Monday, September 07, 2009

Carnival of Divided Government XXXIII -
Special Labor Day Edition

Welcome to the 33rd edition of the Carnival of Divided Government- The três et trîcênsimus Special Labor Day Edition.

Labor Day - The unofficial end of summer. A holiday first imported from Canada in 1882 and made official by Grover Cleveland in 1894. Bloggers taking note of the day include Jules Crittendon I’ll celebrate the way I usually do … working, and damned glad I have a job , Shay Riley is taking the day off, while for Walter Brasch it is a day for a historical screed, and Stephen Green reminds us "Also steak". Your loyal blogger is working his ass off trying to get this Carnival posted, so he can move on to beer and grilling a skirt steak that has been marinating for 24 hours (seasoned for fajitas).

As explained in earlier editions, we have adopted Latin ordinal numeration to impart a patina of gravitas reflecting the historical importance of the series. In this the Carnival of Divided Government três et trîcênsimus (XXXIII), as in all of the CODGOV series, we select volunteers and draftees from the blogosphere and main stream media writing on the single 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.

We begin with a remarkable letter from President Dwight D. Eisenhower, sent in reply to one Robert J. Biggs, a WWII veteran. Biggs wrote the president looking for more strength and certitude from Ike, saying Americans needed "more of the attitude of a commanding officer who knows the goal and the mission and states, without evasion, the way it is to be done." Ike took the time to write a long, thoughtful and honest letter to Mr. Biggs:
"As you know, for four years our government has been a divided government, with the Administration confronted by a Congress controlled by the opposition--and the two working, if not in opposition, at least at cross purposes much of the time. An example is the sparring that seems to go on constantly over our defense situation--and specifically over our missile position. It is difficult indeed to maintain a reasoned and accurately informed understanding of our defense situation on the part of our citizenry when many prominent officials, possessing no standing or expertness except as they themselves claim it, attempt to further their own ideas or interests by resort to statements more distinguished by stridency than by accuracy."
As an exercise to the reader, DWSUWF suggests rereading the above paragraph substituting "health care reform" for "missile position" and "defense situation". Ike continues, explicitly defining the burden and responsibility that our messy, democratic, divided government puts on the citizenry:
"Even if this division in the government did not exist, I doubt that citizens like yourself could ever, under our democratic system, be provided with the universal degree of certainty, the confidence in their understanding of our problems, and the clear guidance from higher authority that you believe needed. Such unity is not only logical but indeed indispensable in a successful military organization, but in a democracy debate is the breath of life. This is to me what Lincoln meant by government "of the people, by the people, and for the people. ... But while this responsibility is a taxing one to a free people it is their great strength as well--from millions of individual free minds come new ideas, new adjustments to emerging problems, and tremendous vigor, vitality and progress."
The legion of bloggers and pundits complaining about the tone of the health care debate, and the difficulty of passing a health care reform bill of which the hoi polloi seems insufficiently appreciative, would be well advised to re-read Ike's letter. Hat tip to Septimus at The Whig Blog who found and excerpted this link in a recent New York Times Op-Ed by Max Blumenthal.

This excerpt of Ike's letter is offered in response to Gal Josefsberg, who submitted the slightly off-topic "Open Letter to our Elected Officials" to this carnival looking for a little more strength and certitude from our elected officials:
"Stop talking to us about policy and holding town hall meetings, and start inspiring us. Give us the great speeches you are capable of giving. Coin a phrase like “America Reborn” or “Rebuilding America”. Give us a symbol like Rosie the Riveter."
Ok Gal - You get a twofer. Rosie the Riveter at the top of this post, and President Eisenhower's reply to a virtually identical request from over a half century ago.

In DWSUWF's most recent post we noted a multi-year multi-election theme to be found in the financial press and broadcast media - to whit - investors prefer divided government and this preference is reflected in the stock market. While we doubt a statistical correlation will stand up to scrutiny, it is undeniable that a preponderance of investors believe a correlaton exists.

