Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The President is schooled.

Frequently heard conventional wisdom on the left attributes the poor Democratic election performance to a bad economy and disenchanted liberal voters staying home. The logical inference of that wisdom is that an improving economy and a "stay the course" liberal agenda for this administration is all that is needed to restore the Obama coalition to its 2008 glory. Last week, Anne Kim and Stefan Hawkin of Third Way and Lincoln Park Strategies released a post-election survey that tested the conventional wisdom and found it wanting (H/T Tully):

Politico - Who really abandoned Dems?
The Obama voters who stayed home this year (the “droppers”) or who switched their vote to Republican (the “switchers”) are neither disgruntled and de-motivated liberals. Nor are they raging tea partiers. Rather, they are overwhelmingly moderate to moderate conservative. Bipartisanship is what they demand. And the role of government, deficits and the economy are their major concerns. In a post-election survey by Third Way and Lincoln Park Strategies, we polled 500 droppers and 500 switchers. Our findings make one point clear: The path to regaining or retaining power for both parties isn’t toward the right or left. It’s from the center out...

Switchers are unhappy about deficits. The top-ranked reason cited by switchers for voting Republican was “too much government spending” (66 percent cited this). And while 64 percent of switchers say deficits are a “serious problem that are weakening the economy,” three in four don’t think Democrats are either “serious about reducing the deficit” or “responsible with taxpayer dollars.”
The survey - "Droppers” and “Switchers”: The Fraying Obama Coalition"
66% of switchers say “too much government spending” was a major reason for their decision not to vote Democratic this year. This is the number-one ranked factor switchers gave in our poll.
  • 64% of switchers say deficits are a “serious problem that areweakening the economy” (versus 32% who say “deficits are a concernbut we have more pressing priorities”).
  • 76% don’t think Democrats are “serious about reducing the deficit.”
  • 78% don’t think Democrats are “responsible with taxpayer dollars.”
In fact, 68% of switchers say they would be more likely to support President Obama in 2012 if he offered a serious proposal to reduce the deficit.
Apparently President Obama and his political brain trust were indeed diligently taking notes while getting seriously schooled in the midterms. Good. On Monday President Obama announced a Federal employee pay freeze for non-military employees. On Tuesday he met with congressional leadership and assured the American people that he heard the voice of the voters:
"The American people did not vote for gridlock. They didn’t vote for unyielding partisanship. They’re demanding cooperation and they’re demanding progress. And they’ll hold all of us –- and I mean all of us –- accountable for it. And I was very encouraged by the fact that there was broad recognition of that fact in the room. I just want to say I thought it was a productive meeting. I thought that people came to it with a spirit of trying to work together. And I think it’s a good start as we move forward. I think everybody understands that the American people want us to focus on their jobs, not ours. They want us to come together around strategies to accelerate the recovery and get Americans back to work. They want us to confront the long-term deficits that cloud our future."
The Dividist has one quibble with the President's statement. While technically true that the American people may not have voted specifically for gridlock, and while he is also correct they would prefer bipartisan cooperation on controlling spending, they did clearly show they'll happily take gridlock over the kind of crappy and stupidly expensive steamrolled partisan legislation that passed in the last Congress. But, in the bipartisan spirit of taking a bipartisan hatchet to a slashed bipartisan budget, we'll overlook that nit.

Minutes after the President's statement, the co-chairs of his National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform had a press conference to announce that their final report on a deficit cutting plan will be delivered on Wednesday and voted on Friday. Regarding the vote, the Democratic co-chair Erskine Bowles said " ... that whatever happens, the commission will have achieved "victory" by starting a national conversation about the federal debt. 'The era of deficit denial in Washington is over,' the North Carolinian and former Clinton White House chief of staff drawled." The Dividist agrees.

In three days, the top three stories out of Washington are all about fiscal responsibility, controlling spending and deficits. President Obama and the President's commission are leading the charge. Real, meaty, substantial proposals are being put on the table. If it were not for wikileaks, this is all we would be talking about, and that is a very good thing.

The Dividist is practically giddy with excitement and in danger of losing his cynicism. He suspects we going to make real progress this time. Now, the Dividist hastens to add that he is not delusional. If done correctly, it will be contentious, noisy, the air will be filled with partisan cries, lamentations, the rending of garments and the bellowing of gored ox. Likely, the Dividist will be among those gnashing teeth, tearing hair, and complaining bitterly about whatever makes it out of the sausage grinder. But at least we appear to be starting down a path to some semblance of what passes for fiscal responsibility in Washington D.C.

There is one simple reason for optimism: The President and political advisers understand his re-election in 2012 depends on restraining spending and the deficit. Republicans in Congress understand their re-election and majorities in the House and Senate in 2012 depend on it. Even some Democrats in Congress understand their re-election in 2012 depends on it. David Axelrod thinks it important enough to ramp up the Audacity of Astroturf troops mere days after the mid-term. Hey - it worked for Obamacare.

Not all on the left agree. Some still in denial, found the President's initiative to be vexing, a capitulation, an ineffectual ploy, bad negotiations, symbolic, doublespeak, blasphemy, stupid, gutless, cretinous, anti-union, pointless, a sellout and a blunder (among other things).

