Sunday, October 17, 2010

The Carnival of Divided Government
ûnus et quadrâgintâ (XLI)
Midterm Election Countdown Edition

Welcome to the 41st edition of the Carnival of Divided Government - The Midterm Election Countdown Edition. This should be called the Special "Yet Another Late Edition" Edition. I can't come up with excuses anymore. Divided government is an increasingly hot topic, there is a lot of great material, early voting has started, yet I just can't get these out on time. The only solution is to make this harder on myself. Starting now I will be increasing the pressure and publishing the Carnival weekly, to be posted each Sunday in the weeks leading up to and immediately following the election. Lets get on with it.

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 Quadrâgintâ (XL), 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 ten favorites (more or less) for commentary and consideration. We hope you enjoy these selections.

First up, Bruce Bartlett, writing for the Fiscal Times, looks back to make an historical case for Divided Government, and looks forward to see how Barack Obama's presidency can benefit in - "Political Gridlock Can Save Obama’s Presidency"
"Some observers think that Obama may be given a great opportunity to pivot rightward toward the center by a Republican congressional victory and hence actually benefit, as Bill Clinton did after the Republican congressional victory in 1994. The idea is that liberals in Congress often push Democratic presidents too far to the left and waste his time on issues that are not broadly popular. At the same time, Republicans may provide Obama with an easy foil against which to contrast his moderate manner. This worked very well for Clinton and Harry Truman. And if, as many expect, a lot of not-ready-for-primetime Tea Party members get elected, with crazy rhetoric and impossible demands, Obama may have an easier job than Republicans imagine of repositioning himself for reelection in 2012."
Bartlett uses the word "gridlock" as synonymous with "divided government". This is inaccurate, but I'll cut him some slack as Bruce has been a principled and articulate advocate for divided government for at as long as I have been writing this blog. In 2006, he advocated voting for the Democrats to restrain the big government, big spending policies of the Bush administration, just as he is advocating the voting for the GOP to restrain the Obama administration excesses now. It is tough to be a consistent Dividist across multiple election cycles. One must be willing to change teams and put empirical historical evidence of the benefits of divided government ahead of personal preference. From one principled Dividist to another - well done, Bruce.

Of course not everyone agrees. Unsurprisingly, Kevin Drumm of Mother Jones thinks voting for divided government is only a good idea when Republicans have control of all branches of government.

And on the flip side of that coin -

Ed Ross, opining at the Daily Caller, is cheering the restoration of divided government in November, but then goes on to make the case that we'll need One Party Republican Rule to solve our problems in 2012 saying "After the election: restoring the American Dream":
"Americans will wake up on November 3rd to a changed political landscape. Republicans will celebrate. Democrats will recriminate. The underlying fear of America’s downfall that motivated voters to redistribute seats in the House and Senate, however, will remain. The question they asked themselves before the election will still beg for an answer. Is America’s decline inevitable, or can we avert the disasters so many are predicting and restore the American Dream?...

Americans can chose to continue divided government in 2012, but that will only ensure that America’s decline will continue. Divided government in today’s highly charged partisan environment can’t achieve consensus and solve the really big problems Americans face...

as the 2010 election will demonstrate, most Americans don’t believe that President Obama fits that description. He’s not on the ballot in November, but Democrats who supported his policies are; and they will feel the voters’ wrath. In 2012 they’ll have the opportunity to replace him; and it is that election, not 2010, that will determine whether or not we can restore the American Dream."
Yeah... NO. Ross is wrong on many levels, paricularly when he asserts divided government cannot find consensus to solve big problems. In fact, as David Mayhew documented in his seminal work "Divided We Govern", there is no empirical statistical evidence for more or less productivity out of Congress during periods of divided or unified government in the modern era. None. No correlation. No causation. In reality, Congressional productivity "solving problems" is more closely correlated with a "pervasive public mood for change."

The case can also be made that real consensus and compromise can only happen when both parties have a share of power and a seat at the table. One Party Rule leads to bad policy regardless of the party in power.

Finally, Ross is also wrong to claim the election is a mandate rejecting all things Obama. It is not. It is certainly a yank on the leash of a Democratic Party over-indulging in power they've been denied for 16 years. It is a demand for a course correction to a Democratic Party that incorrectly understood what people were voting for in the 2008 election and embarked on a policy of ideological overreach. It was an easy mistake to make, since Obama ran on being all things to all people, Democrats could easily misapprehend which of the mutually contradictory Obama promises people were voting for in 2008. If Obama and the Democrats had embraced as policy the moderate, post-partisan, fiscally responsible centrist image Obama nurtured during the campaign, the Democrats would have maintained their congressional majorities through this election cycle. No matter how David Axelrod tries to"frame" it, tripling the deficit with a 20% increase in spending in two years is not fiscally responsible nor centrist nor sane.