Randy Goldring is a financial consultant in Southern California. He draws some obvious parallels to the Clinton administration and professes his belief in a a divided government/stock market correlation in his post "Deja Vu All Over Again":
"I see Republicans making tremendous gains in the 2010 Congressional mid-term elections. They might even retake the House. A Republican party that many said was on life support just six months ago, would then become the incremental brakes on the steamroller that is Obama’s agenda... I believe that towards the end of next summer, signs of a Republican resurgence in the mid-term elections will be a tremendous stimulant to stock prices. Americans seem to prefer divided government."
The frequently used "seems to prefer divided government" construct always sticks in my craw. If voters truly like it better, rather than "seems to prefer", why not consciously vote for it every time?

DWSUWF favorite Ryan Sager is not looking for correlations between divided government and markets. Blogging at True/Slant, he is looking for any correlations with presidential popularity, and determines divided government is not correlated, but in fact - "It's the Economy Jackasses":
"Even when we have divided government, views of Congress and the president move in tandem. Clinton was under threat of impeachment by Gingrich and his GOP majority, yet people’s views of the president and of Congress stayed positively correlated. Why? Because voters aren’t deciding independently how they feel about President Clinton and the Republican majority — they’re simply expressing an opinion about how they feel toward government in general. And how they feel toward government in general comes back to the economy. And, presidential blow job or no, the economy was awesome."
Ryan links to an interesting bit of divided government scholarship written by Matthew Lebo for Congress and the Presidency. We'll be adding it to our sidebar scholarship links.

McQ at QandO Blog sharpens the horns of a dilemma currently impaling Congressional Dems, particularly those from conservative districts, in "The Political Hazards of HealthCare Reform":
"As they finally did with George Bush and the Republicans, I believe Americans are again realizing not just the benefit but the necessity for divided government to keep both sides “honest”. Government needs a bit of competition too. And if Democrats ram health care reform legislation through, whether with our without Republican support, they’re most likely to see such “competition” become reality in 2010."
DWSUWF agrees with McQ's analysis, but is not as optimistic. It is just too difficult to unseat incumbents in the House of Representatives. Barring a "Mark Foley" level of scandal or similar level of corruption from the Democrats exposed immediately before the election, the GOP will pick up seats, but will remain a minority in both houses in 2010. 2012 is another story.

Professor Peter von Nostrand is blogging at Bull by the Horns, but appears to be shoveling something from the other end of the animal in his post "This Seems Wrong":
"I'm not saying you're a bad person if you love yourself some DG, (Divided Government) but I am more in favor of a party Democrats holding most of the keys to power at one time so that accountability is more straight forward. And of course, anyone who knows anything about the role of Southern Democrats in the 20th century - or "Blue Dogs" now - knows that even unified government is can be divided enough already."
I'd think a professor would be a bit more rigorous about definitions. A great deal of scholarship has been invested in books and papers exploring the repercussions of "Divided Government" using this definition: One party does not hold the executive branch and majorities in both legislative branches. A government divided between liberal Democrats, centrist Democrats, conservative Democrats, corrupt Democrats and Democratic ideologues is a definition of a different state - "One Party Rule".

John Pitney, author of Epic Journey takes note in his blog of Gary Andres' Weekly Standard article (as did DWSUWF) and finds it to be diametrically opposed to the expectations set in his book - "United vs. Divided Government":
"In 2008, voters opted for unified Democratic control of the government. That outcome, however, guarantee the Democrats a lock on Washington for years to come. On the contrary, Gary Andres argues, divided government may loom."
Yeah- I'm betting Gary got that one right. We are just not hearing that much about the U.S. being a "center-left country" or a "permanent realignment" in the electorate like we were when his book was published earlier this year.