OTOH, those that "get it" understand exactly how damaging this chart was to Obama and the Democratic Party in the midterms. Private sector jobs were lost by the millions, but under this administration public sector jobs (that pay better with greater security than the private sector) were protected. Given the close relationship and massive financial support the Democrats and Obama received from public sector unions like SEIU, it just did not look good. Voters were angry. With the help of letter from a reader, even Ezra Klein gets it now (almost).

Republicans will predictably say that it is weak gruel, and does not go far enough. But, it is a start. Given the depth of the hole our pols dug for us over the last ten years, a real start is exactly what we need. Thank you Mr. President. If you stay on this path, you may even get re-elected, and we can keep our happily divided government.

Divided and Balanced.™
Now that is fair.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Traditional Thanksgiving Carving of the Currency

Happy Thanksgiving everyone! Time to count our blessings. The Dividist is particularly thankful that after only two years, the electorate has seen fit to restore divided government, a full two years before he thought it possible. The Dividist is less thankful about what our leaders are doing to our currency.

Our new tradition on Thanksgiving is to watch the carving of our currency, as it is sliced by Washington DC fiscal policy and diced by Fed monetary policy.

Your Thanksgiving dollar dinner is served:

For our main course, let us check in with Peter Schiff, who you may recall was right in 2006-07 predicting the impending recession and crash of the real estate bubble caused by inflationary monetary policy at the fed, misguided public policy in Washington, lax lending by the banks, and criminal fraud on Wall Street. He was also right in 2008 when he warned President-elect Obama about the folly of trying to borrow and spend ourselves into prosperity. Monotonously he was right again exactly one year ago in 2009 when he told us to keep buying gold at the record price of $1,186 /oz (15% lower than Wednesday's close of $1,372/oz) as a hedge against the devaluing dollar.

Serving up the meat and potatoes - Schiff on the insanity of Congress mandating a two headed Fed charter. They are required to manage monetary policy to maintain a stable currency, and also to promote maximum employment by umm.. devaluing the currency:

The Chimera of the Fed's Schizophrenic Mission - Peter Schiff
"Prior to 1977, the Fed only had one job: maintaining price stability. However, the stagflation of the 1970s inspired politicians to assign another task: promoting maximum employment. This “mission creep” has transformed the Fed from a monetary watchdog into an instrument of social policy. We would do well to give them back their original job.

The imposition of the “dual mandate” was informed by the Keynesian belief that inflation and unemployment don’t mix. An economic concept known as the ”Phillips curve” postulates that low levels of one cause high levels of the other. But, like many things in modern economics, the curve is a fiction. There is no real reason why low inflation would produce unemployment or full employment would create inflation...

The real reason that prices rise, for both goods and wages, is that the Fed creates inflation. This policy undermines the economy by destroying both current savings and the incentives to accumulate future savings. Since savings finance capital investment, lower savings equal weaker economic growth.

So, the best way for the Fed to create maximum employment is to focus on the single mandate of price stability. While a few elected officials seem to be figuring this out, most are just as clueless as the Fed. Unfortunately, even if Congress succeeds in changing the Fed’s mandate, there is not much chance that monetary policy will change significantly. Keynesian thinking is so ingrained in Bernanke and his colleagues that they will exploit any wiggle room in their directives to jump back in the driver’s seat and send us ever faster toward the edge of an economic cliff."
For a side dish, Peter Schiff checks in with CNBC and browbeats the usual suspects on Fast Money:

For dessert, we recommend a particularly amusing and insightful animation created by Ornid Malekan to explain the Fed's recently announced second serving of an aggressive quantitative easing policy - aka QE2. (using the XTranormal text to movie tool):

Tasty. The most amazing thing about this video - it is closing in on almost 3 million views after being posted on YouTube for only 3 weeks. After knocking this out in an afternoon, its creator is in demand by the media, being interviewed by the likes of Slate and CNBC.

C'mon. A six minute long primitive animation about economics, Fed policy, and Quantitative Easing - going viral? Three million views? How does that happen? The Dividist has no explanation.

Finally, for a relaxing after dinner smoke - "The Bernanke" hits the road to defend the QE2 policy to the world. Good luck with that, Ben.

Divided and Balanced.™
Now that is fair.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Monday Midterm Miscellany

This was to be the Friday Flotsam feature, wherein the Dividist takes a stroll down the metaphorical beach of the DWSUWF blog and takes note of the detritus that has washed ashore and cluttered his little island of rationality in the great big blogospheric ocean. Even though it is not Friday, we'll do it anyway. The beach is a mess.

We are surrounded with the flotsam and jetsam of the midterm election cruise ship that sailed past a few weeks ago and is now little more than a dot on the horizon. Left behind - a variety of midterm topics the Dividist intended to blog about, but now serving as a distraction to the lame duck session, START treaty, foreign policy, tax cuts, the 2012 Presidential election season, and more looming memes.

ITEM - Blog news and annoying blogger affectations.
The Dividist has belatedly begun the process of cleaning up the sidebars, removing 2010 campaign contribution badges, and rearranging gadgets that were relevant to the midterms, but less interesting now. The Dividist is also working with some of the new Blogger templates, thinks the old blog is long overdue for a makeover, and will be looking to spruce the place up over the holidays. Stay tuned.

