Friday, October 31, 2008

Carnival of Divided Government
Octâvus et Vîcênsimus (XXVIII)
Special Halloween Edition

Welcome to the 28th edition of the Carnival of Divided Government- The special "Scary Halloween Edition" . 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 Octâvus et Vîcênsimus (XXVIII), 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.


It is Halloween, only days away from the election, and I cannot think of anything scarier than One Party Rule with a Democratic Party government. Well, except for One Party Rule under the Republican Party banner. But we killed that monster in 2006. Now a new One Party Rule monster is looming over the horizon. I feel like a resident of Tokyo. We no sooner finish killing off Godzilla, and here comes Rodan two years later. Sheesh. We're still cleaning the rubble out of the street from the last monster.

I see that John McCain and the GOP finally started to really push the divided government argument this week. That is really great guys, but a little late don't you think? After all, I have only been telling you that this argument was your only shot for... oh... about... TWO F*****G YEARS!!!

The potential for this argument was obvious the week after the midterms. I know because I said so. Right here. Then I explained why the GOP need to nominate someone who would appeal to moderates and libertarians - like Hagel. Last year I even changed party affiliation to try and effect change from the inside the GOP. Finally, early this year, I diagnosed the GOP as terminal:
"We are now on board a hell-bound train rocketing down the rails toward single party Democratic Government, with either Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama controlling the levers of power for the expanded unitary executive designed by Dick Cheney, complemented by increased Democratic majorities in both houses of the legislature and a real possibly of a 60 vote filibuster-proof plurality in the Senate. God help us."
"Hope" is the tag line of the Obama Axelrod campaign. My hope for the future? I fervently hope that the Democrats will not have time to do as much damage in two years of one party rule as it took the Republicans to do in six. My only remaining hope for this election cycle is that the GOP does not lose the filibuster.

However, if there is any hope for McCain between now and Tuesday, it is to be found in the traction clearly evident for the Divided Government argument. As we can see in BlogPulse...

... we are in the midst of a big spike of "divided government" activity in the blogosphere, which you might infer (correctly) is being driven by a lot ink spilled in the mainstream media. FWIW, the percentage of total blog posts mentioning divided government now is very close to the percentage in 2006 on the eve of the election that restored divided government. And there are a lot more blogs now than there were in 2006. Ok, I am grasping at straws. Hope springs eternal.

Another indicator of the potency of the argument, is that the Obama Axelrod campaign and supporters have taken notice. Suddenly there are many posts and articles making the case against divided government from Obamites and surrogates. Although it has only been 10 days since our last carnival (not my fault - the Blog Carnival site was down for three days), we have more material than I can summarize here. For this carnival, I will focus on rebutting some of the better counter arguments against, while disregarding partisan arguments of the form"Democrats are Angels, Republicans are the spawn of Satan".

Main Stream Media

Princeton professor Julian Zelizer writing for the Washington Independent kicks us off by propping up and knocking down a straw man in "One Party Government does not equal Extreme":
"Republicans have unveiled their closing argument. Desperate to prevent a huge Democratic landslide, Republicans warn that one-party government under Democrats would surely mean liberal extremism...The argument is based on a misreading of American history. For, during periods of one-party government, when Democrats controlled both the White House and the Congress, history demonstrates that they have not shifted radically toward a leftward agenda."
Right. But "liberal extremism" is not the primary problem with One Party Rule, professor. The real problem(s) is(are) concentration of power, abuse of power, undermining constitutional protections, erosion of freedom, faster growth of government size and spending, lack of oversight, excessive secrecy and more corruption. these problems occured to a greater extent under all modern era Single Party Rule administrations that lasted longer than two years (and some less).

John Judis, blogging at The New Republic, makes a peculiar argument in "Down With Divided Government":
"...let’s look at the more disastrous moments in the history of American administrations - where charges of impeachment were brought, and recriminations paralyzed the government. That would have to include the administrations of Andrew Johnson, Richard Nixon, and Bill Clinton - all instances of divided government... So if you look at America’s moments of glory and ignominy, the conclusion is inescapable: divided government is a curse, not a blessing, and should be avoided, if at all possible."
John seems to be an arguing that malfeasance by a Chief Executive should not be challenged by the Congress, apparently because the conflict might look bad or appear "ignominious". Bill Clinton perjured himself. Richard Nixon abused the power of his office. Determining whether these offenses rise to the level of "high crimes and misdemeanors" is the purview of the Senate. Impeachment is a vehicle to make that determination and an important element of the checks and balances in our Constitution. If John is suggesting that impeachment will never occur under One Party Rule, then that is an argument for, not against, divided government.