Jennifer Rubin writing in Commentary is wondering "Would a GOP Congress Help?":
"Whether it would be good for him and his presidency is another story. Plainly he and the Democrats lack the internal discipline to come off the left ledge of their party. The gap between the still center-right public and the president is vast. So the theory goes, better to have moderation “forced” upon him. But divided government, as we saw following the Republicans’ losses in 2006, doesn’t necessarily make for a successful period of governance for the president. Obama can’t be forced to be an effective chief executive. It is easy to imagine an increasingly irritated and beleaguered Obama in a constant political food fight with Congress if Republicans roar back in 2010."
Like many conservatives, Jennifer pooh-poohs the benefits of our short two year reprieve of divided government after the six years of Single Party Republican Rule. As DWSUWF pointed out at the time:
"Divided government is not a cure-all, but the fact is - our divided government state since 2007 has begun to reverse the damage of the 2001-2006 One Party Rule. Six years of abusive single party control is not going to be undone by 20 months of divided government. Yet, as a direct consequence of electing a divided government in 2006, we have a new Secretary of Defense, a new Attorney General, a marginal improvement in both the Patriot Act and FISA vs. the Bush/Cheney versions, a great deal more oversight revealing many of the abuses of the six years of single party control, a revised strategy in Iraq resulting in an improved security situation, and a reduction in the rate of spending growth rate in 2007. These improvements, though marginal, are not insignificant. It is the nature of divided government that improvements will be incremental and that is exactly what we have seen thus far."
Unfortunately, even those marginal improvements have almost all been reversed since the imposition of Single Party Democratic Rule. It just seems so painfully obvious to DWSUWF what voters need to do.

Pat Howard, managing editor for the Erie Times, attempts to steer the paper on a centrist course, but is explicit about his preferences in "Where politics meet technology, its hard to escape the noise":
"I consider myself an Independent, with views roughly typical of conservative Democrats or moderate Republicans. I'm registered as a Democrat because that party's primaries are the votes that count in the city of Erie, where I live. I prefer divided government -- the presidency and Congress split between the two parties -- because overreaching by zealots both left and right is what worries me most."
As do I Pat, as do I.

As noted here before, there is a lively on-going discussion of the merits of divided government at The League of Ordinary Gentlemen. Most recently, Scott Payne weighed in using his native Canada as an analog to advance his thesis in "Divided and Conquered":
"Here in the frozen tundra, because we have a Parliamentary style of government with five major parties (depending on who you ask), we also have the possibility of forming a a minority government — the ultimate in divided government. And, in fact, for the past five years, Canada has had a minority government in power. In theory, if we follow Mark’s reasoning, this should lead to a more stable and responsive government of the people, by the people, and for the people... Stable my eye.

Now, I know that this is not a scenario that would play itself out in the context of US politics as y’all don’t have a parliamentary system where government can fall due to a vote of non-confidence, but the point here isn’t so much about procedure as it is about the atmospheric impacts that divided government can have on political discourse in general. The fact of the matter is that the divided state of government in Canada has not led to a sense that government is either more stable or more responsive, but rather a general feeling of frustration at government’s ineffectiveness and inability to serve the people it is supposed to. And while government gridlock might be the stuff of dreams for libertarians like Mark and Jaybird, for a majority of Canadians (and I would dare to speculate a majority of Americans) said government inaction due to partisan bickering is an extremely sore point."
An interesting comparison.

First point - It is not clear to DWSUWF that a "stable government" should be considered a primary objective in any country. Totalitarian governments are notoriously stable, sometimes for decades, until they suddenly become unstable due to revolution, war, or economic collapse. It strikes me a "stable government" is the exact opposite of a "responsive government" in a dynamic pluralistic society.

Second point - Speaking strictly from the POV of this blog, the analogy is not relevant. To be clear, this is not a criticism of Scott's post, which was drafted into this carnival. This blog advocates and promotes the benefits of a divided government for the United States federal government. As a matter of interest, we'll comment on other governments, whether state, local, or foreign - but advocate only for divided federal government in the US. The reason is simple, it is only the US federal government where we feel there is sufficient scholarship on divided government that we can comfortably predict the beneficial results of that state.

