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How about a shadow cabinet?

Mar 24, 2017

As you probably know, the Republican Party is in control of all three branches of Michigan government – executive, legislative and judicial. Republicans also control both houses of Congress and the Presidency.

Democrats are, naturally, not happy about this.

They are even less happy with the momentous and often radical changes Republican lawmakers are attempting to rush through Congress, and did rush through the legislature in the early years of the Snyder administration. Often, however, Democratic opposition has seemed disorganized, unfocused, and more like plaintive whining.

We know the Democrats are universally opposed to the Republican health care bill, but what would they do instead? Keep the Affordable Care Act as is? Modify it? If so, how?

Democrats have made it very clear that they cannot stand the personal behavior of Donald Trump. Well, fine. But how did that work out for them in the last campaign?

Well, I think I have a solution that would make our politics and our parties better and more focused.

Democrats need to adopt the British system of having a “shadow cabinet.”

Here’s how that works: The opposition party designates someone who it’s understood would be Secretary of State, or Defense, and on through every other main job if it were in power. That person then announces what his party’s policies would be in his or her area, and is in charge of criticizing the policies of the government and offering alternatives.

The beauty of this is that everyone can see and understand what the opposing party would do, or at least is promising to do.

Now, of course, things are different in parliamentary democracies. People essentially vote for a party more than an individual, and the parties choose their leaders. The voters do, however, have some say in this.

In Great Britain, for example, it is universally understood that if the Labour Party were to come to power in the next election, Jeremy Corbyn, the Leader of the Opposition, would become prime minister. Canadians to some extent were clearly casting a personal vote for Justin Trudeau when they threw out the Conservatives.

Parties can and do change leaders based on electability. Forming a shadow cabinet might be harder to do in this country, but could still easily be accomplished if, say, the Democratic National Committee were to call a convention for the purpose, agree on a general platform as to where the party stood on issues, and elect shadow cabinet members.

Picking a leader of the opposition, aka “Shadow President,” could be accomplished by choosing a respected elder statesman, or council of statesmen who would be unlikely to run themselves – a team of Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, say.Everyone can see and understand what the opposing party would do, or at least is promising to do.

Having something like this, where opposition parties would be forced to come up with coherent alternative policies in many areas, not just slogans, might be good for them as well as us.

Years ago, this wouldn’t have worked for another reason. The parties were not nearly as ideological. You had liberal Republicans and conservative Democrats.

Both are now virtually extinct species. Policies and people can change. But if we had a Democratic shadow cabinet explaining how they would fix the Affordable Care Act instead of throwing it out, I think as a nation, we’d all be better off.

Jack Lessenberry is Michigan Radio’s Senior Political Analyst. Views expressed in his essays are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Michigan Radio, its management or the station licensee, The University of Michigan.