Thursday, August 09, 2007

Carnival of Divided Government Quîntus Decimus - Dog Days of Summer Edition

UPDATED: August 10,2007
Welcome to the August 9, 2007 edition of the Carnival of Divided Government Quîntus Decimus - Special Dog Days of Summer Edition. This the latest in a series of irregularly scheduled compilations of divided government writing from around the blogosphere. Some more irregular than others.

These are indeed the dog days of divided government. Wikipedia defines dog days as
"... a time period or event that is very hot or stagnant." That fits. Democrats are still a little too close to those impassioned pleas for divided government from last fall. It just wouldn't be seemly to say "never mind" quite yet. The Republicans have still not reconciled to the fact that they lost both houses of congress with no prospect of regaining either in 2008. Soon though, very soon ... we will begin to hear Republicans singing the virtues of divided government as they stare into the abyss of single party Democratic control of the executive and legislative branch. But right now, things are a little hot, sticky and stagnant. No matter. We are dog people here at DWSUWF.


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 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 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. New for this edition, we are limiting the carnival selections to 10 "picks of the litter" (and one off-topic mutt).

Ten "Best of Show" Purebred Divided Government Posts

We begin with CardinalPark presenting "On the Genius of our Founding Fathers" posted at Tigerhawk:
"The very good news about divided government when it comes to policies revolving around war is that it gets both political parties firmly on Board. I am looking forward to more responsible Congressional votes on the issues that count."
CardinalPark is commenting on the vote to modify FISA to permit electronic warrantless surveillance of suspected foreign terrorist communications. Many on the left are gnashing their teeth over Congressional acquiescence in this bill. I have problems with the bill also, but it is hard to argue that FISA, which was written before cellular phones or the internet, did not need to be updated to reflect current technology and the new dangers we face. A bigger problem than the bill itself, was with the administration's original assertion that the President did not need to submit to FISA law for this program. The good news is that congressional authority to oversee and legislate this program has been reasserted and reluctantly agreed by this executive. That is the important point. There are aspects of the law as passed that are troubling. The fact is, there has never been an example of expanding government powers of surveillance that has not been ultimately abused. It will happen with this legislation, and unfortunately, it may take that catalyst to fix it. Still, I take comfort in the fact that the executive branch is no longer working an open loop, and congress has at least asserted their authority to constraint this activity. Sooner or later, they'll get around to fixing it. Prefereably sooner.

John asks the question "What's wrong with this speech" presented at Castle Argghhh! concluding:
"But one thing's for sure - the only thing I fear more than a Republican President, Republican Senate, and Republican House with with overwhelming majorities... is the Democrat equivalent. Gimme a robust and obstructionist minority - especially on domestic policy issues. Gimme that divided government. I really believe the truly important stuff will get done, and less mischief will occur than if one side or the other gets to run rampant."
John sums it up in nicely. We know our government works better this way. We just need enough people to vote to keep it that way.

Stephen Slivinski ( A DWSUWF favorite and author of "Buck Wild") also has a question, asking if "Another Government Shutdown?" is in the offing, presented at Cato@Liberty:
"...the follow-up to an upheld Bush veto would likely be a compromise stop-gap measure (like a “continuing resolution” that puts the government on auto-pilot for the rest of the fiscal year) that results in much less spending than would otherwise occur in the course of an unimpeded appropriations cycle. In either case, those of us who prefer divided government might have another example to add to our growing “Great Moments in Gridlock” list."
Thinking along similar lines, a rare Pink Elephant quotes CNN ...
"In the current era of divided government, Bush does the signing or the rejecting, confident so far that despite his poor approval ratings he has enough Republican support to avoid a veto override. It's far from tidy, and not likely to get any prettier in September, with the president and Congress both pointing toward a spending showdown as well as a resumption of their struggle over Iraq."
... then optimistically opines in his post "2006 wasn't so bad after all" ...
"I'll take a stalemate over a one-party government any day of the week and twice on Sundays! (Besides, stalemate is the first step to shutdown). We aren't there yet, but if we're lucky it wont be long. I'm just giddy over the possibility of a spending showdown. They build character."
... and finally rebuts objecting commenter's with this:
"I am only gloating about having a divided government! We have seen that when Republicans have a virtual one party state they are no better than their opposition (and some would say worse). Too much power for any one group, no matter who the group is, leads to tyranny. I'm not excited that the Dems rolled over and played dead for Bush on the surveillance measures. Instead I wish they had stalled him like a good opposition party should have. My point was not "the Democrats are fools" or even that they are hypocritical. Just that they aren't doing their job."
Exactly. But "giddy? Sure. Why not. Me too.