Third and most important point - The distinction between the Canadian example and the USA, is that our constitutional government was designed from the ground up to be a divided government as explained clearly by constitutional architect James Madison in Federalist #51. If partisan unity overrides the checks and balances built into the Constitution, then our government is not working as designed.

Historian Joseph Ellis coined a beautiful phrase that succinctly sums up how our unique constitutional government is conceived - the "enshrinement of argument". Once again, I am compelled to quote myself from a prior carnival:
"What a perfect phrase to describe our Constitution and our national zeitgeist - "the enshrinement of argument". In this political season, with the mind numbing and meaningless appeals to "unity" amid the disparagement of partisanship, polarization, and debate, it is useful to recall that this country was built (and the constitution designed) on the expectation and promotion of continuous conflict and argument. For the founders, "unity" and "government power" was a dangerous mix to be feared and avoided. It smacked of monarchy. Checks, balances, divided government and pitting "ambition against ambition" was exactly the state they sought to enshrine."
A parliamentary government, by contrast, is designed to elect a unified government for as long as the electorate considers said government to be representative of the majority. Once could argue that a divided government is contrary to the spirit and design of a parliamentary system, while a unified government is contrary to the spirit and design of the U.S. Constitution.

Norbert Sluzewski makes exactly this point in his history lesson posted at Naked Liberty -"Know your America - the 16th Amendment":
"But what was most remarkable about the Constitution’s structure was that it created no single source of power. With the distribution of authority among the executive, legislative and judicial branches, this distributed structure of checks and balances recognized an inherent human flaw that: If given the opportunity to avail himself of excesses, man inevitably will. Even the most benevolent monarchy or dictatorship eventually succumbs to this flaw. The Founders uniquely understood this and sought to establish a Republic in which no single man, group, state or other entity could dominate or unduly influence the direction of the nation."
Unfortunately, what they did not anticipate, was that single party discipline can overcome and negate the "distributed structure of checks and balances" between the executive and legislative branches. An oversight that can only be rectified by voters electing a divided government. Every time.

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 offer Vichuda presenting "Indonesia Unite Against Terrorism" posted at Kota Medan Guide, and a reminder that patriotism and unity in the face of terrorism is not a uniquely American quality:
"Since the terrorist attacks with suicide bombings to 2 luxury hotels" JW Marriott and Ritz Carlton Hotels in Jakarta, the online community has united to show their support to fight against terrorism especially Indonesians.By using Twitter, everyone has united by twittering the word #indonesiaunite with their comments to pass on their support with their personal messages."
And with that we conclude this edition.

Thanks for stopping by, and thanks for all of the submissions (on-topic or not).

Since this carnival is focused on the topic of Divided Government, and seeing how voters spectacularly rejected the idea in the last election with no real prospect of restoring divided government before 2012, this carnival has been on a reduced publication schedule. Instead of monthly, we have been publishing quarterly or - you know - whenever DWSUWF feels like it.

But, with independent support for Obama falling away, with the Democrats deciding whether they are one party or not, with the specter of divided government rising from the grave, we are again going to pick up the pace.

Look for the next edition of The Carnival of Divided Government quattuor et trîcênsimus (XXXIV)- Special Halloween Edition on or about October 31. Submit your blog article at carnival of divided government using our carnival submission form.


Some other Carnivals and links of interest:

Divided and Balanced.™
Now that is fair.


Foxwood said...

Do you believe the Constitution is the rule of law?
Do you believe in the original intent of our founding fathers?
Do you want to reform Congress? If your answer is yes, we have
to work together to make this happen.

Anonymous said...

To me government is just like gangs. Two sides divided, trying to fight over something that they might can solve together. Because of differences in views, it causes a divided government, a divided house.