Jacob Levy
also rebuts the Judis argument at TNR.

Andrew Romano from Newsweek makes a repeat appearance in the carnival, following up his interview with Morris Fiorino with "Will America Vote Against a 'Dangerous Threesome'? ":
"McCain's basic premise is sound. Right now, Democrats narrowly control both chambers of Congress, and experts estimate that they'll pick up between 23 and 28 seats in the House and between seven and nine seats in the Senate. So if Obama wins, it's all donkeys all the time. That said, I'm not sure how well McCain's "divided government" argument will work from a political perspective. Why? Because it has to accomplish several difficult tasks at once..."
Andrew does not argue against Divided Government per se, but offers an analysis of why it may not be effective in moving the electorate at this late date. I agree with Andrew's analysis. It'll be tough. I've never thought of this as an argument that can move more than half of what Cato identified as the centrist, libertarianish, swing vote. Which is to say 5-6% of the electorate tops. That means this argument can only be effective if McCain kept the election close and it does not look like that is going to happen. We can only hope.

In the category of laughable partisan nonsense, Michelle Malkin notes that Chuck Schumer was "Against One Party Rule Before He Was For it":
Charles Schumer - FOX News Sunday, 4/10/05
“ can’t just have one-party rule here.” “The point is that there have to be checks and balances here."
Charles Schumer - ABC News Wednesday, 10/29/08
“Our view is very simple, and that is Republican senators, Republican incumbents aren’t for checks and balances. They’re for blocking change..."
Of course, we should also point out that Michelle Malkin was for One Party Rule before she was against it. DWSUWF, on the other hand was for divided government in 2006 and he is for divided government in 2008. The Welshman also took note of Schumer's flop. Glenn Reynolds and Jon Henke find a similar hypocritical pair of John Dean quotations. In 2006 Glenn was like Michelle. In 2006 Jon was like DWSUWF. So it goes.

The Polls

Gallup suggests that McCain's closing argument may be having an effect:
"...McCain has tried to remind voters that electing Obama as president to go along with a Democratically-controlled Congress would give the Democratic Party control of the federal government. That argument appears to resonate, as voters appear reluctant to want to give one party full control of the government regardless of who is elected president."
Temple University suggests Pennsylvania voters also prefer divided government, but may not vote for it:
"...the Pennsylvania electorate, one in which McCain trails Obama by 9 percentage points, supports the principle of a divided federal government. A majority of likely voters in the Commonwealth—51 percent—believe control of the presidency and Congress should be split between the parties, while just 18 percent believe one party should control both branches. Twenty-eight percent say it does not matter whether or not government is divided."
Maybe they should vote for it. Maybe they will.

In this Keith Obamaman interview, Chris Cilliza of the Washington Post describes an older poll finding Americans did not care about divided government, in direct contradiction to the two more recent polls above. Movement as we approach election day?

Hope floats.

Bloggers and New Media

Yid With Lid
quotes Charles Krauthammer and sums it up perfectly in "Obama + Pelosi + Reid + Frank =ECONOMIC DANGER FOR AMERICA":
"America's founding fathers built a government based on checks and balances. The Idea is to prevent this country from over-reacting to temporary swings in public opinion or worse to fall in line behind one demagogue. If Senator Obama wins the presidential election we are in danger of eliminating most of the checks and balances that have protected this country from the whims of one political leader. Based on polls we may have a Democratic President and a filibuster-proof Senate and a majority in the House. This democratic party "perfect storm" is a danger to the future of this country."
Well said, but he may be overreacting a bit. If the Republicans keep the filibuster, grow some balls, and regain the Senate majority in 2010, the damage will be minimal.

John at 2008Central has some more to say on divided government. In a prior post, he invented a new definition for Divided Government because he found the actual definition used by economists, historians and political scientists to be inconvenient. Since then he has also parroted John Justis' flawed reasoning (see above), and made an argument based on judicial appointments quoting Jeffrey Rosen in "The Judicial Question":
"A simplistic look at divided government always only looks at President and Congress. In all likelihood, the economy will continue to have problems in the next few years, and at some point, Republicans will be able to take advantage of that, at least in the House and possibly Senate elections. But what can’t be undone are Supreme Court appointments."
A simplistic look at the risk of McCain Supreme Court appointments (such as Jeff and John make here), pretends that the large Democratic majority in the Senate does not exist and will have nothing to say about confirming a McCain appointment. A simplistic look will completely ignore John McCain's moderate record in the Senate with Judicial appointments of both parties. A simplistic look will completely ignore the fact that John McCain led the "Gang of 14" bipartisan moderates in the Senate against George Bush and the GOP leadership, earning him the enmity of his own party to preserve the filibuster in the Senate for the minority Democratic party on Judicial picks. A simplistic look will ignore that he did so at the risk of his presidential amitions, for no other reason than because it was the right thing to do for the country. And - oh yeah - force the GOP's hand on more moderate judicial selections.