Finally your loyal blogger noticed that he has been referring to himself in the third person with increasing frequency of late, using the Dividist® moniker he recently shelled out good money to register as a trademark. The Dividist finds this habit annoying on other blogs, and is unsure why he thinks The Reader would think any differently about this blog. The Dividist hopes this is just a phase he is going through and will drop the affectation soon.

ITEM - Good Predictions, Bad Predictions and the end of the "100 Year Rule".

The Dividist is in the habit of making election predictions, and 2010 was no exception. Days after the 2006 midterm restored divided government, he assessed his 2006 prognostications (more right than wrong), misquoted Ayn Rand, and looked forward to 2008. Similarly, after the divided government candidate lost the presidential election in 2008 he looked forward to 2010 and 2012 with fear, loathing and some more predictions. Time to face the music.

Net net, although the Dividist predicted GOP pickups, he concluded there was no way for the GOP to restore divided government in 2010, thinking they simply were in too deep a hole to crawl out in one election cycle. Variations of that same prediction were repeated on this blog in the 10 in 10 series without much change until recently. These bad predictions were influenced by his fidelity to the "100 Year Rule" - as, up to 2010, it was a reliable historical precedent that the House never flipped party control unless the Senate flipped first or concurrently. It was a rule that had never been violated since the US began directly electing Senators almost 100 years ago.

As they say, precedents are made to be broken and happily the Dividist was wrong. We now have divided government and a divided congress as a consequence of the GOP retaking majority control of the House. It's all good.
The "100 year rule" will never be mentioned again. Another homily that is on the verge of being retired is "All Politics is Local". For the last three cycles, "All Politics is National" has been a better rule of thumb.

In the future, I suggest The Reader pay more attention to the Dividist's co-blogger Tully's predictions. He has a better track record.

ITEM - Michael Reynolds owes the Dividist a bottle of 15 year old Laphroiag

He has already contacted me via e-mail, and I'm sure that he is good for it. But - in light of his other poor prognostications - the Dividist feels justified in crowing about this well documented winning wager.

ITEM - Divided Government meme was a far more popular blog topic in the 2010 election than in '08 or '06.
In each of the last three elections, there has been a spike in blog postings about divided government as election day approaches. This effect was magnified dramatically in 2010. The Dividist has used Nielson's BlogPulse trend search tool to measure blogospheric interest in each of the last three elections. This is a great little tool that returns a graph showing the percentage of all blog posts in the entire blogospheric universe mentioning any search term over time.

In 2006, Divided Government posts peaked at .007% of all posts or 7 out of 100,000 posts on the peak day (NOTE - this is out of the universe of all blog posts, not just politics - including emo Japanese teen girl fashion diaries and pron blogs - just sayin... its a small percentage of a big universe). In 2008 divided government posts peaked at slightly less, or about .0065% (6.5 posts per 100,000) shortly before the election. Assuming the blogosphere is itself is expanding (I think a safe assumption), that would still indicate an absolute increase in blog posts on the subject, although slightly less as a relative percentage of all posts. In 2010 divided government posts peaked at around .014% or 14 posts per 100,000 - more than a doubling of blogging interest over the prior two cycles. Make of that what you will.

ITEM - California is financially fracked, and the Democrats are now completely in charge. What could go wrong?
The Dividist has been careful to only advocate a divided government voting heuristic at the federal level where there is substantial historical evidence and scholarship to support the rationale. The Dividist does not know if the same dynamic works at a state level. With a state as big as California and a bicameral legislature similar to the federal, he suspects it does. In any case, we are about to find out. With Ahnold in Sacramento, we had a quasi-Republican governor to balance the heavily Democratic legislature. No more. The Dividist is clearly out of step with a majority of his fellow Californians, who are perfectly content to have the Democrats run everything in Sacramento and to be represented in Washington by a Senator who is simply an embarrassment to the state.

Jerry Brown is our Governor-elect. San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom is Lt. Governor-elect. The legislature is a blue as it ever was and the entire state government is now as blue as it gets. Despite being one the most highly taxed states in the union, the state is facing the biggest financial crisis in it's history, in no small part due to union featherbedding and pension deals cut for state workers who are - shock - big contributors to California Democrats.

Brown promised in the campaign that there would be no new taxes unless approved by the voters. That is good, unless he was lying. What are the odds? Californians also passed propositions that prevent Sacramento from raiding local municipality revenues, prevents them from raising taxes unilaterally by calling them fees, but permits the budget to be passed on a majority (vs. 2/3 supermajority) vote. That pretty much only leaves big spending cuts to solve our financial problems and requires only a simple majority of Democrats to pass them. The California Democratic legislature now has the opportunity to fix the problems that their fiscal irresponsibility created. They have all the keys to power. There is no one else to blame. There are no excuses. Okay California Democrats - you created the problem- you own the problem - now fix the problem.

ITEM - The Tea Party Giveth and Tea Party Taketh Away -or- Funny, you don't look libertarianish.
The Dividist does not think anyone can deny that the energy and enthusiasm of the Tea Party movement was the fuel that drove Republican success in the House of Representatives. However, The Dividist also does not think anyone can deny that, given what happened in the House, the GOP underperformed in the Senate. Weak Tea Party supported candidates in Delaware, Colorado, and Nevada probably did cost the GOP control of the Senate. If the Senate finished 51-49, there was a reasonable possibility that Joe Lieberman and Ben Nelson could have flipped parties to give the GOP control of the Senate. At 53-47, that possibility is off the table.

