Monday, August 14, 2006

Divided government ≠ Bipartisanship

Monday Meme Momentum Monitor III
A paddle through the rivers of the blogosphere, fishing for divided government meme momentum. This, our third soire' with this title, is the first to actually be posted on a Monday, a feat in which I take considerable pride.

To begin, a couple of posts that can only be described as "backhanded", or at least "grudging" compliments of divided government. That's fine. We'll take 'em any way we can get 'em.

SW @ SW's Energy Gap in his post "The Bullshit Middle" takes exception to notion of a "vital middle ground" except in a divided government:

"So, why shouldn't the conclusion be "There is too much partisanship"? ... for the sake of the well intentioned folks who might be tempted to draw that conclusion and buy into that sort of argument, that is, be tempted by the David Brooks, Joe Lieberman line of shit, regarding a vital "center" this bipartisan concensus "middle" that was exemplified by this nutty "gang of 14" idiocy, I'll try to write real slow so it can be understood. Such a strategy can make sense when we have a divided government. That is, when one branch of government is controlled by one party and the other controlled by its opposite. In that case, finding the middle ground between the two basic ideologies represented by these two power centers, could result in good policy that might be reflected in law. So, the concept is not entirely crazy... The goal, as has finally be realized by most Democratic activists, has to first be, regaining some sort of power. Now, this could be regaining the House of Representatives this fall, or it could be the Presidency in 08. For many thoughtful independents, divided government may well be the goal. The House going Democratic in the fall and the Presidency being completely up for grabs is probably as it should be for many."
I like this line of thinking, because it makes these points:
  1. Divided government is the first and primary step to fixing what ails us.
  2. Divided government is the cure to "partisanship" and not some milquetoast moderate Republican version of single party politics.
  3. Divided government is the goal for thoughtful independents.
SW manages to make these points in far fewer words that I seem to be able to manage on this blog. What is truly interesting, is that this "anti-bipartisanship" rhetoric from the the left, is virtually identical to this "anti-bipartisan" rhetoric from the right as articulated by Ryan Sager on RCP: "But it might stop anything much from ever getting done in Washington, D.C., which is a start (Of course, it could also lead to an outbreak of "bipartisanship" -- the worst of all possible political outcomes.)" Yet they both are sympathetic to divided government. I mean, really, how bi-partisan can you get?

Andrew at Obsidian wings makes a complementary point about divided government in his post "I don't care"

"I don't really see a great deal of difference between the two parties. Yes, the Republicans are certainly setting some records at the moment, both in ineptitude and malfeasance, so I will be quite pleased if the Democrats take back at least one house of Congress in November. But I don't have any great hopes for the Democrats beyond the hope that divided government will produce a little gridlock and maybe even some oversight of the executive branch. I'll be pleased to see the Democrats take on the President about executive overreach (one of the reasons I'll be voting Democratic in the fall). And as I noted above, if we get some gridlock it won't break my heart, as avoiding more No Child Left Behind acts and expansions of entitlement programs like Medicare Plan D would be good things... I'm of the opinion that the Republicans are currently more corrupt as much because paying off Republicans leads to better results than paying off Democrats at the moment, but it's true that I cannot point to similiar Democratic scandals back when the Democrats controlled Congress... OK, so maybe I do care. The cynic in me wonders if the Democrats really are all that likely to be any better than the Republicans. Given that we're stuck with a two-party system, however, I suppose I'd best hope that they will be, since they're the only realistic alternative. Bring on the gridlock."
Point being - You do need to care, but you don't need to believe in either Republicans or Democrats to believe that divided government will immediately improve our government.

Let us now paddle out of the blogospheric tributaries and back into the main stream of media,where we find John Dean reviewing the recently published work of Mann and Ornstein, and an interesting echo of the sentiment expressed by SW and Andrew:

Two Congressional Experts Explain What Has Gone Very Wrong With Congress By JOHN W. DEAN
Mann and Ornstein are hands-on political scientists who have been in Washington, and immersed in the workings of Congress, for almost four decades. Regardless of who runs Congress, they will continue their work. But during the last decade, they have grown "dismayed at the course of Congress." Although the deterioration began while the Democrats were still in control, it has, under the Republicans, accelerated and approached crisis dimensions. And a dysfunctional Congress affects our democracy profoundly... On behalf of the institution to which they have devoted their professional lives, Mann and Ornstein are now speaking out, in The Broken Branch: How Congress is Failing America and How To Get It Back On Track (Oxford University Press)... Mann and Ornstein have no quick fix for Congress's many problems. Rather, history instructs them that "major change within Congress is most likely to originate outside. Citizens at the polls are the most powerful agents of change," although strong leaders can occasionally help by shaking things up.

They suggest two possibilities currently on the horizon that could have institutional benefits for Congress: Democrats regaining control in the 2006 mid-term election with a significant win, and/or a centrist presidential candidate emerging in 2008 and winning.