If Ross and the Republicans think this election is a license to reject working with the Democrats to find compromise solutions to the problems he outlines in his post, they will only be planting the seeds of their defeat in 2012. I'm good with that. It may take until 2012, but with both parties chastened and forced to work with each other we'll get real progress and rational real world solutions eventually.

Henry Miller writing in The Daily Caller uses the Obama administration as an example to illustrate convincingly how constitutional checks, balances, and oversight responsibilities are undermined with One Party Rule in "Why we need divided government":
"... as long as both the White House and Congress are controlled by the same party, the congressional oversight mandated by the Constitution is likely to be ineffective. Republicans’ gaining control of either the House or Senate would ensure that at least some of the Obama administration’s transgressions would be investigated and exposed, with committees regularly hauling the bureaucrats into hearings and requiring them to explain their actions and provide copious documentation."
Checks, balances and oversight as the founders intended. Its all good.

Alan Ricketson is a free thinker who has forgotten more about libertarianism than I will ever know. I became acquainted with him when we were both posting at the moribund Freedom Democrat blog. I was pleased to recently rediscover him blogging at Eternal Vigilance, where we find him on the horns of a dilemma, referencing this blog, and wondering "Can I ever vote Republican?"
"I generally buy his argument. What's more, I dislike fanatical partisanship, and the core of the "Divided Government" strategy is the realization that voters should treat parties as part of the system of government, rather than identifying with one or the other. However, the limitation of the strategy is that voters need to vote for parties rather than individual candidates, and we can't have a strong preference for the policies of one party over the others.

So the question that faces me in November is whether I can vote against the Democrats. This shouldn't be too hard for me -- I've voted Democrat occasionally, but have never beet terribly happy with the party or the candidates. For instance, I don't have any particular fondness for Bob Casey, but I despised Rick Santorum, so I voted for Casey in 2006 (and the Republicans had the Presidency regardless). Anyway, for the upcoming election, I looked at my choices to find a Republican Congressional candidate that I could vote for. No luck."
Alan goes on to say he is not going to vote for the Democrats either, so I'll take that half-a-loaf. But his rationale points out why I don't expect this voting heuristic will ever be adopted by more than a sliver of the electorate. It is hard to vote against your preferred political party proclivities.

The good news is that we do not need more than 5 - 7% consciously voting for divided government, to keep the government divided. It does require a shift in mind-set, a willingness to change teams, an appreciation of the benefits of divided government, and a recognition that Republican vs. Democrat is a false choice. The real choice for change in Washington is between voting for Single Party Rule or Divided Government. If you don't like Single Party Rule and the excesses and bad legislation it produces, then you have to vote against it. And to maintain divided government, some will have to vote for candidates we disagree with, or even dislike, in order to get a more palatable and rational federal government we do like.

A final note for Alan - You said you voted for Casey, although you don't agree with him on many issues. I'll ask you to consider whether having your state represented by Casey and Toomey, would not more closely mirror your own values and convictions than having it represented by Casey and Sestak. Finally - consider that Pat Toomey himself may be as much a Dividist as he is a Republican.

Susan Collins, the Republican Senator from Maine, has taken fire from both sides of the aisle, and is in a unique position to opine on "Why divided government would be less divisive.":
"I would suggest that a divided government and a more evenly split Senate are more conducive to bipartisanship than the super-majorities and one-party control of the White House and Congress that we see today. When one party has all the power, the temptation is to roll over the minority, leading to resentment and resistance because the minority has so few options... By contrast, when the White House is controlled by one party and at least one chamber of Congress is in the hands of the other, the president has no choice but to reach out and negotiate. It would be a lot easier for President Obama to resist the hard left of his party if he could say he has to pursue legislation acceptable to a Republican House or Senate. Or better yet, from my perspective, both! "
She goes on to complain about the lack of civility in the government and with political discourse in general. Frankly, I don't particularly care about the perceived lack of civility and doubt that it is that much worse than it has been through much of our history. However, I don't see how anyone can argue the main points of her essay.

Politicians of either party will not compromise in a meaningful way with the opposition unless they have no choice. Why would they? As it stands now, the Democrats have all the cards and need only buy off an odd Republican Senator from time to time. There can be no real compromise because there is no need, and as a result, we get steamrolled legislative abominations like the Obamacare hairball and the Stimulus porker. Under divided government it is not likely to get any more civil, but we will get better legislation. It would be impossible to get worse.

