Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Carnival of Divided Government LI
Unus et Quînquâgintâ
Special Leap Year/Day Edition

Welcome to the 51st edition of the Carnival of Divided Government LI - The Special Leap Year / Leap Day / Leaping Mitt Romney Edition.

February 29th - Leap Day. Like presidential elections, it only comes around every four years. On this Leap Day, Mitt Romney leaped over his primary Republican competitor for the GOP nomination with decisive victories in Arizona and Michigan. Or not. No matter. The importance of this day to this carnival should be obvious to all. The Dividist has one whole free extra day to keep the monthly carnival on track and post the second carnival of the year in the second month of the year. Whew. Just made it.

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 LI (ûnus et quînquâgintâ), 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 without further ado, we leap directly into this month's selections.

Carnival of Divided Government - LI

In this election year, a pundit's fancy turns to the presidency. Ezra Klein of the Washington Post reviews analysis of President Obama by Sullivan, Scheiber, and Fallows, weighs in on Obama's first term, then looks forward to his second, offering "The best way to judge Obama’s first term - and his second":
"..if Obama did win a second term his accomplishments would be comparatively limited. He will not enjoy anything like the congressional majorities of his first two years again. He is likely to face a Republican House or a Republican Senate or both. What he can accomplish in terms of new legislation will thus depend on how much congressional Republicans want him to accomplish in terms of new legislation. Though there’s some reason to believe that losing the 2012 election could empower more moderate factions in the GOP, anything beyond modest levels of cooperation would remain unlikely. Divided government is not the place for miracles. As such, it’s likely to be the legislation from Obama’s first term that decides his legacy and holds the most hope of addressing the country’s toughest policy problems.”
The Dividist agrees with Klein's assessment of the probable outcome in fall elections for House and Senate. However, his characterization of what can be accomplished during divided government requires donning the pink colored glasses of his preferred political perspective. "Miracles" in his parlance, would presumably comprise more traditional big government, big spending, big deficit liberal policies along the lines of the trillion dollar Obamacare and Porkulus legislation passed on pure partisan votes. If those "miracles" are out of play in Obama's second term due to divided government as Ezra Klein asserts, then by all means - let us come together and unify behind even more divided government in the administration to come.

Eric Wasson reports at The Hill on House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer's comments at a Third Way event, holding out hope for another type of political miracle during this divided government cycle in "Hoyer seeks deficit deal before election despite odds":
"Jim Kessler of the centrist think tank Third Way said Monday that this “triple witching hour” will be an event as rare as Haley’s Comet and must be seized. Hoyer at a Third Way event, argued that a time of divided government is an good time to find a solution on the debt and that a day after the next election, the 2014 elections will start to loom before members of Congress, a prospect that would encourage more delay"
It could happen.

Karl, blogging at Patterico's Ponitifications, looks at the conventional wisdom promulgated in much of MSM that the recovering economy makes President Obama' reelection a virtual certainty, cites work by Henry Enten and finds the informed MSM wisdom wanting in "Fundamentals are Fundamentals":
"Indeed, even after Enten boosts Obama’s number by adjusting for incumbency and divided government, he cannot get Obama to 49%, although that would at least get Obama within the standard error for a modified Hibbs model. In the real world, the newest figures for Q4 2011 are not much better: real disposable personal income increased at only a 0.8% annual rate, after declining the prior two quarters. On a year-ago basis real disposable personal income declined 0.1%, the only decline ever recorded in a non-recession environment. That 0.8% rate is the Obama average."
The Dividist is not sure how much credence to put into this kind of statistical political analysis. Intrade gamblers currently give Obama a 3/2 edge to be re-elected. A competent Republican campaign will make it close. So... he'll probably be reelected.

Will Hart of Contra O'Reilly blog is looking like something of a kindred spirit as he wraps up the weeks activity in "Miscellaneous 117":
"if I had to grade Mr. Obama, I'd probably give him about a C/C+. Yes, the dude has had some awesome terrorist decapitations and all (which I've consistently credited him for), but a) the health-care bill is ladened with disincentives and waivers and b) the stimulus package was basically a get rich quick scheme for big corporations....Having said that, though, I still plan on voting for the guy. This, in that he's still much better than Romney, Gingrich, and Santorum (that, and I actually kind of like divided government)"
The Dividist likes it too. He likes it a lot. And Mr. Will "Take no Prisoners" Hart is now a member in good standing of the United Coalition of the Divided.

