Spanish Socialist Worker’s Party and the People’s Party – both of which have risen to dominance over the last thirty years.

 

As I mentioned earlier, this is a highly simplified view of the Spanish political system. Each of the topics I touch upon here are well-worth a full article in their own right. I highly recommend delving into further research on Spain’s history and current political framework – it’s a complex and wonderfully rich subject.

 

Agree to Disagree: How to Productively Debate Political Perspectives

In today’s heated political climate, partisan tensions simmer even in the most innocuous of daily encounters. Strangers on the street exchange glares at the site of a political button on the other’s bag, while previously friendly co-workers begin shunning a colleague after catching a glimpse of a political article on their Facebook wall. Productive political debate has faltered in today’s culture of icy distaste – oddly, it now seems more normal to uncomfortably steer around conversations about current events than face the subject head-on.

 

Siege camps have been built around our political affiliations, and fraternization is subtextually but powerfully discouraged. But keeping a cold distance from those with differing political opinions is a poor strategy for resolving the ideological tensions running rampant in our country; how can we possibly come to compromises and share our views when even tentative forays into political discussion inevitably end in shouting matches?

 

We need to begin rethinking how we approach our political conversations, and create discussion spaces where differing perspectives are not only accepted, but encouraged. In order to do so, we need to restructure our conversations to ensure a productive, friendly exchange of ideas.


Those who engage in positive political discussions should keep the following conversational guidelines in mind.

 

Don’t leap to judgement.

As Celeste Headlee, a Georgia public broadcasting host, mentions in a TED talk on facilitating productive political conversations, “The purpose of listening is not to endorse, but to understand.” Sticking to preconceived judgements about someone based on their political affiliation will tank any hopes of a productive conversation.

 

Put your disagreements on the back burner long enough to hear what someone has to say, and don’t attempt to “educate” them on why your beliefs are worthier than theirs. Interject if you feel that you need to, but always do so with respect and courtesy, and never react with anger or condescension. The person you speak with will appreciate the courtesy, and likely be more open to your viewpoint when you offer it.

 

Stay in the conversation.

There’s no doubt about it: Political conversations get awkward. It may feel easier and more polite to duck out of an uncomfortable debate rather than actively disagree with someone. Given the chance, most people will avoid conflict – even if that conflict could potentially lead to a productive exchange of ideas. Stay in the conversation, and weather the discomfort and frustration. Pushing through the stilted first minute of talk can lead to an easier, and much more productive, political discussion.

 

Reframe your argument

According to research conducted by Stanford sociologist Robb Willer, conservatives and liberals tend to favor arguments based in differing moral values. Conservatives, for example, tend to back their beliefs with patriotic, loyal, and morally-based arguments. Liberals, in contrast, usually support their views with reasoning based on tenets of fairness and care.

 

Interestingly, Willer’s study found that liberals and conservatives alike tend not to think of reframing their arguments to suit their listeners’ perspectives. As Willer himself mentioned during a talk in early 2017: “when we go to persuade somebody on a political issue, we talk like we’re speaking into a mirror. We don’t persuade so much as we rehearse our own reasons for why we believe some sort of political position.” That said, Willer did find that those of opposing beliefs can be swayed by an argument from the other side – but only if that justification is framed to appeal to their own moral values.  

 

In short, Willer’s study suggests that we need to break out of our own experiences, and put ourselves in our conversational partner’s shoes. How would they see the topic at hand? How can you reframe your argument to appeal to their moral tenets?

 

Agree to disagree.

Make sure to walk away on a positive note, even if you can’t find anything to agree upon. A constructive conversation isn’t necessarily one where one side sways another’s beliefs. Rather, positive debate occurs when two sides come together and exchange ideas in a friendly, positive way. At the end of the day, bridging the gap between political affiliations and building a productive working relationship with those of differing viewpoints is far more important than “winning” a hostile debate.

 

Gauging the Political Weather: 4 Engaging News Sources

Gauging the Political Weather Header

Before the onset of predictive weather apps and televised meteorology programs, the easiest way to figure out whether it was raining was to stick your hand out the window and see if it got wet. In today’s tech-savvy world, though, such basic methods are inconclusive – even laughable! Now, we can source comprehensive information in a few keystrokes without ever having to leave our seats.

For those of us wanting to keep up with the political weather, as it were, it’s easier than ever to access current reports and predictions from our laptops, televisions, and mobile devices. We no longer have to risk inconvenience by sticking our metaphorical hands out the window, or rely on our own limited analyses; the information we need is already at our fingertips.