Digby, on the other hand, is having second thoughts about divided government - here exclaiming "Obstruct This!" while quoting Senate Minority leader Mitch McConell in a post at Hullabaloo:
"Just in case people are having trouble seeing who's making it impossible to govern, here's a nice little chart from McClatchey that illustrates it quite nicely... Republican Senate leader McConnell said Friday in a news conference - "... A divided government has frequently done important things: Social Security in the Reagan period, when (Democrat) Tip O'Neill was speaker; welfare reform when Bill Clinton was in the White House when there was a Republican Congress. There's no particular reason why divided government can't do important things. We haven't yet, but it's not too late. "And I think clearly the way to accomplish things is in the political middle, and I would challenge our friends on the other side of the aisle to step up and take a chance on something big and important for our country." You know what Mitch? Go Cheney yourself. Hard."
Huh. Digby seems to miss the concept here. Obstruction is exactly what makes divided government work. Only the good stuff gets through. Good stuff not necessarily being defined as either Democratic or Republican partisan stuff.

Frank Asin, a professor of constitutional law at Rutgers Law School reveals the "dirty little secret" about "A Government Divided" in an article at writing:
"The dirty little secret about our governing processes is that the only time Congress can bring about real change in the country is when the president's political party controls both houses of Congress... Some polls suggest that the public actually prefers divided government, in which the White House is controlled by one party and Congress (or at least one branch) by the other. But if that is what the public wants, it will also have to accept a good measure of legislative stalemate."
That's it? That's the dirty little secret? Well, no shit, Professor. That is kind of the whole idea. Let me help. Think of the 2006 election as the public rejecting the kind of "real change" that had been effected by the single party Republican control for the previous six years. Particularly the wholesale expansion of power of the executive branch at the expense of the legislative and judicial. It is also vastly overstating your case to say that "only" single party government can bring real change. That is simply false. It is more difficult certainly, but the result of "real change" forged under divided government is better and longer lasting legislation as William Niskanen revealed :
"The probability that a major reform will last is usually higher with a divided government because the necessity of bipartisan support is more likely to protect the reform against a subsequent change in the majority party. The Reagan tax laws of 1981 and 1986, for example, were both approved by a House of Representatives controlled by the Democrats and have largely survived. The major potential reforms of agriculture, telecommunications, and welfare in 1996 were approved by Clinton and a Republican Congress..."
Professor Asin does not get it, but Ted West does. In this post he explores "What The Numbers Mean" at MyThoughtWorld:
"Isn't a divided government better? Right now, it's doing nothing, which when it comes to Congress, is almost never a bad thing. And remember this; the Dems may be craven traitors, but the President seemed only too willing to "stay the course" in Iraq, and the Republican Congress seemed perfectly willing to let him do that. If the Democrats hadn't gained control of Congress in '06, would Rumsfeld have been replaced? Would the "surge" ever have happened? Maybe, but my guess is that we'd still be speculating as to when. As it stands, we probably have the best configuration possible: Republican President, Democrat Congress. Second best would be a Dem Prez and GOP legislature, and if I'm permitted to fantasize, best of all would be to give each of them an all expenses paid trip back home."
Ed Branley has an angle I have not seen before, blaming divided government for the execution of Troy Davis in "Clinton's Mistakes..." posted at YatPundit:
"This is one of the huge consequences of divided government, though, that bad legislation gets through because of compromise. The Republican party has so poisoned our political discourse that things like AEDPA become one of there "not-so-bad" bills that a Dem president has to give in to so he can be open to shut down the even more disgusting things these pieces of crap will pull out of their ass. Clinton was a good president, but AEDPA will go down as one of his darker moments."
Now, I have not looked at the specific of the Troy Davis case, so I am not going to comment on it. But, if we parse this, Ed is saying that divided government is bad because Republicans had a say in what legislation was passed in the Clinton administration. Again, that is the whole idea. I'll just chalk that up to another plus for divided government. Better legislation forged in partisan fire, that better reflects the sentiment of a divided country.