Joshua Hedlund is blogging at PostLibertarian, hoping for limited government, and "Rooting for Divided Government" :
"I grew to view the Republicans through jaded eyes and saw some of the dangerous effects of what happens when one party controls it all, first under Bush and then under Obama. I saw the Democrats lose their control of one chamber of Congress in 2010, and I saw Democratic agendas being foiled – and the unemployment rate start falling. I saw arguments about uncertainty and business and that divided government can be a great thing because it severely reduces the number of continually changing rules about the economy that make it hard for businesses to start and expand and grow the economy...
Maybe it takes a Democratic president for Republicans to remember the old rhetoric about small government, and it takes Republicans in congress during a Democratic presidency to actually be able to stop big, active government while they remember that they still oppose it. If you believe that Romney is a corporate stooge with questionable conservative credentials who’s really no better than Obama, might it not be better to let Obama do pretty much the same things Romney would so the GOP will oppose it instead of go along with it? Or is that much cynicism too strong to be healthy?"
No Mr. Hedlund, it is not. That kind of cynicism about elected leaders puts you in perfect sync with the authors of our Constitution, and their very rationale for building checks and balances into our government - which is divided by design. As James Madison explained in Federalist #51:
"Ambition must be made to counteract ambition. The interest of the man must be connected with the constitutional rights of the place. It may be a reflection on human nature, that such devices should be necessary to control the abuses of government. But what is government itself, but the greatest of all reflections on human nature? If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself. "
And welcome Joshua - to the United Coalition of the Divided.

Alex Urban is a Political Scientist studying Public Relations at the University of Georgia, getting it partially right (and partially wrong) opining in "Government needs bipartisan cooperation" :
"It takes two parties (no pun intended) to have a gridlock. If Congress and the president do not agree, stagnation in legislation often occurs. This is much more common during periods of divided government like we have now, with the executive branch being controlled by the Democrats and the legislative branch being controlled by the Republicans. It is ironic that both parties blamed each other for the gridlock. The pigheaded attitude of blaming the other side is what causes the lack of legislation in the first place. The way Republicans and Democrats talk, they make it seem as if it is impossible to get anything done in government while it is divided. And they are right, provided the two sides are as stubborn as they are now... All it takes to pass laws during periods of divided government is a little compromise and less blaming from both sides. Congress, as it stands, works around a vicious cycle of antagonism that ends with both sides losing and nothing accomplished. It is time for both sides to place their egos aside and try to come to some meaningful compromises."
Yeah... no. First - as a political science graduate - Alex should be familiar with the definitive work on legislative productivity and divided government - David Mayhew's "Divided We Govern". Pofessor Mayhew shows that there is no correlation between legislative productivity in a united vs. divided government in the modern era. None. You can have productive and gridlocked legislatures in both united and divided governments. A much more relevant factor for legislative productivity is what Mayhew call's a palpable public demand for change. The Dividist believes that this demand for fiscal sanity and spending cuts exists today and gives reason to hope for a grand bargain that really addresses the problem by the end of the year. Regardless of the outcome of the election in the fall.

The Angry Jew blogging at Ask An Angry Jew submitted an angry post arguing that our problems could be solved if we could all be a little less angry and listen to each other in "The Right, The Left, The Divisive":
"I have had it with the name-calling, the opinionated screeching voices, the knee jerk reactionist, the… oh wait, damn it now I’m name-calling! Well too bad, you people deserve it. You are either on the far left or on the far right. Where are the millions of my fellow frustrated political middle-of-the-roaders? Have we gone so far down the path that the vocal minorities of both parties now shout so loudly that no other voices can be heard? The only voices we hear above the din are the screeching opinions of people who get paid to be absurd. And absurd they are! The problem lies squarely at the feet of the people who believe the vitriolic hatred that they regurgitate."
He just sounds angry to me.

