Friday, July 24, 2009

The League of Divided Gentlemen

The boys over at the League of Ordinary Gentlemen found a divided government ball in the closet and started kicking it around the field a bit this week. The timing is good.

Consciously or not, voters clearly and decisively rejected any notion of divided government in the November election. However, there are equally clear indications of buyer's remorse emerging in the electorate. The right wing is quick to grasp at any straw and, as usual, get it wrong by focusing primarily on President Obama. This is a mistake for several reasons. First, Obama is a likable and popular president and will likely continue to enjoy that personal popularity. Second, he is not running for office in 2010. If in 2010 Republicans attempt to make up ground by simply trying to tie Democratic legislators to Obama, they will miss an opportunity to begin rebuilding their brand. I submit the remorse is not about Obama. It is about One Party Rule.

Pat Toomey is getting it right. Some credit his entry as a primary challenger to Arlen Specter as the reason Specter deserted the Republican ship and became a Democrat. Toomey fired an opening salvo and struck a direct hit below the waterline of Specter's new Democratic lifeboat, when he eloquently made the case for divided government. To the amusement of Brad at The Crossed Pond, Specter immediately dropped 20 points in head to head polls (comparing the May poll of Specter vs. Toomey in a Republican primary to a recent poll now showing a dead heat between Republican Toomey vs. Democrat Specter in a general election). I cannot help but think the growing disdain for one party Democratic rule is a factor in those results. If this is an early indicator of voter sentiment, we can expect "divided government" to be a hot topic in the 2010 midterms [Note to self: Get back to work on your book project].

Ordinary Gentleman Mark Thompson builds a nice intellectual foundation to kick off the 2010 divided government discussion by asking the question "Is Divided Goverment more responsive?". I'll skip right to his conclusions:
"This isn’t to say that divided government is a cure-all that ensures that all our problems will be competently dealt with. Instead, it’s just to say that divided government makes three things more likely: 1. Where there is no national consensus on the existence of a problem, no legislation will try to fix that alleged problem; 2. Where there is a national consensus on the existence of a problem, legislation will be strongly pushed that seeks to solve that problem; and 3. Legislation that passes will be the result of good-faith negotiations about how best to solve the problem.

Conversely, unified government makes it more likely that: 1. There will be more legislation where only one side of the political spectrum sees the existence of a problem; 2. There will be less legislation where there is a consensus on the existence of a problem since solutions to that problem will, in some instances, be politically inconvenient to the party in power, while the party out of power will have little incentive to push meaningful reform for which the party in power will be able to take credit; and 3. Legislation that becomes law will be significantly undermined, possibly to the point of being counter-productive, by intra-party horse trading and more concentrated interest group influence."
Mark is diving headlong into an area of divided government theory that DWSUWF has studiously avoided. He speculates about the actual mechanism whereby divided government delivers better governance and legislation. In general, DWSUWF has been more interested in promoting the empirically documented benefits of a divided government state and advocating a voting heuristic to exploit them, as opposed to wondering "Why does divided government work?".

As usual, the commentariat at the League are equally informative and stimulating. This last is a bit self serving, as your loyal blogger could not resist weighing in with a few observations. Notable among the comments were these two remarkable admissions -
"Alright, you’ve [mw] got me half-convinced that I’m wrong about the value of a voting strategy."- Mark Thompson

"I think mw may be right that I am overselling the difficulty of determining how to vote for divided government." - Michael Drew
Your blogger is unaccustomed to this kind of affirmation and does not know how to react. I think it best if I just take the rest of the day off. Before I go I'd like to offer Mark a token of appreciation as a charter member in the yet-to-be-posted 2010 Coalition of the Divided ("half-convinced" is good enough for DWSUWF) - Mark, please accept the semi-original graphic at the top of this post, just in case you want to swap out your avatar on your next divided government post.

Divided and Balanced.™
Now that is fair.


Mark Thompson said...

I don't know that I can adopt the DWSUWF emblem as my new avatar since my avatar is the last emblem of my old site at the League. But I will gladly (and humbly) accept the invitation as a charter member of the 2010 Coalition of the Divided.

mw said...

Just hang it your closet. You may find an occasion to slip it on at some black tie event.