Mann and Ornstein comment that "While still in the minority, Democrats in late 2005 remained remarkably unified." (Now, in mid-2006, I believe this is still quite true.) The authors note that "Were [the Democrats] to return to the majority as a result of the 2006 mid-term election, the political logic of divided government might well produce some reduction in partisan rancor and at least occasional cross-party policy agreement." But they also caution that such agreements would still be difficult "because any sizable Democratic Party gains would come at least in part at the expense of the remaining few Republican moderates."
One final stop as we slide out of the media main stream, into this backwater eddy, where bloggers Liberal Avenger and Nerd Update take note of David Franke's post (self-described as "one of the founders of the conservative movement in the 1950s and 1960s"), and yet another disgruntled conservative who opines on the virtues of divided government in this post on LewRockwell's blogsite entitled "The Democrats’ Impeachment Plans":
"For those (like myself) who oppose King George from the Right, the main reason to want divided government is to slow down the financial destruction of the United States a bit. In recent decades the two periods of slowest growth in the federal government have occurred when we had divided government in the Reagan years, with a GOP White House and a Democratic Congress, and in the Clinton years, with a Democratic White House and GOP Congress. Both parties are evil, but at least with divided government they spend most of their energy fighting each other. That's the best we can hope for in the short term... A second reason for wanting divided government would be to hold King George, if not his minions, accountable for their actions in killing American soldiers and draining the American treasury in an unconstitutional and unprovoked war of aggression. Since I guess it's expecting too much for Congress to bring charges of treason, I'll have to be satisfied with a middle-of-the-road course of impeachment. If the Democrats really have the balls to do this, the next two years could be tremendous fun AND bring government growth to a relative halt!... My congressman is a Republican who calls himself a "conservative" but voted to give King George unconstitutional authority to pursue war at his whim, and voted to bankrupt Medicare still faster with the prescription drug plan – the two most destructive votes in the GOP Congress. I don't even know who his Democratic opponent is, but I'll be voting for that Democrat. It's the true-conservative thing to do."
Divided and Balanced. Now that is fair.

Just Vote Divided.


Scott Carter said...

You make a compelling argument for divided government, and I support your position wholeheartedly. I am curious about your position on redistricting and the effect that it has on our government. The US Congress has a lower turnover than the Soviet Politburo. It seems that in every election cycle we get more extreme candidates. Weather it is going after Lieberman or Rush Limbaugh going after Arlen Specter the extremist on both ends seem to be winning.

mw said...

"I am curious about your position on redistricting and the effect that it has on our government. The US Congress has a lower turnover than the Soviet Politburo." -sc

It is a huge issue. Clearly, there is nothing more important to incumbents and parties in power than to protect incumbents and parties in power. This is part of the reason that I believe that building a constiuency that votes consistently for Divided Government is important, even if improbable. It is a way for us to keep those in power from consolidating and keeping a hammerlock grip on that power, to the detriment of the country. The Republicans have demonstrated this clearly, as they have abandoned all limited government/ fiscal conservative pretensions in the interest of shoveling pork to their base to maintain their incumbency and majority. Still it is almost impossible to change the status quo in congress unless a significant block of voters recognize that a government divided between the major parties provides a needed layer of check and balance on incumbent power.

I don't really have a problem with the increasing partisanship. In fact, one can make the case (as I do in the following quote from another post) that an electorate split between partisan dead weight on the right and left permits a relatively small voting block voting consistently for divided government to have a positive and disproportionate effect on the balance of power.

"How to vote, as a 'Dividican', in any given federal election, is either obvious, or there is no Dividican party vote. You are voting for Divided Government and the documented benefits of a Divided Government. In 2006, that means you are voting a straight Democratic ticket for Congress. If the Democrats take control of Congress, and it looks like the Democrats will maintain control in 2008, you vote for the Republican candidate for President in 2008. Simple. Easy. Satisfying.

Of course, this only works if we are in a political environment that is highly polarized and evenly split.

So, no problem.

In fact, a nuance of Dividican party membership is recognition that a polarized, partisan, evenly divided electorate is a positive good thing for the party and should be encouraged. This means, that when a Dividican party member is not voting, he/she should be actively working to stir the pot by antagonizing partisans of either (or both) sides. This is good sport, and it permits the Dividican to vent their personal partisan spleen throughout the campaign, knowing they are helping the Divdican party maintain its delicate leverage, by maximizing the size and stability of the Partisan Dead Weight. This venting of the partisan spleen, is also therapeutic and will leave a clear thinking Dividican voter at the poll to make that logical decision to vote for the positive good of divided government.

So, How do you join the Dividican Party?

Just repeat after me: "I am going to vote for divided federal government."

Congratulations and welcome aboard!

Now go antagonize some partisans. Just remember where your loyalties lie come November. "