Saturday, July 05, 2008

Carnival of Divided Government - Tres et Vîcênsimus (XXIII)

Special July 4th US Independence Day Edition
Special July 5th UK National Day of Mourning For the Loss of the Colonies Edition.

Okay, so we are a day late. There was just too much "pursuit of happiness" yesterday. Welcome to the 23rd edition of the Carnival of Divided Government. 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, the Tres et Vîcênsimus (XXIII) July 5th 2008 edition, 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.

Independence Day, The Founding Fathers and the Enshrinement of Argument

Joseph Ellis, writing in the Britannica Blog, makes an interesting observation in a series about the Founding Fathers who set our country on an independent course and designed the Constitutional framework for what we have become as a country and a people:
"The highly partisan politics of the 1790s further exposed the several fault-lines within the founding elite. The Federalists, led by Washington, John Adams, and Hamilton, were opposed by the Republicans, led by Jefferson and Madison... The ideological and even temperamental diversity within the elite leadership group gave the American founding a distinctly argumentative flavor that made all convictions, no matter how cherished, subject to abiding scrutiny that, like history itself, became an argument without end. And much like the doctrine of checks and balances in the Constitution, the enshrinement of argument created a permanent collision of juxtaposed ideas and interests that generated a dynamic and wholly modern version of political stability."
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.


It has been a long stretch since our last carnival, and we need to catch up on a lot of Divided Government commentary. Without further ado, on this somber British holiday known as the "National Day of Mourning For the Loss the of the Colonies."it seems appropriate to check in with ex-pat Rojas writing at The Crossed Pond, and worrying if "FDR Lives":
"A massive Democratic majority in both houses of Congress appears certain. The question we need to be asking ourselves is whether we want unchecked Democratic rule, under a charismatic leader who will likely be capable of turning the most farfetched liberal economic fantasies into federal legislation... John McCain is not going to deregulate the economy or embark on a Reaganesque quest for a restoration of individual economic liberty. What he CAN be counted on to do is not make the entitlement mentality any worse, including through veto if necessary. McCain’s vociferous objections to agricultural subsidies and to budget earmarks may not in and of themselves point the way to a balanced budget, but that’s not the point. They bespeak a governing ideology that rejects government transfers of wealth and market micromanagement. Whatever other roles John McCain may or may not be suited for, he might prove highly valuable as a speed bump."
Hat tip at to new favorite Laura Ebke at Red State Eclectic for pointing us at the Rojas post. Speaking of which, we are pleased to welcome Laura with a return appearance in the carnival and featuring an interesting dialog underway at Red State Eclectic. Laura announced that in 2008 she will be "Voting for Divided Government - maybe". She crafts her argument with first principles of the Founding Fathers, takes guidance from James Madison, and develops a fully fleshed out case for "Voting for Divided Government", concluding:
"In American politics, the answers to our questions are rarely black or white—indeed they’re often gray, but there can be many shades of gray. Our Constitutional system provides us with the opportunity to minimize the danger of factions to the cause of liberty. Our two party system (to this point) helps to insure the division of interests between the factions. If we can’t win outright, I think the Founders would approve of voting to reduce damage to liberty. They might not like John McCain, but I think Madison and Jefferson would be very concerned with the idea of one faction controlling the whole political process yet again."
Laura's co-blogger Eric Larson is sympathetic to the argument, but thinks that different tactics are required in 2008, as he explains in "Divided Government - A Dissent":
"...the forces of liberty are hopelessly outnumbered and at a severe tactical disadvantage. They have a ruling establishment in bed with the neoconservatives and media. And the only message most Republicans listen to is (re)election. So the only way to convince them to change is to face widespread defeat in their races and philosophy... We must drive a stake through the neoconservative monement, burn it, stomp on it, and shoot its ashes into the sun."
There is indeed a case to be made that we face a unique opportunity to replace one of the two major parties. Now, there is no historical precedent in modern American history for a 3rd party succeeding in anything but being a spoiler. However, there is a precedent for one of the two major parties self-destructing and being replaced by something new (The Republicans replaced the Whigs). I am not sure we truly have that opportunity now, but it merits consideration in a future post. Is it sufficently likely to risk suffering the damage that can be caused by single party government for the next two to four year? TBD. In the meantime, your loyal blogger could not resist weighing in with a few comments at RSE.