That said, the Dividist is very excited about the Tea Party supported Rand Paul win. For the first time, there will be a libertarianish voice in the Senate.

The Dividist views Senator-elect Rand Paul in the same category as Senator Bernie Sanders. Sanders is a self described socialist, representing a small minority of the electorate, but the people of Vermont choose to give this ideology a voice in the Senate. The people of Kentucky have now given the libertarian-leaning a voice in the Senate, and for that the Dividist is grateful. The Dividist is considering switching from single malt scotch to Kentucky bourbon in his honor.

The left appears to be particularly unhappy about Paul, but they should not be. Rand Paul will be as much a thorn in the side of Republicans as Democrats. When it comes time to cut spending – Rand Paul will not hesitate to put Defense spending and our overextended and wildly expensive global military footprint on the table. The Dividist may even convert to Aqua Buddhism.

ITEM - Republicans are in position to take the Senate Majority in 2012. Unless they don't.
Much has been made of the structural advantage the Republicans will have in the 2012 Senate races, a point the Dividist has been making since 2008. Of the 33 Senate races up for consideration 23 seats are currently held by Democrats. Moreover, many of those Democrats are among the putative moderate/conservative class of Democratic Senators that won narrow races in red states, on the strength of the 2006 Democratic wave. In that class are Webb in Virginia, McCaskill in Missouri and Tester in Montana. The complete list:

2012 Democratic Senate Incumbents

  • Dianne Feinstein of California
  • Tom Carper of Delaware
  • Bill Nelson of Florida
  • Daniel Akaka of Hawaii
  • Ben Cardin of Maryland
  • Debbie Stabenow of Michigan
  • Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota
  • Claire McCaskill of Missouri
  • Jon Tester of Montana
  • Ben Nelson of Nebraska
  • Bob Menendez of New Jersey
  • Jeff Bingaman of New Mexico
  • Kirsten Gillibrand of New York
  • Kent Conrad of North Dakota
  • Sherrod Brown of Ohio
  • Bob Casey, Jr. of Pennsylvania
  • Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island
  • Jim Webb of Virginia
  • Maria Cantwell of Washington
  • Joe Manchin of West Virginia
  • Herb Kohl of Wisconsin
  • Joe Lieberman of Connecticut
  • Bernie Sanders of Vermont

2012 Republican Senate Incumbents

  • Jon Kyl of Arizona
  • Richard Lugar of Indiana
  • Olympia Snowe of Maine
  • Scott Brown of Massachusetts
  • Roger Wicker of Mississippi
  • John Ensign of Nevada
  • Bob Corker of Tennessee
  • Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas
  • Orrin Hatch of Utah
  • John Barrasso of Wyoming

It is hard to overstate how important the Delaware, Colorado, Washington, California and Nevada wins were for the Dems in 2010. The more seats they put in the bank this cycle, the better the chances of surviving likely 2012 losses. Although the odds are still against them, it is certainly conceivable that with an improved economy, some serious course corrections by the administration, and the possibility of even more help from the GOP (by nominating candidates as bad as Angle and O’Donnell) they can limit their net losses to 3 seats in 2012 and retain the Senate majority.

Webb, McCaskill and Tester can still carry the day in 2012 by taking a consistent and strong fiscal conservative voting record into the election and showing independence from the Democratic leadership over the next two years. Representative Jason Altmire in Pennsylvania is a model for Democrats like these who want to be re-elected. He also arrived in Congress on the 2006 wave, winning in a Republican district. Since then he has won re-election twice more and survived the 2010 GOP wave. He did not vote for Obamacare or Cap & Trade, and never stops talking about restraining spending and fiscal responsibility. Let the Democratic Senators who have eyes to see and ears to hear, see, hear and understand. Amen.

Another factor that is not getting as much attention, is the GOP can also lose 2-3 seats in 2012. It is axiomatic that in a wave election like 2010, the surging party retains all incumbent seats. There is no reason to believe that 2012 will be a wave election like 2010, which puts GOP seats also at risk. Certainly it is an open question whether Scott Brown can hold his seat in Massachusetts. It is also a realistic possibility the GOP/Tea Party will help out again by running more clowns in Republican primaries who will then lose against Democratic incumbents. There is already talk of primary challenges for Olympia Snowe and Orrin Hatch. Realistically, the numbers are stacked heavily against the Democrats, but the 2010 Senate Republican performance has opened the door a crack for the Democrats to squeeze through and retain the Senate in 2012.

ITEM - The Dividist will be changing teams again for 2012

There are three ways that our brand spanking new divided government can continue past the 2012 election.
  1. The Democrats could retain the Senate majority. The Dividist considers this unlikely since 23 of the 33 seats up for reelection are held by Democrats, many of them swept in on the 2006 Democratic wave. Possible, but as noted above, they’ll be on defense and structurally have a much tougher row to hoe than in 2010.
  2. The Democrats could lose the Senate and retake the House. The Dividist thinks this is extremely unlikely, given the depth of the hole they have dug for themselves in the House.
  3. Barack Obama could be re-elected. In all cases (excepting an improbable Dem 2012 wave retaking the House and retaining the Senate), the easiest vote to ensure divided government past 2012 will be to vote against the GOP presidential candidate and re-elect Barack Obama. That is the way The Dividist sees it now, and if nothing changes that will be the way The Dividist votes. [Caveat - there is one wild card that bears watching.]

