The anniversary of the American Civil Rights Act and the contemporary logjam in US politics allows J. BROOKS SPECTOR to contemplate whether or not parliaments remain the right place for discussing the real issues faced by complicated societies like the US or South Africa.
This past week marked the fiftieth anniversary of the passage of the landmark Civil Rights Act in the United States. Hailed at the time as a triumph of Congress-wide bipartisanship, bridging Democrats and Republicans alike in dealing with the country's most divisive issue; it is probably more accurate to say the resulting successful passage of that legislation actually represented a broad coalition between the northern wing of the Democratic Party and most of the Republicans in Congress - and especially its national party leadership in the Senate.
This resulting majority coalition held together - despite the stresses and strains of partisan politics - in opposition to the segregationist "old bulls" of the Democratic Party - the Democratic Party's southern-style leadership. These old bulls were the ones who effectively controlled the Senate's committee apparatus by virtue of the seniority system that largely ran the business of the Senate. As a result, leadership of those crucial committee structures...