Another returning CODGOV carnivalist is the Positive Liberty blog. Jason Kuznicki continues a dialog from the last carnival, responding to DWSUWF with "Divided on Divided Government":
"Divided We Stand supports divided government. I do too — divided government slows things down, and we desperately need to slow down the pace of government encroachment into civil society. But here’s the dilemma... all this ignores an important and maybe decisive issue, regardless of what one thinks about trade — the war in Iraq. I do not think that continuing this war does much to help anyone, whether here, or in Iraq, or anywhere else, except perhaps that it helps the leadership of Iran.The simple answer is that none of the candidates are appealing, that they are bad for different reasons, that to my mind McCain is the worst of the lot, but that we don’t have a Republican-controlled Congress that would make voting for a Democrat the divided-government strategy... And the final verdict is… I’m still undecided. Divided government is a very, very powerful incentive to vote Republican, but it may well be the only one."
I responded in a comment to that post, acknowledging the war in Iraq may be an overarching consideration in this election. However, with recent campaign events, I am more convinced than ever there will be no significant difference in the rate of our military withdrawal from Iraq between a President McCain or President Obama. Certainly, what the candidates say on the campaign trail to placate their base sounds wildly in conflict, but what actually will transpire over the next two years regardless of who is elected will be virtually identical. It is even possible that McCain will be able to effect a quicker withdrawal than Obama as President, simply because he will be more effectively at tamping down the resistance from the right.

Without question, the highest impact MSM column on Divided Government since our last carnival was penned by Robert Samuelson in the Washington Post, where he casts "A Vote for McBama":
"McCain does have one provisional and accidental advantage. By most appraisals, the Republicans will get slaughtered in the congressional elections, and I have a visceral dislike of one-party government. It didn't work well under Bill Clinton or George W. Bush. Divided government doesn't ensure good government, but it may limit bad government by checking the worst instincts of both parties."
Clive Crook at The Atlantic reads Robert Samuelson's column and muses about his own reaction in "The Lures of Divided Government":
The idea is not yet much talked about in 2008. The Democrats seem certain to rule Congress with expanded majorities, yet I don't see many independents (Samuelson aside) arguing that this inclines them to prefer McCain. Come to think of it, why am I not (yet) advancing that argument myself? Good question. I'll have to get back to you."
Clive only thinks that independents are not advancing the argument because he does not read DWSUWF. Welcome to the club Clive.

The Samuelson column sparked another interesting discussion - James Sulak at Indgo Flats is not satisfied with the temperature of the divided government bathwater and worries that messy issues like delayed appointments may create too much heat for the benefits of divided government to be enjoyed in "The District Needs a Bath":
"I'm sympathetic to the principle, but it's a principle that sounds a lot cleaner and loftier as an abstract term than it ends up being in the dirty politics of real life... The fact that the Fed is non-partisan and yet nothing got done for so long is exactly the point — divided government may prevent bad governance, but it too often prevents any governance at all. In any major undertaking, professional or political, participants should disagree. They should call out each other's bullshit. They should question each other's assumptions. But all of this requires a constructive working relationship, and if a private company's leadership had relationships as dysfunctional as our federal government does, the company would have been out of business a long time ago. Of course, whether or not you actually agree with what gets done in a united government is a completely different question. But if you want a divided government, you have be willing to put up with the mess."
Fine and good, but putting up with the mess seems a very small price to pay for the benefits of divided government, as pointed out by Amber writing at Bottom of the Ninth. Also. "the mess" is there by design. Single party rule subverts the design of the founders. Amber likes James headline skills but remains dubious of this argument in "Touche'":
"It’s an excellent point, really, and I suppose that ultimately I do think divided government is the more important principle, if only because I think that, while they have no problem leaving the Fed short-handed, both parties probably would not delay appointments if doing so meant the Fed could not conduct monetary policy."
Touche' indeed. Point to Amber.

Samuelson has more fans around the blogosphere, including Greg Mankiw's Blog, Angus at Kids Prefer Cheese (founding member of the Angus Gridlock Club), Soccer Dad, and Durham's Bull.

