Monday, February 09, 2015

Gridlock is Good! (exclamation point optional)

Gridlock Escher
In January, the Congressional Budget Office published the 2015 estimate of federal spending, revenues, and deficit. On Groundhog Day, President Barack Obama released the administration's proposed FY 2016 Federal Budget. At the intersection of the two was a White House twitter-storm promoting the budget and taking credit for deficit reduction during the Obama administration.
The White House neglected to mention that the deficit reduction was primarily realized over the four years since the GOP took majority control of the House of Representative and divided the government. It takes a special kind of chutzpah for the President to complain about "mindless austerity" and congressional obstruction when they are the very reason for the declining deficit he is bragging about. But he did. The cognitive dissonance is only made worse by a few inconvenient facts:
  1. The President's claimed 2/3 deficit reduction occurred only after he first tripled the deficit.
  2. The deficit is still higher now than during President George W. Bush's last year in office.
  3. Our debt has climbed from $11 trillion to over $18 trillion during his administration.
  4. The debt will continue to increase and the budget never balances under his latest proposal.
  5. The unsustainable unfunded liability of entitlement spending has not been addressed. 
The only thing that kept any semblance of fiscal restraint on this administration has been the GOP House, divided government and the consequent gridlock and sequester compromise that froze federal spending. The Dividist felt compelled to make this point in a tweet to the White House:
You don't have to take the Dividist's word for it. Economist Stephen Slivinski does the math. Slivinski has been cited on this blog since it's inception. From his days as Director of Budget studies at the Cato Institute, to his excellent book "Buck Wild" and subsequent articles, Slivinski has done the heavy lifting on quantifying the fiscal effects of divided government vs unified one party rule. Delighted to see he is blogging again and can be found at the No Water Economists blog. His recent post brings us up to date:

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Painting 2016 By The 2014 Numbers
- Visualizing the Data -

Bolten Painting with numbers graphic

I understand. It's time to start looking forward to the 2016 Presidential Election. After all, it's been three long months since our last national election and the next is less than 650 days away.

I understand. The Democrats are Ready for Hillary.  Ready or not (and really nobody is), I understand we are going to get plenty of Bernie and Liz.  I understand that over the weekend we saw a parade of Republican hopefuls make an appearance at the Iowa Freedom Summit and learned: Everyone hates Christie; Walker was Best In Show; Romney is on a Mission From GodRand Paul is Ron Paul's son; Trump is pretending to run and is upset that nobody believes him; Palin is pretending to pretend that she might run but not really;  Republicans are pretending they won't nominate Jeb Bush; and I understand we're just getting started.

Spoiler Alert: Nobody wants Clinton vs. Bush in 2016.  Doesn't matter. It's going to be Clinton vs. Bush in 2016. They are the two best candidates. Clinton's a lock and Bush is the only Republican with a chance to beat her. The Dividist will be supporting Clinton to preserve divided government and avoid the risk of Republican One Party Rule.  And I expect she will win.

That said, I'm not ready to let go of the 2014 results. We know the numbers. In 2008 the Obama tsunami swept the Democrats into Unified Filibuster-Proof One Party Rule of our federal government. The punditocracy were delivering eulogies for the GOP because of demographic destiny or voting Democratic being genetically wired or... something. Since then the Republicans have rebounded with a vengeance.  In 2010 the Republicans retook majority control of the House. In 2012 Americans resoundingly reelected divided government. In 2014, Republicans took majority control of the Senate with a net gain of nine seats and padded their majority in the House with an additional thirteen seats. They now have the most seats in Congress and their biggest majority in the House of Representatives since the Hoover administration in 1928. But numbers alone don't tell the story.

Randall Bolten literally wrote the book on visualizing data, saying about his work:   “Painting with Numbers is my effort to get people to focus on making numbers understandable." 

