The timing may seem inapt, but Jonathan Bernstein published a fascinating article at The American Prospect defending the Madisonian system of dispersed power.
The separations between the House, the Senate, the presidency, and state governments also encourage less ideological, more permeable political parties. Now, it’s certainly true that the Democratic Party of the mid-20th century, with a liberal northern wing and a very conservative southern wing, was a historical oddity. But less dramatic regional differences between parties are common throughout U.S. history (Republicans had their old split between a mostly-Midwestern conservative faction and the Eastern Establishment of moderates and liberals); our current sharply polarized parties are in some ways as historically unusual as the old Dixiecrats were—and may not last, either.
In general, Bernstein argues, because our system focuses on electing individuals, those individuals are more prone to adopt a nuanced style. In a parliamentary system, you generally vote for a party, not a person. The person in office is accountable, then, to the party more than they are accountable to the voters. (It’s not off base to point out that our political parties are acting more like parliamentary parties than traditional American parties as a result of ideological sorting.)
Bernstein’s core defense of our Madisonian system rests on a fairly straightforward point – our system isn’t broken, the Republican party is. In a system structured to force compromise, Republican’s refusal to compromise brought the system to a halt.
However, and this is a big however, I see two arguments about the current gridlock.
1. Madisonian Democracy is designed the way its designed to require a solid majority to enact policy and gridlock is the system working correctly when there’s insufficient agreement.
2. Any system that can break down and be held hostage by a political minority is, by definition broken, therefore our Madisonian democracy is broken.