Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Mr. Sullivan - May I show you your petard?

Sully and his petardIn the event my title is a bit too obscure, pictured above is Mr. Andrew Sullivan lighting his petard, shortly before he is about to be hoisted by same.

This definition may help:
pe·tard n.
1. A small bell-shaped bomb used to breach a gate or wall.

Word History: The French used pétard, "a loud discharge of intestinal gas," for a kind of infernal engine for blasting through the gates of a city. "To be hoist by one's own petard," a now proverbial phrase apparently originating with Shakespeare's Hamlet (around 1604) not long after the word entered English (around 1598), means "to blow oneself up with one's own bomb, be undone by one's own devices." The French noun pet, "fart," developed regularly from the Latin noun peditum, from the Indo-European root *pezd-, "fart."

The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition.

The question on the table Mr. Sullivan - In light of your well established and strongly held views about the virtues of divided government during the 2006 midterms and prior to Barack Obama entering the presidential race - to whit:

"In the 1990s, national divided government gave us welfare reform and a balanced budget. Subsequently, one party government has given us massive debt, immense corruption, and a huge expansion in federal power. There's a lesson here. And it's: "Vote Democrat This November." Unless, of course, your specific Democratic candidate is intolerably bad, or your existing Republican is extremely good." - Andrew Sullivan
"All this is more evidence to me, at least, that divided government is often the best. A Democrat forced to temper and enforce conservative policies can be as effective as a Republican forced to administer and moderate liberal policies. We might even get away with government doing much less. Alas, we have had a Republican lock-hold that has given us the worst of conservatism (executive branch abuse, arrogant war-bungling, Christianist social policy) with the the worst of liberalism (massive increases in government spending, regulation, entitlements and pork). Time for a check and balance, no?" - Andrew Sullivan
"Here's one reason for conservatives not to be afraid sitting out this election or voting Democratic. Gridlock! The best government we've had in recent times was the Clinton-Gingrich face-off. They restrained the worst in each other, brought out the best, and gave us welfare reform, peace, and fiscal surpluses... The great strength of the American system is its capacity for divided government. If there was ever a time for it, it's now. " - Andrew Sullivan
"The Democrats, in a divided government, will also have to take responsibility for the hard choices involved in wartime. So divided government is win-win right now. Vote Democratic next Tuesday, or if you just can't, abstain. For the country's sake - and for the soul of conservatism." - Andrew Sullivan
"I can see, in other words, where I have given too short shrift in the book to the Jeffersonian idea of a nature's God as the source of divided government and individual liberty. I'm grateful for the extra perspective." - Andrew Sullivan
"Things To Be Thankful For (2006 Edition)...Washington has divided government." - Andrew Sullivan
And further, please consider we are looking at: A high probability of a Democratic President, a 100 seat Democratic majority in the House of Representatives under Nancy Pelosoi; A 60-40 filibuster proof super-majority in the Senate under Harry Reid or Hillary Clinton; And the largest concentration of single party federal power in the lifetime of most readers of your blog.

So, in consideration of all that, I was wondering if you thought it no longer important to your readers that the nation is careening at high speed down a highway to single party government hell in 2009?

Searching your site, the only post I can find in the post-Obama presidential candidate timeframe that addresses the issue you found so important in 2006, is this single post:

"Earlier, I quoted political scientist Larry Sabato as saying--correctly in my view--that the American people like gridlock. They don't trust either party to run the whole show. And frankly, the 2000-2006 experience of a Republican Congress and a Republican president is strong evidence in favor of divided party control. Therefore, if Republicans were to run a national campaign reminding voters that the best economic times we've had in living memory came when we had a Democratic president and a Republican Congress, I think it could persuade a lot of voters to split their votes. If, on the other hand, Republicans insist of believing that they can hold the White House and put all their eggs in that basket, then we could have a nightmare scenario where Democrats in Congress are free to enact bad legislation with no restraint." - Andrew Sullivan - Bruce Bartlett [substituting for AS]

[UPDATE I: After reviewing these links I noted that the above quote was not penned by Andrew Sullivan as I mistakenly indicated, but rather by Bruce Bartlett substituting for Andrew when he was on holiday. I should have known this, as I referenced Bartlett's comments in a previous post. Regardless, this actually reinforces the point that there is a stark contrast between the Sullivan the vocal advocate for divided government before Obama entered the race and the Sullivan who apparently doesn't think one party unified government is so bad, or certainly not important enough to write about after Obama entered the race. I can find no posts in Sullivan's blog on divided government since Obama announced his campaign, except for the above mentioned Bartlett post and endorsing reader feedback. In this update I've modified this post to reflect this change. ]
There is a major problem with Bartlett's solution to the "nightmare scenario" of single party Democratic government in 2008 - specifically his suggestion of focusing on Republicans retaking the House of Representatives in 2008 to maintain divided government. The problem with that advice, even when he wrote it last year, is that it is flying in the face of history and willfully ignoring the state of the Republican Party and House elections.

The problem, is that it is impossible for the GOP to retake the House or Senate in 2008. In the 100+ years since we have been electing senators directly, the House of Representatives has never switched majority unless the Senate did also. "Never" as in "not even once". This is a law of politics like gravity is a force of nature. So what about the Senate? As I have been explaining since the week after the mid-terms, there are 33 Senate seats contested in 2008. Of these, 21 are held by Republicans and 12 by Democrats. Simple numbers - the Republicans have a lot more at risk, and will be playing defense. The Democrats have many more opportunities to take seats than Republicans. Advantage Democrats. Big, big advantage. The question is not whether the Democrats will increase their majority in the Senate, the question is whether they will achieve a 60-40 filibuster proof super-majority. Right now, it looks like they have a super-majority in their sights. Since there is no plausible scenario for history to be upended in 2008, the best and only chance for the continuation of the divided government that Sully so admirably supported in 2006, is if the Republicans can hold the White House.

The fact is Mr. Sullivan, that when you argue for the inevitability of an Obama victory, you argue for a massive concentration of single party Democratic power and even fewer fetters on a unitary executive than were on President George W. Bush. That is unlike the soul of any conservative I have ever known.

Regardless of how much you personally like and respect Obama, I have to wonder if this is really what you want? Do you really want to see that much power invested in one man without checks, balances, and a vigorous opposition party?

- or -

Are you going to finally ask your readers (as you did in 2006) to help avert the "nightmare scenario" Bartlett invokes, hold their collective nose and vote for McCain to secure divided government? And to do so as you so eloquently put it - "For the country's sake - and for the soul of conservatism."

I believe the fuse on your petard is lit, sir.

UPDATE II: 09-July-08
Cross-posted at Donklephant. There are some interesting reactions and an entertaining back and forth in the comment thread. Check it out.

Divided and Balanced.™ Now that is fair.

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