Or is it? One of the unfortunate side effects of our easy access to information is, ironically, the similarly easy access to misinformation. A quick Google search over morning coffee can turn into a frustrating, hour-long hunt for the truth through sensationalized headlines and unapologetically biased news stories. It’s become a trial to sort through the conflicting information, and on some days it can feel tempting to turn off your news apps altogether.

But amid all the misinformation and sensationalization, some sources still ring true for headline-wary conservative readers.

Washington Wire

Readers can expect thoughtful, quality, and timely work from reporters at the Washington Wire. This regularly updated and long-running blog is the Wall Street Journal’s answer to their readers’ need for reliable political news. The online publication consistently turns out about 22 stories per week.

The Hill

As a significant and far-reaching political news publication, the Hill not only owns a widely-read print newspaper, but also operates a website and six related blogs. This source primarily focuses its reporting attentions on Congress and provides its readers with daily news about the latest happenings on Capitol Hill.

Politico

Since its launch in 2007, Politico has consistently produced reliable content that considers both international and domestic current events from a centrist perspective. This source has a self-professed mission to inspire the reader to draw their own thoughtful conclusions, and to avoid writing boring or sensationalized stories at all costs.

National Review

Since its inception in 1955, the National Review has served as a significant driver for American conservatism by providing news and commentary upon current events. Today, the publication produces an impressive amount of content for both its printed editions and for its regularly updated online blog.

In an age rife with misinformation and sensationalism, it’s become more important than ever to source news from reputable, reliable publications. Tracking down accurate information might not be as easy as we thought it would be, or simple as logging a few keystrokes – but we can, to return to an earlier metaphor, invest a little effort by reaching out our digital hands and finding the truth for ourselves.

A Beginner’s Guide to Political Targeting

Political targeting involves identifying what group or groups of people a candidate wishes to appeal to the most and then working to get those votes. Depending on the election, area, and issue, different groups will be targeted by a candidate.

Traditionally, there are specific groups or areas that Republicans and Democrats target more than others. Plenty of data available on voter demographics shows which candidate the majority of a single group voted for in the election.

How do you use political targeting?

Originally, political targeting involved candidates making personal appearances in various places with potential supporters and presenting their best self to those voters. Now, there are so many voters all over the country that this technique could not have a substantial benefit. Candidates still rely on making appearances at large events and organizing rallies, but media has become the biggest way to target voters.

Deciding which demographic you want to appeal to and then crafting messages for them is the most efficient way of using political targeting in modern elections. Much more strategy goes into modern political targeting, with campaigns utilizing advertising and research to find out the best ways to appeal to their desired group.

How did Donald Trump use it to his advantage?

In the 2016 election, President Donald Trump used political targeting to win. While Democrats pandered to their usual groups, many voters felt it was disingenuous and looked to an alternative political candidate.

Trump and his team knew their target audience was white, middle-class Americans who felt they have been overlooked in previous years. The Trump campaign also searched out new or undecided voters, which led to his success with the silent majority, the group of people who do not frequently vote or openly express their opinions.

Trump was able to target these groups by acknowledging their desire for change and need to have more financial stability, and also their desire for security, whether abroad or in the United States. By using carefully crafted advertisements, commercials, and speeches, Trump and his team appealed to these groups and won the election.

10 Amazing Political Quotes

“Loyalty to country ALWAYS. Loyalty to government, when it deserves it.”

Mark Twain

“There comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular, but he must take it because conscience tells him it is right.”

Martin Luther King Jr.

“A paranoid is someone who knows a little of what’s going on. ”

William S. Burroughs

“Politics is the art of looking for trouble, finding it everywhere, diagnosing it incorrectly and applying the wrong remedies.”

Groucho Marx

“In politics, stupidity is not a handicap.”

Napoléon Bonaparte

“Too bad that all the people who know how to run the country are busy driving taxicabs and cutting hair.”

George Burns

“Every politician should have been born an orphan and remain a bachelor.”

Lady Bird Johnson

“Rule-following, legal precedence, and political consistency are not more important than right, justice and plain common-sense.”

W. E. B. Du Bois

“But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate, we can not consecrate – we can not hallow – this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us – that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they here gave the last full measure of devotion – that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain – that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

Abraham Lincoln

“As you probably could have guessed by this moment, I have decided in 2020 to run for president.”

Kanye West
Sources:

http://www.goodreads.com/quotes/tag/politics

http://www.aavw.org/special_features/speeches_speech_king04.html
http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/g/grouchomar146422.html

http://www.napoleonguide.com/aquote_power.htm

https://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/George_Burns