Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Carnival of Divided Government Undêvîcênsimus - Special New Years Hangover Edition

2008 welcomed with the traditional dropping of the divided government ball in Time Square.

Welcome to 2008, the first DWSUWF post of 2008, and the January 2, 2008 edition of the Carnival of Divided Government Undêvîcênsimus - Special New Years Hangover Edition.

Introduction

As explained in earlier editions, we have adopted Latin ordinal numeration in order to impart a patina of gravitas reflecting the historical importance of the series. In this, the Undêvîcênsimus edition, as in all of the CODGOV series, we select volunteers and draftees from the blogosphere and main stream media on the singular topic of government divided between the major parties (leaving it to the reader to sort out volunteers from draftees). Consistent with this topic, the primary criteria for acceptance in the carnival is to explicitly use the words and/or concept of "divided government" in submitted posts. A criteria that, to our endless befuddlement, is ignored by many of the bloggers submitting posts, which sadly results in DWSUWF reluctantly ignoring their fine submissions. Although it has been only two short weeks since the Winter Solstice Carnival, we still have a fine selection of Divided Government posts to ease your 2007 hangover pain.

2007 Divided Government Hangover

People - how about a reality check? What did you really expect after a six year bender, an extended drunken single party orgy of out of control spending, government growth, abuse of power, rampant corruption, foreign adventurism, erosion of constitutional protections and the consequent loss of individual freedoms? I am afraid that there is a price to pay, and the hangover will last longer than one year of divided government can cure. That said, we are feeling a little better after one year are we not? Spending growth - down. Rumsfeld - gone. Gonzales - gone. Rove - gone. Cheney - still in an undisclosed location, but now with apparently undisclosed responsibilities and and undisclosed decreasing influence. Yeah there is still a lot of work to do with the Patriot Act / Surveillance abuse / Torture of detainees / Habeas Corpus - but - all were modified for the better in '07 (Stipulated - they are still bad - but we are better off than 2006 - incremental improvement is still improvement). And so, without further ado, some new divided Government posts and articles to get us started in 2008.

Carnival

We begin with CLS at Classically Liberal with a hangover worse than most in "A New Year's Warning":
"America’s foreign policy, like American spending, is not sustainable. The U.S. cannot afford an interventionist foreign policy. Here I agree with Ron Paul -- no matter how badly he explains it. And when I say afford I mean in every sense of the word, not just financial costs. An interventionist foreign policy is corrupting in many ways. It fuels the imperial presidency. George Bush was certainly a creature of his own demented thinking, and that of Dick Cheney’s, but he was also the inevitable result of years of bipartisan foreign policy. America as the world’s policeman requires the ability to intervene without public debate. Interventionism needs the imperial president. This means the Democrats are just as responsible for the evils imposed on the country by Mr. Bush as are the Republicans... I don’t want a Republican in the White House because Bush has already done enough harm to the Supreme Court. The best option is divided government -- since abolishing the whole lot is not a likely option. I would prefer a Democratic president and Senate and a Republican controlled House with enough ability to override vetoes by the president. However, Bush destroyed the Republican control of the House in the last election so that option is unlikely at this time. Who will I vote for? No one. I don’t think the situation is going to be saved nor am I deluded into believing that my vote will make a difference."
Where did I put that the Prozac? Let me take a few of these and I'll send the rest of the bottle to CLS. Well, at least CLS does recognize that divided government is the best available option, and contrary to his analysis, divided government may very well continue into 2009. Of course, you do have to vote for a Republican President to keep it that way, and that is, admittedly a rather depressing proposition. Still there are Republicans and quasi-Republican's that can be voted for without requiring a shower immediately after leaving the voting booth - Paul, McCain, Hagel and Bloomberg come to mind. Finally (for reasons outlined in this article), a single vote for Ron Paul in the Republican Party primary in a heavy Democratic district like CD-8 (San Francisco), could potentially effectively have equal weight to hundreds of Republican voters in a heavy "Loyal Bushie" Republican district like Orange county. So CLS, if you want your vote to mean something - register Republican in California District 8, and vote for Ron Paul in the California primary.

Sandy Levinson asks "Will they ever connect the dots?" at Balkinization, continuing to flog the notion that divided government is so problematical, that only a wholesale rewrite of the constitution can solve the problem:
"I know that I sound like a broken record, but I continue to find it both amazing and perplexing that such serious and dedicated men and women are willing to contemplate turning the 2008 presidential election topsy-turvy but not to make what to me, at least, is the stunningly obvious connection between the system, in all its "broken" or "badly bent" quality, and the Constitution that establishes the system. Our system is so frustrating to so many people in part because of the phenomenon of divided government and, of course, the ability of the presidential veto to countermand majoritarian decisions of the House and Senate... I won't go through the whole litany of arguments that I (and University of Virginia political scientist Larry Sabato) have made about the desirability of thinking of substantial constitutional reform to take account of the "lessons of experience."
Now I have read Sandy and Larry's litany of arguments, and they seem to be saying that the system (and specifically the Constitution) is broken because it prevents a 51% majority from running roughshod over a 49% minority. To which I can only state for the record - That is not a problem of divided government, that is a benefit of divided government.