I said it would be hard to argue Senator Collins main points in defense of divided government, but Jonathan Chait at The New Republic does it anyway in "Susan Collins and the Vacuity Of The Bipartisan Fetish" (because - you know - One Party Democratic Rule is working out so well):
"A few problems with this thesis present themselves immediately. First, we have a recent example of divided government: 2007-2008, when Democrats controlled Congress and Republicans the White House. It was not an Edenic time of bipartisan cooperation. The next most recent period of divided government, 1996-2000, featured government shutdowns and a wildly partisan attempt to impeach the president."
A few problems with Chait's counter-thesis present themselves immediately. First, he argues against a straw-man by claiming recent examples of divided government fail to meet the absurd standard of an "Edenic time of bipartisan cooperation". What nonsense. No one is looking for Eden. The relevant question is whether we get better, more fiscally responsible governance during periods of divided government. That answer is unequivocally "YES".

Two recent examples of Divided Government were cited by Chait - 2007-2008 and 1994-2000. For a more honest 07-08 assessment reference Slivinski on fiscal results, and recall that in that time period, as a direct consequence of electing a divided government in 2006, we got a new Secretary of Defense, a new Attorney General, a marginal improvement in both the Patriot Act and FISA vs. the Bush/Cheney versions, a great deal more oversight revealing many of the abuses of the six years of single party control (ex - Justice Department), and a revised strategy in Iraq resulting in an improved security situation. These improvements, though marginal, are not insignificant. It is the nature of divided government that improvements will be incremental.

Chiat's other example - the Clinton/Gingrich years - are often cited as a golden age of divided government. The poster child of dysfunctional gridlock is the Clinton/Gingrich budget impasse that shut down the government 1n 1995. That was ugly to be sure. Yet out of that same dynamic during the six years of divided and "gridlocked" government, we got a lot of good, smart governance: NAFTA, GATT, Welfare Reform, PAYGO, Tax cuts, reduction in the growth of federal spending, deficit reduction, growing economy, low unemployment and a balanced budget. I'll take that tradeoff anytime.

The critical factor will be the American people - as it always has been and always will be. When the hue and cry from the electorate gets loud enough, the bullshit stops and the compromise starts. This was true with Gingrich and Clinton. It will also be true with Boehmer and Obama.

I consider it a an indication of the potency of the divided government meme with independents, that it is coming under increasing and more strident attacks from partisans and the left as the election approaches. Case in point - Chiat's fluff piece above, and....

Valerie Curl at Epiphanyblog, had an epiphany that she would prefer to see the continuation of One Party Democratic Rule. She backs into a rationalization to justify her preference in "Would a Divided Government, At this Time, Resolve Our Challenges":
"Gridlock will not solve these problems. Two years of Congress playing “Is it Constitutional?” or not will not put the American people back to work, increase tax revenues, rebuild the middle class, or solve our fiscal problems or global competitiveness. What most probably will occur, as a result of all the ideologically-speaking odd TEA party candidates being voted into office, is an accelerated stagnation of the economy and loss of global competition. If Republican had put forth serious minded candidates, rather than ideological extremes, then I would have greater confidence in a divided government as a divided government often improves policy. In this particular case, I do not have that confidence, regardless of whether or not Obama wins in 2012…because Obama winning in 2012 is the least of my concerns. My concern is our nation and our people in a world in which global competition can make or break an economy. I do not see, at present, Republicans being serious about this threat to our national economy.”
This is the mirror image of libertarians, independents and limited government conservatives rationalizing a decision to continue to support Republicans in 2006 despite the big spending, big government, big deficit policies of Republican One Party Rule under George Bush.

The rationalization then, was that Democrats were not sufficiently serious about security and the terrorist threat to our country to be trusted with a share of power. That was an equally nonsensical argument to the one Ms. Curl is making here. It speaks more to the partisan prejudice of the one making the argument than any real rationale for supporting one party or the other.

I'm spotlighting her post in this carnival, because of an almost toss-away comment that caught my attention: "Two years of Congress playing “Is it Constitutional?” or not will not put the American people back to work, increase tax revenues, rebuild the middle class, or solve our fiscal problems or global competitiveness." I have not seen this articulated quite like this before, but it is enlightening. I suspect this is an accurate reflection of how many on the left view the Constitution - as an important document, but one that shouldn't get in the way of an enlightened leadership solving the big social and economic problems facing the country.