The last time the Dividist changed teams was after the Democrats swept Congress in 2006 and it became clear that the only way to keep the government divided was to elect a Republican President in 2008. It took the Dividist until December of the following year before he was confident enough in his forecast of the political winds for 2008 to prepare himself mentally and formalize the change.

Changing teams in support of a political objective is, of course, incomprehensible to partisans who are psychologically incapable of voting for anyone outside of the their preferred party for President, Senate, or House of Representatives. Partisans generally subscribe to some variation of the “My party is on the side of angels and the other party is the spawn of satan.” school of politics. Their vote at the federal level votes is as predictable as sunrise and sunset and they represent the vast majority of the electorate.

At least 70% of the electorate and probably closer to 80%+ vote as partisans, regardless of whether they choose to label themselves by their party of preference or as an independent. Political Scientists show conclusively that most self-identified "Independents" are closet partisan voters.

Not that there is anything wrong with that. Some of the Dividist's best friends are partisans. He thinks the correct way to to think of Partisan Dead Weight (PDW) is as ballast - so long they stay roughly balanced on the right and left, they provide stability for our ship of state. It is because of them that a relative sliver of the electorate who are true independents, who will really swing their vote at a federal level between the major parties, can dramatically change the complexion and direction of our government.

UPDATED: Fixed typos, added and repaired links.

Divided and Balanced.™
Now that is fair.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Carnival of Divided Government
Quattuor et Quadrâgintâ (XLIV)
Special Post-Midterm Postmortem Edition

Welcome to the 44th edition of the Carnival of Divided Government - The Special "Post-Midterm Postmortem Glorious Restoration of Divided Government and the End of Our Long National One Party Rule Nightmare" aka "I told you so." Edition.

What a difference an election makes. After six years (more or less) of One Party Republican Rule, followed by two short years of divided government, in 2008 the electorate decided to give One Party Democratic Rule another chance. Now, only two years later, having been reminded yet again that one party rule by either party does indeed really and truly suck, the voters have restored divided government and added a divided congress to boot. It's all good.

We've had two weeks for the traditional and new media to digest the election results and ponder the meaning of it all. Time for another...

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 Quattuor et Quadrâgintâ (XLIV), 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 top ten favorites for commentary and consideration. We hope you enjoy these selections, and we hope your are looking forward as we are to two years of contentious, fractious and divided federal government, just the way the founders intended.

Barry Fagin, writing in the Colorado Springs Gazette, invokes the Dividist's favorite Federalist Paper and nets it out in "Voters echo founders' wish to pit ambition against ambition":
"With the Republican advances in the last election, pundits are now talking of the need for bipartisanship. The heck with that. Divided government and partisan bickering are great things, because they limit the damage politicians can do... until one or both of the major parties realizes that government taxes too much, spends too much, and has an important but constitutionally limited role in American life, pitting “ambition against ambition” may be the best we can do."
Regarding that Divided government does not mean bipartisanship bit... I told you so.

E.D. Kain of The League of Ordinary Gentlemen examines the election results at the state level, muses about the implications for redistricting, and then takes a very long view of "The Census and the Republican Victory in the House":
"In other words, Republicans could (in theory) hold on to the House of Representatives until 2022 at the very earliest, regardless of what happens in the Senate or the Oval Office. That’s a 14 year Congressional coup, making the 2010 election GOP victory pale in comparison. For Democrats, this is obviously more bad news. For anyone who cheered on filibuster reform* when Democrats controlled the House and Senate, perhaps now would be the time to reconsider that position. No matter who controls the White House for the foreseeable future, only two options likely remain until 2022: divided government, or a Republican trifecta at the federal level."
As the Dividist steels himself for the psychically traumatic pseudo-partisan change operation that is looming in the days ahead, at least he can be comforted in the knowledge that he will be reunited with his fair weather Democratic divided government fans for the foreseeable future.

*Regarding that "filibuster reform" thing... I told you so.

Thomas Sowell at the National Review is reminding us that "the last time we had a budget surplus, we had divided government" in "The Gridlock Bogeyman":
"Whenever the party that controls the White House does not also control Capitol Hill, political pundits worry that there will be “gridlock” in Washington, so that the government cannot solve the nation’s problems. Almost never is that fear based on what actually happens when there is divided government, compared to what happens when one party has a monopoly of both legislative and executive branches... It is not a matter of faith that a market economy can recover on its own. It is a matter of faith that politicians speed recovery. But there is no way that Barack Obama is going to stop intervening in the economy unless he gets stopped. Only gridlock can do that."
Regarding that "gridlock" thing... I told you so.

David Parker, a Political Science Professor at Montana State University blogging at Montana Politics, references a Politico article about Representative Darrell Issa planning to do his job, then cites some of his own unpublished research to inform us that "Divided Government Matters":
"An analysis of investigations with the committee as the unit of analysis shows a similar trend: divided government is associate with more and longer investigations of the executive branch... The punch line: Divided government matters. It makes it harder to pass legislation, and increases the propensity of Congress to oversee the executive branch"
Ok. Regarding the bit about "Divided government matters." - Yeah. I think I knew that. It is the raison d'etre for this blog. Regarding the punch line, I'll agree with that also, with a couple of minor edits: Divided government matters. It makes it harder to pass bad legislation, and increases the propensity of Congress to do their job and oversee the executive branch.