Len Burman at The Tax Policy Center questions EconomistMom's assertion of the historical basis showing fiscal irresponsibility under One Party Rule, and asks "Does Divided Government Guarantee Fiscal Responsibility?":
"The effect of divided government thus depends on whether McCain's promise of bipartisanship trumps his promise to wield a ruthless veto pen—something that's impossible to predict a priori."
Oh for god's sake, Len. Of course divided government does not "guarantee" fiscal responsibility. Of course it is impossible to know a priori exactly what will transpire in a McCain administration with a Democratic congress. This is politics after all. Are you really wasting ink electrons on these vacuous statements? The point is that there is a documented historical basis for expecting that we will have a lower spending growth rate and more fiscal responsibility under divided government, as shown by Niskanen, Slivinski, and others exactly as EconomistMom said. Len's post can be distilled to exactly this: I choose to pretend the historical precedent showing greater fiscal responsibility under divided government does not exist.


Kbliss at links David Frum and suggests "With Divided Government Unlikely, Let’s Minimize The Loss":
"It is time that the focus of proponents of divided government and centrists in general be turned from the Presidential race, which is lost (McCain is not going to win), to the Congress and particularly the Senate. While a significant Democrat victory in the Senate and the House is assured as well, efforts can be made to limit the scale of the Republican defeat. Efforts need to be made to minimize Republican losses, particularly but not exclusively of those in the rational middle... Following the principles of triage, the place to logically focus is with Senate Republicans, where saving a few Republican Senators will yield more bang for the buck. A 60 vote Democrat majority in the Senate would not be healthy for the country..."
Kbliss makes a good case. I'd much prefer to see McCain wielding a veto pen, but the damage can be contained over the next two years if Republicans have a filibuster and are willing to use it aggressively. I have been a bit critical of David Frum in past posts. He is one of the enablers that pushed the Republican Party to the brink of the abyss. But I concur with Kbliss that he is making a good argument now.

Jacob Sollum at Reason is voting for Bob Barr, but takes a long way around to come to the right conclusion about choosing between the lesser of two evils in "You Choose, You Lose":
"The crucial question is which matters more: a president's theory of executive power or the political environment he faces. If the former, Obama is the less risky choice. If the latter, McCain is, since he would face a less compliant Congress. In that case, the Republicans' sorry performance during their six years in charge of the executive and legislative branches, by highlighting the virtues of divided government, may be the best argument for their nominee."
This is similar line of reasoning to Dyre42, a co-blogger at Donklephant, and Rojas at The Crossed Pond who are also voting for Bob Barr, but sympathetic to the divided government voting heuristic. This is only anecdotal of course, but reading Jacob, Rojas, and Dyre's rationale, I wonder whether Bob Barr may actually be pulling more support from Obama than McCain, contrary to conventional wisdom.
"I placed my vote for what could be called a straight divided government ticket in that I voted Libertarian for president, Republican for Senate, and Democratic at the state level."- Dyre42

"In any era, Barack Obama would be an impressive advocate of all the wrong ideas. In an era in which the US faces $54 trillion in unfunded obligations, as well as an impending demographic crisis for which the bill is imminent, his agenda is simply insane. And for conservatives to support that agenda in their Presidential candidate at a time when the Congress is virtually certain to feature a massive Democratic majority beggars belief. Respect for the concept of divided government alone ought to rule Obama out from any conservative’s perspective." - Rojas
I respect those votes. OTOH, I cannot understand a self-described fiscal conservative or libertarian voting for Obama and One Party Rule.


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 - f*ck it.

And with that we conclude this edition. Thanks for stopping by, and thanks for all of the submissions (on-topic or not). we will once again attempt to increase our CODGOV posting frequency between now and the election. Look for the next edition of The Carnival of Divided Government XXIX - Special Thanksgiving Edition sometime around - um Thanksgivng. Submit your blog article at carnival of divided government using our carnival submission form.


Some recent carnivals and compilations of note:
UPDATED: 11/01/08 - Fixed typos / Added post

Divided and Balanced.™
Now that is fair.

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