Sean Aqui, my co-blogger at Donklephant, offered an insightful observation while commenting on the hypocrisy of partisan reactions to the Libby pardon in "Libby v. Rich" posted at Midtopia:
"Democrats often are loath to criticize a Democratic president, just as Republicans often are loath to criticize a Republican. They tend to express their opposition through lack of support, not active criticism. It's why divided government is a generally a good thing: neither party can be trusted to police itself."
Perfect. Could not have said it better myself. We'll finish this round-up with a global perspective on divided government, traveling to Indonesia where Fwan presents "Pemerintahan yang Terbelah" at Kipling Politik asking:
"Menimbulkan kehancuran? Namun, betulkah divided government otomatis menimbulkan kehancuran pemerintah? Jika melihat pengalaman beberapa negara, tidaklah demikian. Di AS, selama 50 tahun lebih, hampir semua pemerintahan hidup dalam divided government. Ternyata mereka mampu bekerja sama dengan Kongres yang dikuasai partai oposisi untuk menghasilkan berbagai agenda penting. "
You can draw your own conclusion from Fwan's assertion, but I think it is perfectly obvious.

A single off-topic Mutt.

Finally, although we generally keep mongrel off topic posts chained up outside of our purebred carnival, we will make one exception as is our longstanding tradition at The Carnival of Divided Government. Today we are walking one off-topic submission around the ring as a grudging acknowledgment and symbolic proxy for the many off-topic mutts who are shipped off to the dog pound. This month's winner:

Jon Swift asking the toughest question - Do We Need Another Terrorist Attack? posted at Jon Swift, saying:
"Many conservatives are coming to the reluctant conclusion that, regretfully, another terrorist attack may be just what we need right now to wake the country up."
I'm not going to explain it. Just go read it. BTW, it has been a big month for the Jon Swift Blog. He also was recently awarded the prestigious "Pissy Blog" Award. Congrats, Jon. Well deserved.

UPDATE: August 10, 2007
It is inevitable. After being more than a week late posting this carnival last night, I wake up to find two great new Divided Government posts this morning. they can't wait, I have to include them here:

Bruce Bartlett is substituting for Andrew Sullivan at the Daily Dish this week. In defense of a recent LA Times article he authored, he posts "Hillary & the Right" invoking divided government as a voting heuristic and Republican political tactic for 2008:
"...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."
While I agree completely with Bartlett's perspective on divided government, there is a problem with his application of the concept when he advises Republicans to focus on retaking the House in 2008. The problem is he is flying in the face of history. In the 100 years since we have been electing senators directly, the House of Representatives has never switched majority unless the Senate did also. 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. It is possible of course, for history to be rewritten in 2008, but the best and perhaps only chance for the continuation of divided government, is if the Republicans can hold the White House.

McQ at QandO linked and amplifies Bartlett's post with "The American Preference for divided government":
"I've become convinced gridlock is not only good, it is necessary. That comes under the heading of "pragmatism". As Sullivan rightly points out, I don't trust either party to run the whole show and divided government actually does impose a defacto check and balance as we've seen here lately... If one of the parties is in a majority in both the legislative and executive branches, I have no faith that party will do what is necessary to get government out of our lives and wallets, and that includes the Republicans... with divided government - gridlock - that chance is much more available than when you have a single party in power with the ability to ram through legislation, no matter how intrusive or expensive, at will."
McQ has been an advocate of divided government since before the inauguration of this blog. I jumped into the comment thread there, to introduce the concept of using divided government as an organizing principle for securing libertarian political clout. This is a concept I have have promoted here repeatedly, notably here and here. It continues to be a concept ahead of its time.


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 Sextus Decimus- Special Labor Day Edition, to be posted on or about September 3rd, 2007. Blog articles may be submitted for the carnival of divided government using the carnival submission form. Past posts can be found on our blog carnival index page. Woof.

Divided and Balanced.™ Now that is fair.

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