The one article you need to understand the Israeli election isn't by any of the usual suspects on the topic — not Jeffrey Goldberg, not Elliott Abrams, not Seth Lipsky, not Bret Stephens, not Jodi Rudoren, not Tom Friedman, not Nahum Barnea, not Eli Lake, not Charles Krauthammer, as shrewd as their various insights may be from time to time. No, it's by Juan Linz, who died in 2013 and who was the Sterling professor of political and social science at Yale. The article, "The Perils of Presidentialism," appeared in 1990 in Journal of Democracy, and it has to do with the structural differences between a presidential democracy like the one we have in America and a parliamentary democracy like the one that exists in Israel.
To oversimplify, Linz points out that in a presidential democracy like America, when the president is of one party (like President Obama, a Democrat) and the legislature is of another party (like the current House and Senate, controlled by Republicans), there exists what he calls a "problem of dual legitimacy." The legislature and the president were both elected, but it's not easy to tell "which of the two actually represents the will of the people." In a parliamentary system, that problem does not exist. In other words, Prime Minister Netanyahu after this election will have a pretty clear mandate, while President Obama will have to deal with a Congress that, as Senator Cotton's letter on the Iran deal and Speaker Boehner's speaking invitation to Mr. Netanyahu demonstrated, is more than happy to undermine Mr. Obama's agenda.
This is not to say that America should adopt a parliamentary system — even Linz stops short of recommending that, acknowledging that "the American case seems to be an exception" to the overall pattern that parliamentarism is generally more conducive to stable democracy than is presidentialism. Nor is it to say that Israeli government is perfect; American Jewish billionaires have spent millions of dollars trying to reform Israeli politics to make them more like America's. But the advantages Linz enumerates of the parliamentary system — and avoiding the dual legitimacy problem is just one such advantage out of several — are worth keeping in mind. Israel's election is a reminder that America and Israel are both democracies. But along with the similarity in voter choice comes a difference in how the choice is structured — parliamentarism versus presidentialism — that also has significant consequences.
This is a bit far afield from our usual topics here. But given that it is at the top of the news, we thought it was worth a mention.