Again this is similar to those on the right who consider the Constitution an important document, but one that shouldn't get in the way of strong enlightened leadership defending and protecting our country from foreign threats and terrorism. Which all goes to reinforce why neither party can be trusted will all the keys to power. Ever. Voters should never let it happen under any circumstances. We need the left to protect our civil liberties from the right. We need the right to protect our economic liberties from the left. Neither of them are very good at it, but you take what you can get.

Fortunately, there are a lot of independent thinkers who do "get it"...

As reported on The Hill, the recent Hill/ANGA Midterm Election Poll shows 51 percent of independents prefer divided government:
"Throughout this cycle, congressional Republicans have stressed the need for “a check and balance” on the Obama administration. The poll indicates that message is working. Independents prefer a divided government by 53 percent to 30; undecided voters broke 47-22 in the same direction. Penn said, “This factor could be critical in determining the final outcome of the elections.” In the 2008 election, 53 percent of independent voters in these districts chose Obama for president. The Hill/ANGA poll found that a majority of these voters — 56 percent — now disapprove of the job Obama is doing. Eighty-three percent disapprove of Congress.
I have ever increasing respect for the wisdom of the non-partisan electorate.

Tunku Varadarajan writing at The Beast wrestles with the question of how libertarians in favor or divided government should think about voting for candidates they disagree with and may not even like in "Why I'm Rooting for Sharron Angle":
"If one were to look for anything more intricate or strategic, one could wish for a Republican House and a Democratic Senate, on the grounds that divided government means fewer new laws and regulations. But given that there's a Democrat in the White House, I'd say we've got enough division already, and that we'd be better off with Republicans in charge of both houses—as well as in the state houses and governors' mansions, since they're slightly less beholden to the public-employee unions than are the Democrats. And the Republicans, this time, have been chastened by the emergence of the Tea Party, which should greatly dampen any residual GOP ardor for big government.

Nevada’s Sharron Angle raises similar issues: She, too, is an unconventional Republican candidate, easily typified as “extreme” by the media. There is no doubt that, objectively, some of her positions are, indeed, hard-line. But there are no libertarians, I would wager, who’d like to see her lose to Harry Reid. However distasteful she may be, the political and symbolic importance of defeating Reid is so great that its imperative trumps all distaste. Reid, to libertarian eyes, is the incarnation of our big-government malaise. If he survives, all our hearts will sink and the world will go dark."
I could not agree with Tunku more, although I could quibble with his sloppy definition of divided government. As far as supporting Sharron Angle while holdng ones nose - right. As noted in my last post, watching her in the debate was a teeth grinding horror show. The only thing worse? Watching Harry Reid in the same debate.

Libertarians are not the only ones willing to hold their nose and vote for Divided Government to secure better governance -

The Rattlesnake, blogging at Electoral Vote Predictor does some analysis, make some predictions, and offer his personal preferences in "17 Days to go, My Personal Endorsement":
"Runyan and the Republicans turn my stomach in a lot of ways. Their backwards views on gay rights, immigration and a host of other social issues frankly make me pretty sick. I wasn't sure until very recently what I was going to do in this election, precisely because of those issues. A friend of mine made a point to me that made the decision very clear. He simply said: "All the social issues you care about don't matter if the country isn't here 50 years from now."

Managing the deficit is a matter of survival for our country, and no, I don't think that is overly dramatic. Our best shot for forcing our government officials to deal with the deficit is a divided government."
It worked before, and it can work again. The Rattlesnake is a Democrat doing the right thing by voting Republican to restore divided government. I respect that. For similar reasons, and because there is no reason to trust Republicans more than Democrats, I expect I will be supporting Barack Obama's re-election in 2012 to maintain divided government.


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.

For the fourth edition in a row, we again present Madeleine Begun Kane (who practically owns this spot) as she presents Obama's Half-Assed Message posted at Mad Kane's Humor Blog.

Dear Obama, you’re right — Dems must vote.
But there’s something I simply must note:
You’re weak and a muck up.
Don’t tell your base “Buck up!”
All you’re doing is getting our goat.
With that, we'll conclude this edition. As noted earlier, we will be publishing the Carnival weekly as we approach the election. Look for the next edition of The Carnival of Divided Government Duo et quadrâgintâ (XLII) - Continuing Election Countdown Edition - next Sunday 10-24-10. 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

1 comment:

The Rattlesnake said...

Thanks for quoting my site and very interesting site. I look forward to checking back in on you, especially since it appears that your philosophy of divided government is going to prevail in a couple of weeks, at least for the next 2 years.