Clive Crook, a columnist at the Financial Times would agrees with Professor Levinson that the inability of the razor thin Democratic majority to impose it's agenda on the minority Republicans is a clear indication of the failure of divided government. At least, that is the tenor of his column "Democrats' big ideas yielded small results":
"When it works, divided government works well. Bill Clinton made common cause with a Republican Congress to pass welfare reform (in an election year, to boot). But in this system, intransigence on one side is enough to make everything stop. For the moment, there is intransigence on all three sides – in both parties in Congress and at the White House too. Congressional Republicans want to tie everything down and Democrats have no desire to form alliances with the other side. Accusations of bad faith are constantly hurled around. Everybody thinks that gridlock gives them a political advantage, because voters will blame it on their opponents, not on them... Earlier this month, the Democratic senator Charles Schumer said that “the only good news out of this obstructionism ... is that [Republicans] are building our case to get more votes in the Senate ... That message is going to resonate. You watch.” But Americans are not watching. They are either too bored, or too disgusted."
Clive - not all Americans are bored or disgusted. This particular American is so friggin' ecstatically, dance-naked-around-the-room, practically orgasmic, completely and totally delighted with divided government that he can he hardly stand it. The unintentionally hilarious element of Clive's column, is the revisionist history asserting that Clinton's divided government worked well because Bill Clinton and the Republican Congress "made common cause". Huh? Clive - remember impeachment? , remember the Gingrich government shutdown over the budget? Divided government worked well then, and is working well now, because the parties are in opposition. Comity and "common cause" have nothing to do with it. One more correction. The Clinton divided government welfare reform did not pass in spite of it being an election year. It passed because it was an election year. Just like we will see some equally heralded piece of "bipartisan" divided government legislation passed in 2008 because it is an election year.

Back40 at Muck and Mystery also took issue with Clive's column, flushing out an argument made more pungent through the use of an extended earthy (and appropriate metaphor) in "Myopic Economics":
"Politics is not the same as governance. The Democrats made a lot of political promises, but only the most naive thought much would come of those promises since that's not how well governed nations work. A bare majority in congress, strongest in the lower house, isn't a mandate from the people or sufficient power to ride rough shod over them. If the majority is sustained and increased, and if the executive branch also comes along in time, and if it all endures long enough to percolate up to the judiciary and down to the bureaucracy, then great change can happen. A single off year election won't do it, and that's a good thing since a well governed nation should be steady, able to hold its mud, unlike less continent nations that fly off into disaster with some regularity... In the meantime the gov ought to do less. What the incontinent call gridlock the more thoughtful see as a necessary and desirable pause to reflect and learn. Politics is impatient and short sighted but governance is steadier and keeps an eye on the road ahead."
I can't help but suggest a slight change to my favorite line from Back40's post - the metaphor in "What the incontinent call gridlock... " - might have been extended by saying "... the constipated see as a necessary and desirable pause to reflect and learn."On the other hand, perhaps it was more prudent to not squeeze too much out of that metaphor. In any case, as the 2007 divided government hangover fades into memory, the 2008 election year will indeed prove to be the time for the President and Congress to either "shit or get off the pot".

Divided government is not only a way of governance, but in an election year it is a potent political weapon for the party out of power. The Republicans are learning now what the Democrats discovered in 2006. There is a swing vote of independent, centrist, possibly libertarian voters (h/t Publius Endures), whose votes can be swayed by an argument like the one offered by Jennifer Rubin at Human Events, while she was filling out the "Democrats' 2007 Report Card":
"So what lessons can be learned? ... divided government may be a powerful argument for the GOP presidential nominee. If it were not for the presidential veto -- actual or threatened -- much of the Democratic agenda could well have slipped through. The GOP nominee will be greatly aided by a simple argument: “Do you want Nancy and Harry to have their way?” Finally, Republicans do best when they do not “split the baby” (e.g. give Rangel half of his tax increases) but instead say “no” and force Democrats to vote on measures unpalatable to most voters. In that regard, 2006 may have made 2008 a far easier year -- provided Republicans stick to their guns for one more year."
Yes, indeed Jennfier it may be. As it was an effective argument for the Democrats in 2006, it will be an effective argument for the Republicans in 2008. As I have been say for almost two years.