I think we all could use some help making these recent election cycles understandable. In a six-part series on his blog, Bolten shows us exactly what he means with a series of visualizations that help us get a deeper appreciation of the shifting partisan political fortunes in Washington D.C.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Gridlock Is Still Good. Kind of. Most of the time.

Gridlock and Delegation in a Changing World
Illustration from Callander & Krehbiel - Gridlock and Delegation
The Dividist Papers regularly features academic scholarship from political scientists, economists, and historians explaining the benefits of divided government and gridlock.  The first entry in the "Gridlock is Good" series featured economist William Niskanen of the Cato Institute and Ohio University Economics professor Richard Vedder outlining the fiscal and economic benefits of gridlocked government. More recently, we featured University of Wisconsin Political Science Professor Marcus E. Ethridge, who made the case that our inefficient checked, balanced, and divided government is less susceptible to special interest influence and corruption than the more efficient executive branch agency rule-making process.

In this post we offer the latest edition in this series by Stanford professors Steven Callander and Keith Krehbiel.  In a Stanford Business School article Edmond Andrews introduces their paper:
"Americans are angry about partisan gridlock, but they also harbor mistrust about nonpartisan bureaucrats. Steven Callander and Keith Krehbiel, professors of political economy at Stanford Graduate School of Business, see it differently. In a recent paper, they apply game theory to understanding U.S.-style gridlock. Their conclusion: Two of the system’s most unpopular features — supermajority voting (as in the Senate filibuster) and delegation of authority to “unelected bureaucrats” — can together produce good outcomes."

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

State of the Union - The Musical!
'Frozen' Edition

State of the Union - The Musical - 2015 Frozen Edition
Welcome to the Dividist's annual coverage of the Presidential Address to Congress - aka State of the Union - The Musical!

In 2007, as a blogging toddler, the Dividist despaired at finding a unique approach to the SOTU when so many other bloggers would be traversing the same ground. The answer came from Bob Woodward. In an on-line Washington Post forum the Dividist asked whether the SOTU had any real relevance. Woodward responded by saying it was "mostly theater." Genius. That was the answer. What better way to frame the SOTU, media and blog reactions than within the lyrics of a Broadway show tune?

The game is to start with a Broadway song then find blog posts, news stories, tweets, essays and commentary that can be vaguely referenced in the song and link them to the lyrics. It keeps the Dividist awake and blogging throughout the speech and mandatory drinking game.

In 2007 it was "Comedy Tonight" from A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. In 2008 it was the 1966 hit "Georgy Girl Boy". For 2009, we welcomed President Obama with "Razzle Dazzle" from the musical Chicago. In 2010, the man behind the curtain was revealed in - The Wizard of Oz. We mostly skipped 2011, but in 2012, with the President and Congress erecting barricades against mobs wielding pitchforks and torches, we were drawn to Les Miserables and "Do you hear the people sing?" In 2013, after the people handed the President an overwhelming 52% mandate for absolutely no change, we offered a tribute to our prog friends as they gaze lovingly at President Obama Superstar and thought "I don't know how to love him". In 2014, although an election year, we were virtually assured of continuing our happily divided government for the balance of his administration, so the President declared he will rule with a pen and a phone. It sounded like he was going to mail it in for balance of the second term. What could be more appropriate than President Obama gazing in a mirror and singing "I believe in you" from "How to Succeed as President Without Really Trying".

An now, here we are in 2015, with not just any divided government, but the very best kind of divided government. With fears of a lame duck President locked into a frozen block of icy gridlock with a Republican Congress, what could be more appropriate for the State of the Union than President Obama choosing to empower himself with "Let It Go" from Frozen?

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Je Suis Pussies

Charlie Hebdo Cover

Over seven million copies of the Charlie Hebdo survivor issue are now being printed and still only a trickle are making it out of Paris.  Sooner or later they'll get across the pond in sufficient quantity that I too can buy a copy.  As I wait for my opportunity to show this small gesture of support, it's interesting to note many news organizations chose not to print or broadcast the cover including NBC, NPR, and the New York Times.

