Of course the Republican Party is leaderless. Out-parties always are. In the British parliamentary system, the leader of the loyal opposition and the shadow cabinet speak for their party on major issues. But we live in the United States, not Britain. In our system of federalism, bicameralism, and separation of powers, there is never any single leader of the out-party. For a few months in 1995, House Speaker Newt Gingrich tried to assume the mantle, but quickly learned that the Senate did not take dictation from the House. (Even within the in-party, the president's leadership has constitutional and political limits.)
Yet reporters keep treating this constant of American politics as if it were a new and ominous development. They did with the Democrats in President Bush's second term:
- Howard Fineman: "The Democrats are leaderless and reeling, seemingly bereft of inspiring ideas" (Newsweek, December 27, 2004).
- James Harding: "The leaderless and cowed opposition in Washington - a Democratic party in disarray over its message, the moral values debate and its future standard-bearer - may give Mr Bush yet more room to exploit the power of the presidential bully pulpit" (Financial Times, January 19, 2005).
- Howard Fineman (again): "Leaderless and intellectually rudderless, the Democrats are desperate for issues, and they have decided (to the extent there is a `they') to make a pinata of DeLay" (MSNBC, March 30, 2005).
- Ryan Lizza: "Democrats are, at the moment, leaderless. There are few Democrats who command enough attention to make the party's case to the country" (The New Republic, September 19, 2005).
- Helen Thomas: "The leaderless Democrats, speaking in a cacophony, are being outgunned by the conservatives and members of their own party representing the Democratic Leadership Council who are at heart `Republican lite.'" (Houston Chronicle, June 24, 2006).