Finally, as we go to press, I notice that veteran internet writer ChrisJ has a brand new blog called 8 Short Years, and has some incredibly wise and insightful things to say in his post "The Power of Gridlock". Specifically, I am referring to this:
"MW over at Divided We Stand (in my opinion, a must read blogger)..."
I cannot argue with that. This guy is obviously intelligent, discerning, possessed of a razor sharp analytical mind, and knows exactly what he is talking about. He also has some other things to say about divided government:
"He's part of a growing consortium of folks who think the best way to disempower government corruption is to work in unison to make sure no single party controls the government... I can't say I'm a huge supporter of this concept; in my mind, the only absolutely effective way to force the parties to act like they believe in their respective campaign platforms is to all register as independents, and to get behind a viable third party solution. I think the big boys could use a lesser watchdog in congress to remind them it doesn't have to be just red or blue, and it's kind of hard to polarize three ways. However, noting that Divided Government is eminently more possible (by which I mean has been successfuly accomplished for 44 of the last 100 years or so), I think I have to at least say that making divided government a focus is the least we can do, the most basic step in the right direction that we can take."
We agree far more than Chris may think. Like many Independent Centrists, Chris believes that a strong 3rd party is the political cure for what ails us. I have been dismissive of 3rd party efforts in the past (see here, here, here, and here), but would like nothing better than to be proved wrong. The primary difference in our perspective is that I fundamentally do not believe nor have I seen any evidence that the pool of true "Independent Centrists" in the electorate is as big as Chris or other third party fellow travelers believe. Ross Perot set the recent history high water mark for 3rd Party efforts, topping out at about 20%. I believe that number is empirical evidence of the maximum vote a 3rd party can accomplish, and even that number was inflated by disgruntled partisan Republicans angry with ("Read my lips") GWB41. The other 80% of the electorate are hardcore partisans, regardless of what they claim to be. In the privacy of the voting booth, they always vote like partisans. At a presidential election level, this limits a "successful" 3rd party to a spoiler role, serving only to elect the greater of two evils by drawing away support from the major party that is closest to the third party platform (Perot elects Clinton, Nader elects Bush43).

On the other hand, if that 3rd party impulse can be organized to vote for political objectives by switching between the two major parties on an election by election basis, then as little a 5% - 10% of the electorate could shape the political destiny of the country in a positive way. This holds true only for as long as the country stays roughly balanced along polarized partisan lines, which is to say - indefinitely. In fact, I'll submit that organizing true independents in this manner is a necessary pre-condition to the creation of a viable third party capable of electing candidates to office. [Note to Chris: I'll have that cup of coffee anytime you are in town.]

Miscellany

Traditionally, we conclude this Carnival by including one "off-topic" submission, as a grudging acknowledgment and proxy for the many off-topic submissions received. Off-topic meaning - no mentions of "divided government" or gridlock. For this edition, we offer two posts, as the first is marginally on topic, and the second is simply the most entertaining pitch for Ron Paul that I have read (Warning: R-Rated For Strong Language).
Mark presents Laws of Interest Group Politics and Corruption posted at Publius Endures, saying, "The overall theme of my blog is essentially a focus on the themes of Federalist Number 10: you can't control or eliminate interest groups, so the best way to mitigate their effects is to make sure there are as many as possible. This necessarily implies the virtues of divided government."

Sholom Anarchy presents Stumping for Ron Paul again posted at Anarcho-Judaism - Subtitle: Stupid liberals, and why they piss me off.

"I recently announced to the world my humble opinion regarding the forthcoming Presidential elections, and received in response a plethora of negativity. Let me preface this by saying that with such a broad array of issues facing our society in the 21st Century, you'd be hard-pressed to find two Americans who share the same opinions on every single topic. For that matter, you'd be hard-pressed to find many Americans who even HAVE opinions on any given topic; mostly, they just regurgitate whatever hash they've been spoon-fed by their favorite talking heads, pundits, and other bastions of mindless infotainment. Rants about our stultified society notwithstanding, it is absurd and logically fallacious to assume that I agree with every single stance of a candidate whom I endorse."

And with that we conclude this edition.Thanks for stopping by, and thanks for all of the submissions (on-topic or not). The next edition will be the Carnival of Divided Government Vîcênsimus - Special California Primary Post-Mortem Edition, which we have elected to post on or about Wednesday, Feburary 6. Submit your blog article at carnival of divided government using our carnival submission form. Past posts can be found on our blog carnival index page.

Carnivalingus

Some recent carnivals and compilations of note:
Divided and Balanced.™ Now that is fair.

1 comment:

ChrisJ said...

'lo MW! Thanks for the plug, and the laugh.

The reason I don't think divided government can be enough on its own is that we have seen how well the R's and D's will compromise behind closed doors to push through legislation that none of us want. House Democrats made a lot of noise over the Patriot Act, War Funding, the Energy Act, etc., but enough of them voted Aye to carry the day.

I think it comes down to an added level of accountability to have a viable third party, and although the stats you provided show there are not currently enough registered independents to represent a strong third party threat, it would only take 10% each of registered Republicans and Democrats to drop a party affiliation for the lines to become blurry, and the possibility become real.

Or perhaps, in some ways, I'm still a naive optimist. ;) Either way, if you make it down to the gulf coast, your first cup of Sumatran is on me.