The two primary rationales for major media outlets to not publish or display the unquestionably newsworthy cartoon cover of the Charlie Hebdo survivor issue are 1) fear of violence for their employees or 2) protecting the feelings of readers/viewers from being offended by a presumptively blasphemous cartoon.

A corporate decision to abrogate journalistic integrity out of fear of violent reprisal can be criticized, but it is at least an honest rationale. As for the latter...

Ross Douthat's NYT column in the immediate wake of the Charlie Hebdo massacre and his somewhat more nuanced follow-up deconstruct the rationalization and makes a very important point:
"Must all deliberate offense-giving, in any context, be celebrated, honored, praised? I think not. But in the presence of the gun ... both liberalism and liberty require that it be welcomed and defended." 
"...the kind of offense-giving that’s often most worth defending or even embracing is the kind that’s made in the face of, or in response to, lethal violence."
I'll offer less nuanced phrasing - If the "we won't print the Charlie Hebdo cover because it might  offend" rationale is not completely hypocritical, it is intellectually dishonest. In the case of Douthat's employer at the New York Times - it is both.

Monday, January 05, 2015

Your New Improved 2015 Divided Government

Your New Improved 2015 Divided Government

It's been a while since the midterms and the Dividist's last post. Never did quite get around to posting the 2014 election recap. No matter. It's 2015! This week the 114th United States Congress will be sworn in.  Our New and Improved 2015-16 Divided Government has arrived!

Of course, our divided government is not new. We've had divided government for the last four years and six of the last eight. By the time our next President is sworn into office in January 2017, we'll have lived under divided government for eight of the prior ten years. That's a pretty good run. But not all divided governments are the same.  There are divided governments and then there are divided governments.

The Golden Age of Divided Government 
In fact, there are eight possible configurations of partisan legislative / executive mixtures in the United States federal government (assuming a two party duopoly). David Mayhew outlined all eight in the 2005 updated preface to his seminal book Divided We Govern:
"This book, like most treatments of the subject, addresses party control as a yes-or-no matter. That makes good sense. It must be the case that either a) one party simultaneously control all three national elective institutions, or b) one party controls two of them and the other party controls the third. For most analytic purposes, a yes-or-no coding is the way to to go. Yet it is also true that eight possible conditions, not just the conventional two arise if we take into account which party controls which institutions. If the presidency, House and Senate are arrayed in order, the possibilities are respectively DDD, DDR, DRD, RDD, RRD, RDR, DRR, and RRR. How many of those eight patterns have appeared since 1980? The answer is now six, which shows the surprising versatility of the regime that has unfolded in recent decades. The only exceptions DDR (the Republicans have not controlled just the Senate since 1185-89) and DRD (the Republicans have not controlled just the House since 1859-61)."
Divided government has proven even more versatile since Professor Mayhew wrote those words. From 2011-2014 we experienced the rare configuration of Republicans controlling only the House.

In a March, 2012 post I listed all eight possible configurations stack ranked by the most probable outcome of that presidential election year.  The most probable outcome (DRR) did not win despite an election year stacked heavily in favor of Republicans taking the Senate majority. A variety of Republican clown candidates enabled the GOP to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.  It's a good time to update that chart, but this time we'll rank the configurations in order of my personal preference.

Monday, November 03, 2014

Just Vote Divided

Divided Government is Better Government

Welcome to our fifth election eve "Just Vote Divided" post since starting this blog in 2006.

In 2006 we advocated a straight ticket Democratic vote to break the four year stranglehold of One Party Republican Rule on the federal government. In 2008 we advocated a vote for John McCain to avoid a return to the fiscal irresponsibility, inadequate oversight, and bad legislation endemic to One Party Rule in Washington D.C. In 2010, we argued for a straight ticket Republican vote to restore divided government and begin to undo the damage from One Party Democratic Rule of the prior two years. In 2012 the Dividist voted early and for the reelection of President Obama. Not because we thought he was a good president. Just because there was no chance of the Democrats retaking the House, and there was a small but realistic chance that Romney could win with sufficient coattails to restore One Party Republican Rule.