Christ, blogging at And Christ Said, is unhappy with the President's communication skills and offers some advice in "Obama-ism is an ill-defined failure":
" REALLY have to love arguing and debating; you have to have this fire in your core that makes you want to respond to nitwits every time they open their mouths and say something stupid. Absolutely everything should take a back seat to that because if it doesn't, you will not get the public on your side and you will not cow your competition. Oh sorry; does that sound childish to you? You say the president has better things to do? Ummm…does the word “gridlock” mean anything to you? Has this been a government that’s worked effectively over the last 3 years? No. You can’t just leave arguments hanging in the air as Obama always does on every single issue; you have to go to WAR when your opposition disagrees with you and refuses to compromise... So to my “expert” friends, you missed the mark on this one. Obama-ism is very easy to interpret. His real problem is that he doesn't have the raw gumption and moxy needed to crystallize his vision in this insane, hyper-partisan, hyperbolic 2-second-attention-span internet era. You need a man made of titanium to do that; Obama has his head in the clouds and he occasionally looks down and gets irritated. Uh-uh; that’s not going to cut it."
Perhaps a parable or two might be helpful.

Zach Abrahamson and Carrie Brown writing at The Politico first quote the noted bipartisan, apolitical, above-the-fray statesman and leader of the most entrenched one-party-rule big city political machine in the country - Rahm Emmanuel and informed by his sage advice, conclude that everything we know about divided government is wrong in "Death of bipartisanship has killed the Washington deal":
"Neera Tanden, an influential Democrat who heads the liberal Center for American Progress, echoed McCarthy. “Two different elections point in two different ways, and both sides are arguing over fundamental principles,” she said. Tanden argues that much of the commentary about Washington incorrectly supposes that it is petty obstacles — political posturing or the tactics of special interest groups — that prevent a return to grand bargains of the Andrews Air Force Base variety. “The debate has become so shrill and partisan people just assume it’s ridiculous,” she said, when the argument is actually over basic questions that may get resolved only when the electorate decides in an emphatic way which side is right.
This analysis is shared by Rahm Emanuel, a veteran of Washington and Obama’s West Wing and now the mayor of Chicago. We need to take on the mythology that divided government produces progress,” Emanuel said. “Divided government produces divided government.” The notion of closed-door bipartisan deals, he said, belongs to a bygone era: “Events have moved on. What the markets want, and what the world wants, is decisive action. That comes with single-party governance.”
Huh. So... Since there is almost zero chance that the Republicans will lose control of the House, and a very good chance that they will take control of the Senate, I guess we should presume that Rahm Emanuel is advocating the defeat of Barack Obama in 2012 to return to what "the markets and world wants" and single party Republican governance. Who'd have thunk it?

Also, please note David Mayhew "Divided We Govern" reference earlier. This is what you need to know: Divided government doesn't work until it does. Divided government works when it needs to. If we listen to what the pundits of the right and left have to say, it needs to work before "sequestration" kicks in at the end of this year. So... it will.

Mackenzie Eaglen - an AEI scholar and Time columnist is concerned that automatic spending cuts at the end of the end of the year might mean that we spend less on defense than the next 10 or 14 or all of the rest of the countries in the world combined. She assures us that this would be a very bad thing in "Sequestration: A Big Word – And a Bigger Problem That Demands Action Now":
"But too many in Washington are content to wait until after the November elections to move on either bill. Unfortunately, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-MI) have both said they support President Obama’s threatened veto of any effort to undo sequestration if it does not include tax hikes as part of the deal. Pushing off this issue until November will make the problem bigger and costlier to fix. Where to find the funds to avoid sequestration will also not likely be any more clear after the elections and a probably continued divided government. Republicans are hoping for a clean sweep and a mandate for domestic spending reductions, while Democrats are hoping for a resounding victory and a clear mandate to raise taxes as part of any sequestration deal. Reality may not match either’s dream."
Things get done in Washington when they have to be done and not before. It looks like both parties agree that "something must get done" before the end of the year. So it will. The Dividist is not worried.

