Thursday, November 18, 2010

Carnival of Divided Government
Quattuor et Quadrâgintâ (XLIV)
Special Post-Midterm Postmortem Edition

Welcome to the 44th edition of the Carnival of Divided Government - The Special "Post-Midterm Postmortem Glorious Restoration of Divided Government and the End of Our Long National One Party Rule Nightmare" aka "I told you so." Edition.

What a difference an election makes. After six years (more or less) of One Party Republican Rule, followed by two short years of divided government, in 2008 the electorate decided to give One Party Democratic Rule another chance. Now, only two years later, having been reminded yet again that one party rule by either party does indeed really and truly suck, the voters have restored divided government and added a divided congress to boot. It's all good.

We've had two weeks for the traditional and new media to digest the election results and ponder the meaning of it all. Time for another...

Carnival of Divided Government

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 Quattuor et Quadrâgintâ (XLIV), as in all of the CODGOV editions, 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 The Dividist reluctantly ignoring their fine submissions. Among the on-topic posts, essays and articles we choose our top ten favorites for commentary and consideration. We hope you enjoy these selections, and we hope your are looking forward as we are to two years of contentious, fractious and divided federal government, just the way the founders intended.

Barry Fagin, writing in the Colorado Springs Gazette, invokes the Dividist's favorite Federalist Paper and nets it out in "Voters echo founders' wish to pit ambition against ambition":
"With the Republican advances in the last election, pundits are now talking of the need for bipartisanship. The heck with that. Divided government and partisan bickering are great things, because they limit the damage politicians can do... until one or both of the major parties realizes that government taxes too much, spends too much, and has an important but constitutionally limited role in American life, pitting “ambition against ambition” may be the best we can do."
Regarding that Divided government does not mean bipartisanship bit... I told you so.

E.D. Kain of The League of Ordinary Gentlemen examines the election results at the state level, muses about the implications for redistricting, and then takes a very long view of "The Census and the Republican Victory in the House":
"In other words, Republicans could (in theory) hold on to the House of Representatives until 2022 at the very earliest, regardless of what happens in the Senate or the Oval Office. That’s a 14 year Congressional coup, making the 2010 election GOP victory pale in comparison. For Democrats, this is obviously more bad news. For anyone who cheered on filibuster reform* when Democrats controlled the House and Senate, perhaps now would be the time to reconsider that position. No matter who controls the White House for the foreseeable future, only two options likely remain until 2022: divided government, or a Republican trifecta at the federal level."
As the Dividist steels himself for the psychically traumatic pseudo-partisan change operation that is looming in the days ahead, at least he can be comforted in the knowledge that he will be reunited with his fair weather Democratic divided government fans for the foreseeable future.

*Regarding that "filibuster reform" thing... I told you so.

Thomas Sowell at the National Review is reminding us that "the last time we had a budget surplus, we had divided government" in "The Gridlock Bogeyman":
"Whenever the party that controls the White House does not also control Capitol Hill, political pundits worry that there will be “gridlock” in Washington, so that the government cannot solve the nation’s problems. Almost never is that fear based on what actually happens when there is divided government, compared to what happens when one party has a monopoly of both legislative and executive branches... It is not a matter of faith that a market economy can recover on its own. It is a matter of faith that politicians speed recovery. But there is no way that Barack Obama is going to stop intervening in the economy unless he gets stopped. Only gridlock can do that."
Regarding that "gridlock" thing... I told you so.

David Parker, a Political Science Professor at Montana State University blogging at Montana Politics, references a Politico article about Representative Darrell Issa planning to do his job, then cites some of his own unpublished research to inform us that "Divided Government Matters":
"An analysis of investigations with the committee as the unit of analysis shows a similar trend: divided government is associate with more and longer investigations of the executive branch... The punch line: Divided government matters. It makes it harder to pass legislation, and increases the propensity of Congress to oversee the executive branch"
Ok. Regarding the bit about "Divided government matters." - Yeah. I think I knew that. It is the raison d'etre for this blog. Regarding the punch line, I'll agree with that also, with a couple of minor edits: Divided government matters. It makes it harder to pass bad legislation, and increases the propensity of Congress to do their job and oversee the executive branch.