Rand Paul, Senator-elect from Kentucky, and member in good standing (thus far) of the 2010 Coalition of the Divided, reconfirms his fondness for the cause, telling Bob Schieffer on CBS News 'Washington Unplugged' that "I'm a Fan of Divided Government":
"With 37 incoming members who also identify themselves as Tea Party politicians, it won't be his affiliation that makes Sen.-Elect Rand Paul (R-Ky.) unique on Capitol Hill in January. But it may be his excitement about working with a divided House and Senate that sets him apart. In an interview with "Washington Unplugged," this Republican from Kentucky says he looks forward to working with a House controlled by his party and a Democratic White House and Senate, calling himself a "fan" of divided government."
Of course, the real test will be when he must choose between divided government and one party Republican rule. That is when we'll learn where his real loyalties lie. But in terms of Rand Paul walking an independent path, so far so good and I told you so.

Jonathan Chait of The New Republic is quite bitter about the whole situation and tells us why in a devastating dismantling of a straw man he props up for that very purpose in "Split Ends - The myth of divided government" also published at The Cagle Post:
"The fetishization of divided government resembles a kind of cargo cult: If only we reconstruct the division of power from 1983, then surely the Greenspan Commission will return to solve our problems. The conditions that created those old bipartisan agreements aren’t coming back, no matter what you do to conjure them."
It would be a good argument Jon, if the reason that people voted for divided government is in the hope of ushering in an era of bipartisan cooperation, moderation and compromise. That may or may not happen, but it has nothing to do with the reason why many independents voted as they did. They voted to restrain the excesses of this administration by ending this latest edition of One Party Democratic Rule. They voted in reflexive horror after witnessing the twin abominations of mind-numbingly bad and jaw-droppingly expensive legislation -Stimulus and Obamacare - steamrolled by this One Party Democratic Rule.

Whether this divided government produces bipartisan cooperation or not, it remains a fact that bi-partisan cooperation is impossible when one party believes it holds all the cards. And if this divided government does nothing else but prevent legislation like Obamacare and the Stimulus, then it will meet the objectives of those that voted for it.

In any case, Jon - while I understand that monotonously applying the ad hominen pejorative of a "fetish" to the divided government voting heuristic makes you feel good, it really does not further your argument - as I've told you so before.

As an antidote to Chait's bluster, logical fallacy, and dismissive ad hominen approach to explaining the electorate and governance, consider Lee Durham of the Progressive Policy Institute, who actually does some real analysis, offers some real insight, and comes up with some pretty good suggestions for Democrats and President Obama in "How to Understand the Independents (and how to win them Back)":
"And finally, on the policy: since almost half of Independents call themselves moderate, a number of them were probably uncomfortable with the liberal direction unified Democratic control was taking government. There were probably some number of genuinely moderate voters who saw Republicans as a correction to Democratic extremism, just as they had recently seen Democrats as a correction to Republican extremism. They might also want divided government.
A commenter once described the Dividist as swimming in a "bottomless pool of cynicism" about our federal government and the electoral process. I embrace that description, and don't think it is really that unusual among political bloggers. It is a little more surprising to find a similarly jaded swimmer in a small town, Midwestern mainstream newspaper. TribTown.com in Jackson County, Indiana drives a pretty good metaphor with "Partisan fuel for a faulty engine":
"Voters have been down this road before. When the electorate chooses divided government in the hopes that gridlock will limit the amount of damage that either side can do, this hedging of bets should tell us something. Let’s consider the possibility that in this case, “something” involves not the partisan players themselves but the system they seek to control. That system needs to shrink in size and sphere. A government that didn’t wield so much control over people’s lives would become less attractive to lobbyists. It would less frequently serve as a vehicle for special interests to impose their will on everyone. It would have a limited capacity to assume the role of moralizer in matters best left to individual conscience... The alternative will involve continually pumping the same two brands of fuel in different mixtures and hoping the engine holds out a little longer."
I don't know if we can afford a new engine. In the meantime, I'll just keep trying to get that octane mixture right.

Professor John Sides, blogging at the Monkey Cage, has been featured here repeatedly in recent weeks, as he bravely but belatedly attempted to erect a dike to stem the divided government tide that swept the country on election day. His last two entries bracketing the election focused on the impact of divided government on the Clinton administration in "Does Divided Government Help Presidential Approval?" and "Divided Government is Hard.":
"Last week I suggested that divided government would make life worse for Obama and that fighting the GOP wasn't necessarily good for Clinton. Now comes this from John Harris, courtesy of Ben Smith:
One Clinton veteran, former White House adviser Doug Sosnik, said Obama allies should disabuse themselves of the fantasy that the Tuesday results are a blessing in disguise: "The single greatest luxury you have in politics is the ability to control your own destiny." Obama has now sacrificed some of that ability to Republicans."
While interesting to learn that divided government may or may not help a president's approval rating and does not make things easy or fun for the partisan ideologues in the White House, ultimately - who cares? What is important is whether we get better legislation that moderates the worst impulses of both parties, restraint on spending, more fiscal responsibility, more oversight, and better governance. The evidence is that we do.