Alan Lichtman at Politico is predicting the end of the conservative movement in "Splintered Conservatives Hurt McCain":

"McCain’s defeat by the liberal Obama and the advent of a strengthened Democratic Congress would mark the end of the modern conservative era as clearly as President Franklin Roosevelt’s defeat of President Herbert Hoover in 1932 marked the end of the conservative 1920s. Even if McCain were to win the presidency, he would likely preside over a divided government and become a transitional figure in the evolution of American conservative politics, a Gerald Ford to some future Ronald Reagan."
Right. But even if true, we will be better off with a transitional divided government for the next four years, rather than risk the unfettered power of a single party government with a Democratic President, a Democratic House with an expanded 100 seat majority, and a Democratic Senate with a filibuster proof 60-40 supermajority. A question Alan - While we wait to see what alien-like creatures of hell comes bursting out of the the chest cavity of the dying Republican Party, why not keep the Federal government from spinning completely out of control by voting for John McCain to ride heard on that transitional government?

I have been predicting for a while that the closer we get to the election, the more we will here about divided government from the right, concurrent with the growing recognition that it is the only good argument for winning independents and libertarians. Here we go.

John Fund writing at the Wall Street Journal wants you to know that "No, McCain Isn't 'Doomed'":
"Mr. Clinton's 1996 re-election offers another lesson. Facing a presidential defeat in addition to losses in Congress, Republicans boldly appealed to the public's fondness for divided government. They put out ads featuring a fortune-teller staring into a crystal ball showing over-the-top scenes of Biblical devastation, plague and conflict. An announcer warned: "Remember the last time Democrats ran everything? The largest tax increase in history. Government-run health care. More wasteful spending. Who wants that again? Don't let the media stop you from voting. And don't hand Bill Clinton a blank check. It worked. Republicans kept control of Congress. Haley Barbour, then chairman of the Republican Party and now governor of Mississippi, said at the time that voters responded to the idea they needed an insurance policy against one-party rule. Independent voters may not like the idea of having the government completely controlled by the trio of Barack Obama, Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid."

Daniel Larison at Eunomia quantifies the risk, but sees a silver lining for McCain in "Goodbye Filibuster":

"Count ‘em: the GOP is likely to lose Senate seats in New Hampshire, New Mexico, Virginia, and Alaska, will have a hard time defending Oregon, Minnesota, North Carolina and is suddenly faced with competitive races in Mississippi, Kentucky, Nebraska and even Texas. That’s eleven, and that still doesn’t take into account the trouble Collins may have in Maine. If the GOP somehow lost all eleven, they would have the fewest Senators in the chamber that they have had since the 95th Congress (1977-79). Even without losing the safer seats of Nebraska and Texas, the GOP will still be reduced to 40 seats and lose the filibuster. This is actually terrible news for Obama, because it will make it very easy for McCain to warn against the dangers of unified government and increased Democratic majorities in Congress as a reason to vote for him. "
From the left, Jason Zengerle at the New Republic blog "The Plank" is dubious and responds to John Fund saying"Vote McClain, Vote Gridlock."
"I think Fund is suggesting that McCain run on a platform of divided government, since I don't think anyone believes the GOP has a prayer of winning back either the House or the Senate. But it doesn't seem like a divided-government appeal could really work for a presidential candidate. Voters might be willing to hold their noses and vote for a politician of a party they don't like if they think that politician will be one of 535. But will they really do that for a presidential candidate? I don't see it. But, hey, if McCain wants to try it, I don't think any Democrats are going to complain."
Michael Preston is equally dubious responding to Daniel Larison in the sarcastically titled "Everything is always good for Republicans":
"Now, I’m not going to dismiss his point out of hand, because there’s certainly some truth to it…but come on, now…with the Republican brand in such a state of disgrace, Obama could just as easily argue that tossing all the bums out might be a good bit of spring cleaning that the country needs to right itself. There are some tangible benefits to divided government, but I just don’t think this argument will have the traction with the general public that Larison thinks it will."
Look, advocating a vote for John McCain only to maintain divided government may indeed be a weak reason to vote for John McCain, but... It is the best and may be the only effective argument the Republicans have to woo independents and libertarians. Even though some like Zengerle and Preston are dismissive, and quite correct that the divided government argument cannot save McCain from himself in this campaign, if McCain can find a way to keep the contest close, then this argument could be sufficient to move the libertarian swing vote and make a difference in 2008, just like it did in 2006.