UPDATE: 01-March-2012

Tang Yin - blogging at The Yin Blog cites Professor Bainbridge and explains his usual voting heuristic in "Prof. Bainbridge on a reason to support Gingrich":
"My usual heuristic is to vote for divided government, though that's sometimes tricky in Presidential elections when Congress might be in play. And I do sometimes override it, such as in 2008, when I ultimately could not bring myself to vote for a McCain/Palin ticket."
Voting for divided government is not as tricky as Mr. Yin thinks. Yes, it can be tricky, it just never actually is. The Dividist explained the basic principles in a post linked here, including tossing 20 years of divided government votes off the top of his head. This year, the divided government vote looks obvious now, but could change between now and the election. It's unlikely, but it could happen. Net net - the GOP will hold the House, control of the Senate is a crap-shoot, therefore the divided government vote is to re-elect Barack Obama. If Obama is reelected, the government will stay divided regardless of what happens in the Senate.

Tang Yin sounded familiar to the Dividist. A blog search reveals this is his second appearance in the Carnival, the first occurring over five years and almost fifty carnivals ago in October 2006. The Dividist is grateful to Mr. Yin, as he learned the meaning of the word "heuristic" as a consequence of reading Mr. Yin's post. A word he has embraced in the service of the Divided Government Voting Heuristic, and the reason he had to reopen the carnival to add this post. Thank you Mr. Yin, and welcome to the United Coalition of the Divided.

With that we conclude this edition. Look for the 52nd Edition of the Carnival of Divided Government Duo et Quînquâgintâ (LII) - Special April Fools Edition - sometime on or about April 1. Please submit your blog article at the carnival of divided government using our carnival submission form.

Divided and Balanced.™
Now that is fair.

Carnival of Divided Government


joshua said...

Thanks for the mention, Dividist. My hopes for divided government seem to have faded a bit since I wrote that post, as Obama is still looking good for the Presidency but the experts say Snowe's abdication will make it harder for the GOP to retake the Senate. But, hey, what do the experts know? I can still dream.

Though it's kind of a shame that we have root for divided government by way of different parties sharing control instead of the branches of government naturally limiting themselves no matter who is in charge, but I guess I'll take what I can get.

Dividist said...

Hi Joshua,
Thanks for stopping by and for the comment. I was going to leave a courtesy notification on your post, but you beat me to it.

Snowe leaving the race certainly helps the Dems, but does not change the crushing structural advantage the Republicans enjoy this cycle in the Senate races. My assessment of the prospects for Senate control linked here.

The Intrade prediction markets did not move much with the Snowe announcement. I don't really consider Intrade markets to be particularly good at predicting elections many months away, but they are great at giving you a snapshot view of current sentiment and a "If the election was held today" perspective.

Intrade currently shows Obama with a 60% chance of being reelected, the GOP with a 63% probability of taking the Senate and a 63% chance of retaining control of the House.

My gut now is that the Senate is a coin flip and the House is a lock for the GOP. That means the right vote for those independents who what to continue divided government is a vote to re-elect Obama.

Anonymous said...

"...big deficit liberal policies along the lines of the trillion dollar Obamacare and Porkulus legislation passed on pure partisan votes"

Let's not forget that it was a self-labeled conservative that pushed us into a war that may wind up costing us $2.4 billion[1]. Spending lots of money isn't a trait that occurs only one one side of the aisle.


Dividist said...

I am well aware of that fact Anon. My comments on the $2T of new spending passed in two bills, in two years, on purely partisan votes was specifically in response to Ezra Klein pining for the kind of One Party Democratic Rule which permits that sort of "miracle" to happen.

Your comment regarding the $2T+ of new spending on two decade-long wars initiated during the first two year of our last episode One Party Republican Rule goes directly to the point of this blog.

It is not about whether we have a liberal democrat or conservative republican as president. It is more important to be sure that said president does not a laydown congress controlled by the same party.

It is for this very reason that I will likely vote for Barack Obama's reelection despite being more closely fiscally aligned to the policies of a Mitt Romney.

The worst of all worlds is having either party with control of the White House and both legislative branches. I will always vote against that circumstance and suggest you do the same.

joshua said...

Good point on Intrade. I'm actually surprised I hadn't looked into it yet since I was watching it in 2010. Still showing 'conventional wisdom' is 60% chance that Obama will win WH and GOP will control both houses.