Rand Paul, Senator-elect from Kentucky, and member in good standing (thus far) of the 2010 Coalition of the Divided, reconfirms his fondness for the cause, telling Bob Schieffer on CBS News 'Washington Unplugged' that "I'm a Fan of Divided Government":
"With 37 incoming members who also identify themselves as Tea Party politicians, it won't be his affiliation that makes Sen.-Elect Rand Paul (R-Ky.) unique on Capitol Hill in January. But it may be his excitement about working with a divided House and Senate that sets him apart. In an interview with "Washington Unplugged," this Republican from Kentucky says he looks forward to working with a House controlled by his party and a Democratic White House and Senate, calling himself a "fan" of divided government."
Of course, the real test will be when he must choose between divided government and one party Republican rule. That is when we'll learn where his real loyalties lie. But in terms of Rand Paul walking an independent path, so far so good and I told you so.

Jonathan Chait of The New Republic is quite bitter about the whole situation and tells us why in a devastating dismantling of a straw man he props up for that very purpose in "Split Ends - The myth of divided government" also published at The Cagle Post:
"The fetishization of divided government resembles a kind of cargo cult: If only we reconstruct the division of power from 1983, then surely the Greenspan Commission will return to solve our problems. The conditions that created those old bipartisan agreements aren’t coming back, no matter what you do to conjure them."
It would be a good argument Jon, if the reason that people voted for divided government is in the hope of ushering in an era of bipartisan cooperation, moderation and compromise. That may or may not happen, but it has nothing to do with the reason why many independents voted as they did. They voted to restrain the excesses of this administration by ending this latest edition of One Party Democratic Rule. They voted in reflexive horror after witnessing the twin abominations of mind-numbingly bad and jaw-droppingly expensive legislation -Stimulus and Obamacare - steamrolled by this One Party Democratic Rule.

Whether this divided government produces bipartisan cooperation or not, it remains a fact that bi-partisan cooperation is impossible when one party believes it holds all the cards. And if this divided government does nothing else but prevent legislation like Obamacare and the Stimulus, then it will meet the objectives of those that voted for it.

In any case, Jon - while I understand that monotonously applying the ad hominen pejorative of a "fetish" to the divided government voting heuristic makes you feel good, it really does not further your argument - as I've told you so before.

As an antidote to Chait's bluster, logical fallacy, and dismissive ad hominen approach to explaining the electorate and governance, consider Lee Durham of the Progressive Policy Institute, who actually does some real analysis, offers some real insight, and comes up with some pretty good suggestions for Democrats and President Obama in "How to Understand the Independents (and how to win them Back)":
"And finally, on the policy: since almost half of Independents call themselves moderate, a number of them were probably uncomfortable with the liberal direction unified Democratic control was taking government. There were probably some number of genuinely moderate voters who saw Republicans as a correction to Democratic extremism, just as they had recently seen Democrats as a correction to Republican extremism. They might also want divided government.
A commenter once described the Dividist as swimming in a "bottomless pool of cynicism" about our federal government and the electoral process. I embrace that description, and don't think it is really that unusual among political bloggers. It is a little more surprising to find a similarly jaded swimmer in a small town, Midwestern mainstream newspaper. in Jackson County, Indiana drives a pretty good metaphor with "Partisan fuel for a faulty engine":
"Voters have been down this road before. When the electorate chooses divided government in the hopes that gridlock will limit the amount of damage that either side can do, this hedging of bets should tell us something. Let’s consider the possibility that in this case, “something” involves not the partisan players themselves but the system they seek to control. That system needs to shrink in size and sphere. A government that didn’t wield so much control over people’s lives would become less attractive to lobbyists. It would less frequently serve as a vehicle for special interests to impose their will on everyone. It would have a limited capacity to assume the role of moralizer in matters best left to individual conscience... The alternative will involve continually pumping the same two brands of fuel in different mixtures and hoping the engine holds out a little longer."
I don't know if we can afford a new engine. In the meantime, I'll just keep trying to get that octane mixture right.