Philadelphia Inquirer columnist Dick Polman has advice for presidential candidate John McCain in the column "What will it take?":

"Preach the virtues of divided government. Since the Democrats are a cinch to retain or expand their control over the House and Senate, he needs to sell himself as the guy who'd check and balance their excesses. Independent swing voters, who are wary of one-party rule and who tend to like McCain anyway, might warm to that pitch. McCain needs to run against the Democratic Congress (giving him an "outsider" argument) and suggest that Obama, with his liberal Senate voting record, would conspire with lawmakers to provide (in McCain's current words) "the wrong kind of change."
Amen. Preach it brother. Preach it good.

Denny Clements of the Sun News Opinion Blog agrees and quotes Froma Harrop saying "McCain should sell himpelf as the divided government guy""

"Divided government -- that is, the Congress in the hands of one party and the presidency in another -- does have many fans among conservative Democrats, liberal Republicans and, above all, independents. It stops radicals in either party from running government on the fumes of their ideology. "He'll save you from their excesses'' may not make a zippy bumper sticker, but that message could work for a lot of voters, and in McCain's favor."
The Whited Sepulchre presents The Whited Sepulchre: Anarchic Hand Syndrome posted at The Whited Sepulchre, exploring a medical metaphor for dysfunctional government, but mistakenly applying the label to divided government: "Anarchic Hand Syndrome - what happens when the Divided Government concept goes a little too far...."

Finally, Aaron Brazell, blogging at TechnoSailor is conflicted in his "Presidential Endorsement". While he clearly appreciates the value of divided government...

"I believe a McCain administration actually would be highly centrist but his ability to work with a Democratic Congress would be stunted by the perceptions of a McCain presidency as a Bush third term. That said, I’m always a fan of divided government and things not getting done in Washington. History shows that government involvement in things better left to the citizenry or private sector is usually problematic in the long run... On the Obama side, I’m concerned by the sense that there would be a single party ruling Washington. I’m also concerned by the cost of programs like universal health insurance that would put the weight of a multi-trillion dollar program on the backs of taxpayers who are cash-strapped from war, rising oil prices and unemployment. I’m concerned about a lack of any real plan on Iraq."
...Aaron still concludes his post by endorsing Obama for President because of his understandable concern about McCain's support for the FISA bill. Aaron's decision is informed by his "moral opposition to contraconstitutional governmental behaviors" like warrantless wiretapping and abrogation of rule of law in the FISA compromise bill. He wrote this endorsement before Obama announced his support for "contraconstitutional government behavior" and abrogation of rule of law by supporting the FISA compromise bill. So now his rationalization for supporting Obama does not hold up, as there is no practical (voting) difference between Obama and McCain on this issue. However, there would be a difference in an Obama and McCain presidency - McCain would be leading a divided government - Obama would be leading a single party government with a likely 100 vote majority in the House, a potential 60-40 filibuster proof supermajority in the Senate, and have more concentrated unfettered single party power power than we have seen in generations. Methinks this is not a good thing for a President willing to embrace "contraconstitutional" government authority. You might want to rethink your endorsement Aaron.


Traditionally, we conclude this Carnival by including one "off-topic" submission as a grudging acknowledgment and proxy for the many off-topic submissions received. This month we received a number of submission from what I lovingly refer to as the vast right-wing nut bag lunatic asylum. Apparently, because I have been critical of Barack Obama, they thought I might be sympathetic to promoting the idea that oh... Barack Obama is the Anti-Christ, or Barack Obama was raised a Muslim, or that we should find dark portents in the good luck charms Barack Obama carries in his pocket. Well, I'm not. No links for you.

And 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 Quattuor et Vîcênsimus (XXIV) - Special "Lost At Sea" Edition, which we will be floating on or about the 3rd of August, shortly before embarking on a Pacific passage sailing adventure from Hawaii to San Francisco crewing on a friend's boat. Submit your blog article at carnival of divided government using our carnival submission form.


Finally, some other recent carnivals and compilations of note:
Divided and Balanced.™ Now that is fair.

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