The rationale, supporting scholarship, and core arguments for divided government have not changed. Each election cycle presents unique problems facing the country and more evidence of how the moderating influence of divided government is the right mechanism for our government to address those problems. Neither party can be trusted with all the keys to the castle. Not ever. Not under any circumstances. No matter how much you want to fetishize "getting things done".  If our elected leaders cannot find and agree to a compromise policy that satisfies (or dissatisfies) our major factions/parties equitably, we are simply better off with less "getting done". There are worse things than gridlock and a "do-nothing" congress. One worse thing is efficient and productive One Party Democratic Rule. Another worse thing is efficient and productive One Party Republican Rule.

Which brings us to the 2014 midterms.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Friday Flotsam - The "Midterms And End of Unified Government As We Know It" Edition

Time once again for the Dividist to stroll down our metaphorical beach and take note of the detritus that has washed ashore and cluttered this little island of rationality in the great big blogospheric ocean.

With the midterm election only days away, the looming reality of divided government continuing indefinitely into the future is beginning to sink in for partisans and independents alike. The prospect of President Obama facing a unified GOP Congress with majorities in the Senate and the House of Representatives have Republicans giddy and Democrats checking off the stages of grief on the Kübler-Ross  Index - Denial... Anger... Depression... Bargaining... I guess we'll have to wait a while for "Acceptance".

A good time to go beachcombing and look for any shiny bits of divided government flotsam we previously overlooked. Submitted here for your reading enjoyment...

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

The United Coalition of the Divided - 2014 Edition

The United Coalition of the Divided Wants You

The Dividist started this exclusive club during the 2008 election cycle and simultaneously initiated the "Coalition of the Divided Blogroll" - which may or may not be found in the right sidebar somewhere. It was an ignominious start, with the Democrats seizing unified control of the Federal government. Since then we've had better luck rolling out a new membership list in each election cycle. The 2010 edition barely got posted in time for the midterms among much angst and gnashing of teeth. Can't complain about the result though, as divided government was emphatically restored. We had a bit of an earlier start on the 2012 membership drive, and that still worked out fine with the reelection of divided government along with Barack Obama. It's a midterm again and for 2014 we are late again. Why mess with success?

Membership is open to anyone writing anything in any form in any media in a vaguely positive way on the subject of divided government. New recruits will be added to the ranks, updating this post and blogroll from now until the 2014 election. 

Monday, October 20, 2014

Divided Government With Unified GOP Congress -
The Good. The Bad. The Ugly.

The Good Bad and Ugly of Divided Government

Nate Cohn's enthusiasm for this election notwithstanding, the big decision to come out of the midterms is a foregone conclusion. After four consecutive and six of the last eight years, the midterms will lock and load at least two more years of divided government.  The Republican hand will be strengthened in both the House and Senate, but there is still some drama in determining whether the GOP will take over majority control of the Senate.  Most pollsters are giving it to them...

Will GOP take the Senate

... but the Dividist never underestimates the Republican's capacity to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. Our best bet is that the Senate will finish close to 50-50, and the GOP will flip a couple of Independents to take control. If the Republicans do take narrow majority control of the Senate in 2014, the recommended Dividist vote for 2016 will be to elect the Democratic candidate for President, as it is unlikely the GOP will lose control of both the House and Senate in 2016.

 With divided government a fait accompli through 2016, both new and main stream media are weighing in on what we can expect from our divided leadership over the next two years. For your reading enjoyment the Dividist has assembled recent wit and wisdom of the punditocracy on the subject of divided government. To bring some semblance of order to this compilation, we've divided our selections into a Sergio Leone taxonomy - The good, bad, and the ugly.