Professor John Sides, blogging at the Monkey Cage, has been featured here repeatedly in recent weeks, as he bravely but belatedly attempted to erect a dike to stem the divided government tide that swept the country on election day. His last two entries bracketing the election focused on the impact of divided government on the Clinton administration in "Does Divided Government Help Presidential Approval?" and "Divided Government is Hard.":
"Last week I suggested that divided government would make life worse for Obama and that fighting the GOP wasn't necessarily good for Clinton. Now comes this from John Harris, courtesy of Ben Smith:
One Clinton veteran, former White House adviser Doug Sosnik, said Obama allies should disabuse themselves of the fantasy that the Tuesday results are a blessing in disguise: "The single greatest luxury you have in politics is the ability to control your own destiny." Obama has now sacrificed some of that ability to Republicans."
While interesting to learn that divided government may or may not help a president's approval rating and does not make things easy or fun for the partisan ideologues in the White House, ultimately - who cares? What is important is whether we get better legislation that moderates the worst impulses of both parties, restraint on spending, more fiscal responsibility, more oversight, and better governance. The evidence is that we do.

There is also some evidence that Professor John Sides prefers to arrive at conclusions that are in concert with his partisan preferences. Recall his analysis predicting an extended honeymoon for President Obama. Just sayin...

Rinth de Shadley blogging at Rinth's Ramblings wonders "Did Americans Vote for Divided Government?" and concludes - "Naah..."
"Does any voter base her vote on a desire for divided government? To ask that question is to answer it. Nobody says, “I like my representative, but there are too many Democrats in the House, so I’d better vote Republican.” A lot of voters last week were just bitterly disappointed in the Democrats. Others were fooled or frightened by Republican campaign ads and Fox News (like there’s a difference). And a few people honestly believed that, for all their faults, the Republicans would do better for the country. But nobody, regardless of party or ideology, based her vote on a desire for “divided government.

Ahem. Well. Not exactly.Apparently Rinth does not read this blog.

Clive Crook writing at The Financial Times considers the election results and concludes that "Divided government reveals America's indecision":
"...voters have come to a better understanding of Mr Obama’s goals and powers. Their expectations of him have returned to lower and more plausible altitudes. In the long tradition of divided US government, voters have chosen to weaken him still further by putting his opponents in charge of the House of Representatives. Yet, whatever the validity of their view of the president, voters have not even begun to think seriously about the choices that confront the country. No politician has asked them to, and they have not yet done it of their own accord."
Clive does not give voters enough credit. To get on the right path, one must first stop walking down the wrong path. To get out of a hole, one must first stop digging. Before transporting a trauma patient to the hospital, one must first apply a tourniquet to stop the bleeding. And if you use three different metaphors in one short paragraph, best to just cut your losses and move on.

Hank Corbett of Jacksonville, North Carolina writes a letter to the editor of and patiently explains why "Divided government benefits everyone":
"Party politics frustrate me. Neither political party is worthy of their word or their campaign slogans. Neither party has exercised any more fiscal restraint than the other. Neither party is more patriotic than the other. It all becomes very obvious when one party or the other gains a huge advantage and feels that it can steamroll the other party and the people. Certainly, the people of the conservative movement believe in their cause. If they recover control of the Congress during the Obama administration, I am sure that we will benefit. I think the president will move more to the right and I think he, too, will appreciate the new-found compromise But, nobody should be fooled: Absolute authority corrupts, absolutely, regardless of political party. As Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, and Bill Clinton came to realize, having a government that shares power between the political parties benefits everybody."
To understand this election, the Dividist will take the perspective of a voter like Hank Corbert over a dozen Political Scientists like John Sides.


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 means - no mentions of "divided government" or gridlock. We abandoned this feature over the last few editions while interest and availability of quality on-topic posts and articles spiked around the election.

For this edition, we again present Madeleine Begun Kane (who practically owns this spot) as she presents Election Results Madness (Audio Version) posted at Mad Kane's Political Madness..
I’m glued to the screen through the night,
Watching Dem after Dem lose our fight.
Masochistic? I guess:
Can’t stop watching this mess.
Where the hell is this long tunnel’s light?
The light at the end of the tunnel for Madeleine and all hand-wringing partisans on the left - Independents who prefer divided government will be aligning with Democrats in 2012.

With that, we'll conclude this edition.

With the election behind us, we will return to publishing the Carnival on a more-or-less monthly basis. Look for the next edition of The Carnival of Divided Government Quîndecim et Quadrâgintâ (XLV) - Special Winter Solstice Edition - on or about December 21. Submit your blog article at carnival of divided government using our carnival submission form.

Divided and Balanced.™
Now that is fair.

Carnival of Divided Government

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