David Orentlicher prepares for a photo shoot

David Orentlicher prepares for a photo shoot at Indiana University Law School in Indianapolis Monday, April 8, 2013. Orentlicher, who is the author of Two Presidents Are Better Than One, is a law professor at Indiana University and has taught law at the University of Chicago. (Danese Kenon, Chicago Tribune / April 8, 2013)

A: Right now it's so much about winning partisan victories rather than getting things done. I don't anticipate getting rid of all the partisan conflict, but if we can tamp it down so people are less absorbed by that.

If you now have a bipartisan presidency, in the most important power center everybody feels like they've got a voice.

Q: I gather you think that your plan for two presidents is DOA. Is that true?

A: No, I'm optimistic. It would be a big change in a lot of people's minds, so it's not going to happen tomorrow or next week. I view this as a long-term project.

Q: How old are you?

A: 58.

Q: Do you think you'll see it in your lifetime?

A: I think it could happen. It depends how bad things get.

Q: It's not bad enough yet?

A: I think it is. That's part of why I wrote the book. It's not novel to recognize partisan gridlock, but the usual proposals to fix the problem are just not solving things. It's just going to continue to get worse.

Q: You go out of your way to say, "OK, maybe this thing isn't going to happen but this proposal will get the conversation started.

A: If there's a reform of the presidency, that will get us halfway there; half a loaf is better than none.

Q: What would be half a loaf in that scenario? It seems like half a loaf is one president.

A: What I hope is that people think, "OK, how can we make the presidency work best? OK, we don't like David Orentlicher's two-person presidency (although I still do). You're right; we need to fix the presidency." Get them thinking. And by having people think hard in the right direction about the problem, then other alternatives will spring up and eventually we'll get something that is both effective and feasible. You look overseas and you see shared power. It may seem unusual for the United States, but it's surely not unusual worldwide.

If the fear of a two-person presidency is they won't get anything done, well, we're already at that point. It's not like we're going to make things measurably worse than they are now and it actually might make them a lot better. So it's kind of a low-risk experiment.

Q: One of the points you make in the book: This is going to require an amendment to the Constitution. Give it a try, and if it's a flop, we'll amend the Constitution back to the way it was.

A: We did it with Prohibition. I suspect the more realistic route would be to try it out in one or two states. I think that makes more sense. Do it at the state level (with two governors) first, because if it doesn't work well, it's only one state. It's not like the damage is going to be tremendous.

Q: If there were a dual presidency, you suggest a dual vice presidency is necessary. I would suggest we already pretty much don't need a vice president. Why should we have two of them?

A: You're right. Do we really need two? But if either one were disabled or died, we'd need to have the vice president ready to step in because you wouldn't want to have the Republican vice president stepping in for the Democratic president. Then you'd have two Republicans in the White House. So it's to make sure we have a partisan balance. You'd have to have two vice presidents.

Q: Then why not have two Secretaries of Defense and two of each cabinet post?

A: That I'm not in favor of. If the cabinet were independent decision-makers, absolutely. But, in the end it's the president that calls the shots, so there's no need to have the balance at the cabinet level because they just let the decisions flow up to the Oval Office. That's where you need the balance — where the decisions are made.

Q: Your dual presidents won't be extremists?

A: In the end, I don't think it really matters because whether they're extreme or moderate they still have to come to an agreement. They're still going to come to the middle from wherever they start.

Q: So the worse the gridlock gets in this country, the better it is for your proposal?

A: (laughs) It does create perverse incentives. Obviously, I want things to get better. Who wants to have a broken Washington? But you're right. If Washington isn't broken, there's less need for reform.

Tribune Senior Correspondent Ellen Warren is a former White House correspondent who has covered seven presidential campaigns.

"Two Presidents are Better Than One"

By David Orentlicher, New York University Press, 304 pages, $29.95