There is also some evidence that Professor John Sides prefers to arrive at conclusions that are in concert with his partisan preferences. Recall his analysis predicting an extended honeymoon for President Obama. Just sayin...

Rinth de Shadley blogging at Rinth's Ramblings wonders "Did Americans Vote for Divided Government?" and concludes - "Naah..."
"Does any voter base her vote on a desire for divided government? To ask that question is to answer it. Nobody says, “I like my representative, but there are too many Democrats in the House, so I’d better vote Republican.” A lot of voters last week were just bitterly disappointed in the Democrats. Others were fooled or frightened by Republican campaign ads and Fox News (like there’s a difference). And a few people honestly believed that, for all their faults, the Republicans would do better for the country. But nobody, regardless of party or ideology, based her vote on a desire for “divided government.

Ahem. Well. Not exactly.Apparently Rinth does not read this blog.

Clive Crook writing at The Financial Times considers the election results and concludes that "Divided government reveals America's indecision":
"...voters have come to a better understanding of Mr Obama’s goals and powers. Their expectations of him have returned to lower and more plausible altitudes. In the long tradition of divided US government, voters have chosen to weaken him still further by putting his opponents in charge of the House of Representatives. Yet, whatever the validity of their view of the president, voters have not even begun to think seriously about the choices that confront the country. No politician has asked them to, and they have not yet done it of their own accord."
Clive does not give voters enough credit. To get on the right path, one must first stop walking down the wrong path. To get out of a hole, one must first stop digging. Before transporting a trauma patient to the hospital, one must first apply a tourniquet to stop the bleeding. And if you use three different metaphors in one short paragraph, best to just cut your losses and move on.

Hank Corbett of Jacksonville, North Carolina writes a letter to the editor of JDNews.com and patiently explains why "Divided government benefits everyone":
"Party politics frustrate me. Neither political party is worthy of their word or their campaign slogans. Neither party has exercised any more fiscal restraint than the other. Neither party is more patriotic than the other. It all becomes very obvious when one party or the other gains a huge advantage and feels that it can steamroll the other party and the people. Certainly, the people of the conservative movement believe in their cause. If they recover control of the Congress during the Obama administration, I am sure that we will benefit. I think the president will move more to the right and I think he, too, will appreciate the new-found compromise But, nobody should be fooled: Absolute authority corrupts, absolutely, regardless of political party. As Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, and Bill Clinton came to realize, having a government that shares power between the political parties benefits everybody."
To understand this election, the Dividist will take the perspective of a voter like Hank Corbert over a dozen Political Scientists like John Sides.


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. We abandoned this feature over the last few editions while interest and availability of quality on-topic posts and articles spiked around the election.

For this edition, we again present Madeleine Begun Kane (who practically owns this spot) as she presents Election Results Madness (Audio Version) posted at Mad Kane's Political Madness..
I’m glued to the screen through the night,
Watching Dem after Dem lose our fight.
Masochistic? I guess:
Can’t stop watching this mess.
Where the hell is this long tunnel’s light?
The light at the end of the tunnel for Madeleine and all hand-wringing partisans on the left - Independents who prefer divided government will be aligning with Democrats in 2012.

With that, we'll conclude this edition.

With the election behind us, we will return to publishing the Carnival on a more-or-less monthly basis. Look for the next edition of The Carnival of Divided Government Quîndecim et Quadrâgintâ (XLV) - Special Winter Solstice Edition - on or about December 21. 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

Friday, November 12, 2010

I see orange people. Reflections on relative demonology.

2011 State of the Union

The single most dramatic change in the complexion of our government emerging from the midterm election is the impending leadership change in the House of Representatives. Republican John Boehner will be replacing Nancy Pelosi as Speaker of the House. He will be seated next to Joe Biden behind President Obama for the State of the Union Address in early 2011. You may want to take some time now to adjust the tint and color intensity on your hi-def flat screen.

The Daily Caller - Alexis Levinson:
History will be made when Boehner becomes first orange-American Speaker of the House
"In January, America will pass another milestone on the road to full equality when Ohio Republican Rep. John Boehner becomes the first orange-American Speaker of the House.Boehner’s unique skin has made him a target of liberal mockery, and talk of his tan has often eclipsed discussion of what he actually says or does. Even President Obama has gotten in on the fun, joking at the 2009 White House Correspondence Dinner that he and Boehner “have a lot in common. He is a person of color—although not a color that appears in the natural world.”
Cartoonists, columnists, bloggers, pundits, and humorists get in on the fun, including Olivia Munn's election report on the Daily Show (at the 4:00 minute mark):

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Indecision 2010 - Maybe We Can't - Election Results
Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical HumorRally to Restore Sanity

I could not pass up the opportunity to take the same subject headline and use it on my political and personal blog for posts on completely different topics. Between John Boehner presumptively winning the Speaker of the House and the San Francisco Giants winning the World Series, it was just a really big week for all things orange. But I digress...

