For five months in 1787, a constitutional convention convened in Philadelphia to revise the Articles of the Confederation. The articles were considered inadequate for the nascent federal government to deal with conflicts such as Shay’s Rebellion. Instead of revising the Articles, the delegates wrote an entirely new document. 221 years ago - on September 17, 1787 - 39 of the 55 delegates to the convention signed the Constitution of the United States.
It is the oldest and shortest Constitution of any major government in the world, and the first to be written by representatives of those who were to be governed. Before becoming the basis of our government, the Constitution had to be ratified by the states. Having fought to escape the shackles of a distant despotic monarchy, many were understandably leery of a replacing it with a less distant but strong federal government. The document was debated by citizens and leaders in the mass media of the day - newspapers and pamphlets.
James Madison, the “Father of the Constitution”argued in Federalist #51 for the protections provided by the separation of power, checks and balances in the Constitution:
“Ambition must be made to counteract ambition. The interest of the man must be connected with the constitutional rights of the place. It may be a reflection on human nature, that such devices should be necessary to control the abuses of government. But what is government itself, but the greatest of all reflections on human nature? If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself.”
The debate on whether the Constitution adequately protects the governed from the government continues to this day. Widener University School of Law has organized an online debate on what the Constitution means to modern Americans. Richard Pildes, Professor of Constitutional Law at New York University School of Law contributes to the debate with this pessimistic analysis “Political parties tilt balance of power“:
“During periods of unified government, in which the same political party controls the House, Senate and the presidency, the president has the capacity to exercise wide-ranging powers without extensive oversight or checking and balancing from the other political institutions of government. The president’s power is thus not static or fixed. Yet neither the Constitution nor our thinking about the presidency has fully come to terms with this truth. Indeed, the Constitution did not contemplate a system of political parties at all. When the Constitution was designed, the existence of parties — factions, in James Madison’s terms — was a sign of a diseased political system. The Constitution was specifically designed to create a system that would transcend parties and minimize their role… the conventional stories we tell about our system of checks and balances, or separation of powers, are not all that realistic in practice. If we continue to believe in the benefits of checks and balances — and I do — we must accept that effective congressional oversight of the president is not likely when the House, Senate, and presidency are in the hands of the same party. We need to modify our institutional structures to find other ways of generating effective checks and balances. The most promising route would be to give the opposition party tools to oversee the president — perhaps the power to call hearings or subpoena witnesses or to audit the government. I do not expect these measures to be adopted. No legislative majority cedes power to the minority.”
It is hard to argue with that conclusion. But until such time that additional protections for the governed can be built into the Constitution, we the governed can address this Constitutional defect on our own - by never voting one party into control of the Presidency, Senate, and House or Representatives. By voting for divided government.
“If I were McCain, I’d make the divided government argument explicit. The Republicans are intellectually unfit to govern right now, but balancing with Democrats, they might be able to do some good. I’d have McCain tell the country that he looks forward to working with Congressional Democrats, that he is confident they can achieve great things together.”
George Will has similar advice for John McCain in a column first printed in the Allentown Morning Call and this morning in the Washington Post - "McCain's Closing Argument":
"McCain should, therefore, enunciate a closing argument for his candidacy that goes to fundamentals of governance, concerning which the vice presidency is usually peripheral. His argument should assert the virtues of something that voters, judging by their behavior over time, prefer -- divided government... Divided government compels compromises that curb each party's excesses, especially both parties' proclivities for excessive spending when unconstrained by an institution controlled by the other party. William Niskanen, chairman of the libertarian Cato Institute, notes that in the last 50 years, ''government spending has increased an average of only 1.73 percent annually during periods of divided government. This number more than triples, to 5.26 percent, for periods of unified government.''
"George Will thinks that John McCain's "closing argument" to elect him should be what a divided government would mean to the country. Seriously, that's the only selling point for McCain that Will could come up with. You can almost feel the enthusiasm."
"When each party has a share of power in the government each blocks the other's worst, most partisan spending -- and when actually trying to get serious things done, bipartisanship is forced as the only way to do it... Fiscal restraint, thy name is "divided government". If that's your issue, that's what to vote for."
One Eyed Man at Beligerati arrives at an identical conclusion in "An article that I hated":
"The most important thing about a McCain presidency would be that he would be stymied at every turn by an almost certainly Democratic house and senate. Divided government governs best. He stands almost a zero chance of doing any of his expensive and misguided crap while he has to share power, and that is likely to keep his total expenditures lower than his ambitions. Obama would likely face a united Democratic government that would be free to make expensive and poor policy."
Duncan Currie writing in The American analyzes what we might expect out of such a divided government led by a McCain administration in “2009: A White House Odyssey“:
“At the forum in Minneapolis, Senator Kyl observed that some of the biggest domestic reforms in recent decades have been produced by divided government. Prominent examples include the 1986 tax reform bill (passed by a Democratic House and signed by President Reagan) and the 1996 welfare reform bill (passed by a GOP Congress and signed by President Clinton). “It’s an interesting and somewhat paradoxical phenomenon,” Kyl said. With a President McCain and a Democratic Congress, “it might be possible to tackle a couple of big things.” As Kyl noted, McCain is “very unpredictable” and has repeatedly “worked on big things with Democrats.What “big things” might be feasible under a McCain administration? Two possibilities are immigration reform and a “cap-and-trade” system to regulate carbon emissions.”
"I have serious issues with McCain, especially on the issue of free speech and Campaign Finance "Reform", He wasn't my first or even second choice in the primaries, but I can deal with him, whereas I can't deal with Mr. Obama. This is especially true since the chance of either house going R is somewhere less than zero. Given that I don't trust any of the players, I find divided government rather appealing for now."
"I am voting for McCain/Palin in November because the best result for this country will come from divided government. A McCain presidency IS MUCH MORE LIKELY to reach across the aisle than an Obama presidency where aisle-reaching is not required. What incentives will Obama have to govern in the center? (0, NULL, NADA, NYET). But McCain will HAVE to reach across the aisle to govern effectively."
"If the electorate were really smart, it would elect a Democratic president and a Republican Congress. Under that deal, stocks have averaged a 20.2% total return, and real GDP averaged 4%. That tells us that economic and stock market success isn't really about partisan politics at all. Sadly, nobody has a political incentive to conduct a study about that."
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 in this context meaning - no mentions of "divided government" or gridlock. For this edition, we selected Ron McKie presenting "God bless America" posted at Phuck Politics. Not our politics and not on topic. But I appreciate the sensibility and what the hell, he has an image of the constitution at the top of his blog. Sort of.
And with that we conclude this edition. Thanks for stopping by, and thanks for all of the submissions (on-topic or not). As noted in a previous carnival, we saw a big spike in Divided Government posts and articles two years with two months to go before the election. We are seeing the same now. In response we are increasing our CODGOV posting frequency between now and the election. I'll continue try to get one of these out every week to ten days or so. The next edition will be the Carnival of Divided Government Septimus et Vîcênsimus (XXVII) - Special "Day of Mourning for the End of the Trout Season" Edition which will be somberly posted from the Upper Peninsula of Michigan branch of the DWSUWF Worldwide Operations, on or about the first day of October. Submit your blog article at carnival of divided government using our carnival submission form.