I don't want to fall into the trap outlined by the Daily Caller, and lose sight of the content while caught up in the novelty of our first Orange Speaker of the House. In terms of the meaning of the election and the role John Boehner will play, Jonathan Rauch nails it on the pages of the New York Times:
Divided We Thrive
A GRAND victory for Republicans in the 2010 midterm election? Yes, of course. But also no. In all three of the most recent earthshaking midterm elections — 1994, 2006 and now 2010 — the same candidate won: divided government. That is not a coincidence. In the last two decades, a strong and persistent pattern has emerged, one that will dominate our politics for some time to come, because it is rooted in two important political realities. First, the public strongly prefers divided government. Second, it has every reason to...

But divided government, in today’s world of ideologically polarized parties, is the only way of attaining sustainable bipartisanship. And that is likely to remain the case for the foreseeable future. By promising to transcend partisanship in an all-Democratic government, President Obama, in 2008, promised something he had no prayer of delivering. Paradoxically, the three words that will do the most to help him deliver on his broken promise of bipartisanship — and, indeed, that offer him the best hope of governing from the center, broadening his support and stabilizing his presidency — are these: Speaker John Boehner."
Two Speakers, one coming in, one going out, characterized differently in the press. MSM reporting on one focusing on a reputation for toughness, ideological inflexibility and hardball partisan politics. MSM reporting for the other focusing on appearance and a penchant for emotional outbursts. I cannot help but wonder how the public and media would perceive the two if these reported characteristics were reversed. Would Nancy Pelosi get the same media treatment if she had a reputation for weeping on camera?

It is interesting to speculate how John Boehner will be covered by the media during the midterms four years hence. Perhaps a hint can be seen by recalling how Speaker Pelosi was perceived when she won the gavel four years ago.

First, a tip of the hat to Cranky Critter for introducing me to a field of study I had heretofore been unaware of - Comparative Political Demonology. [UPDATE/CORRECTION: As noted in the comments, I completely screwed up this attribution. I should have linked to this post, which would have pointed me to the correct attribution for this phrase - our occasional co-blogger Tully, who defines the term in this 2007 post. Earliest use I have found thus far is this 2006 Centerfield comment thread also led by Tully. Mea Culpa.] This is a little too big a subject area for me, so I will focus here on a more specialized subset - Applied Relative Demonology and the Speaker of the House in 2006 and 2010 Mid-term Races.

A great deal of electrons and ink are being spilled over the role Nancy Pelosi played in the 2010 election outcome and the political wisdom of her continuing to lead the Democrats in the House of Representatives as minority leader. She was demonized by Republicans as a San Francisco liberal leading steamrolling a progressive agenda over the objections of our center right country. Indeed, as it turns out, being a reliable vote in the House of Representatives for Nancy Pelosi was a career limiting move for many Democratic Representatives. Pundits on the right and left inform conventional wisdom that she is a political poison of such devastating toxicity that her leadership of the minority Democrats would virtually guarantee Republican victories in 2012 and 2014. Color me unconvinced.

It is not like Nancy Pelosi has changed her politics since 2006. She was not an unknown quantity after serving 19 years in the House as representative and minority leader, and was not perceived politically any differently in 2006 by the electorate than she is today. She was demonized by Republicans in 2006 as a San Francisco liberal, yet that did not stop voters from sweeping Republicans from the majority and installing her as the first woman Speaker of the House, complete with her "San Francisco Values" baggage:

2006 SNL skit

There were some differences between then and now. There was a Republican President, and the Democrats had a much bigger target to demonize in 2006. A Liberal Speaker of the House steeped in San Francisco Values does not sound so bad when the alternative is a corrupt political hack that "would not meet the moral standards of one of the most corrupt 1906 political participants of the most corrupt political organization in the history of the United States." Hence "Relative Demonology". After serving as Speaker of the House for two years, voters increased the Democratic majority in the House in 2008, dealing Pelosi a stronger hand as Speaker. She didn't change, but in 2006 and 2008, the Republican demons were worse.

For many Americans, John Boehner is more of an unknown today than Nancy Pelosi was in 2oo6. They know he is politically conservative, gets emotional on camera, and is orange. That's about it. What we will learn about him in his role as Speaker, how he will be perceived by the electorate in 2012 and 2014, and who is elected President in 2012 will be bigger factors in those elections than whether or not Nancy Pelosi continues to lead the Democrats in the House. Today, Boehner gets the benefit of the doubt from the electorate. Under the more intense and extended media scrutiny in his new role, the weeping everyman shtick could wear thin and even raise doubts about his fitness to lead.

Pelosi was widely credited with Democrats winning the House in 2006. She was an effective Speaker in 2007-8 when acting to restore some balance with a Republican administration. She was an even more effective speaker in driving the Democratic agenda set by the Obama administration through the House of Representatives in 2008-10.

If Democrats want effective, competent leadership in Congress, they should stick with Pelosi. We won't see her crying on the floor of the House, and by 2014, an orange hued basket case weeping over tax cuts may very well be perceived as a relatively greater demon.

Full Disclosure. Nancy Pelosi is my representative in Congress. Consistent with my Divided Government preference, I voted for her and supported other Democratic candidates nationally in the 2006 mid-terms. I voted against her and supported Republican candidates nationally in 2010. Your mileage may vary.

UPDATED: Corrected typos, added correct attribution for CPD
Divided and Balanced.™
Now that is fair.