Wednesday, September 21, 2016

What if I told you... You can choose red and blue.

Red or Blue
Do you ever wonder what would have happened if Neo took both the red and blue pills? What if I told you that you do not have to choose between red or blue? What if I told you that you can choose both?  Let's take a trip to political Wonderland and see "how deep the rabbit hole goes."

Voters Don't Like Their Choices
Amidst the Sturn und Drang of the 2016 presidential election, the dominant complaint is about choice. Many voters are profoundly unhappy with the binary choice they have been offered by our red and blue political parties. Part of the reason for this election malaise is that partisan voters feel compelled to vote for their party's standard bearer regardless of whether they like the nominee. The partisan voter's choice in a federal elections is always preordained.

Partisans Don't Have a Choice
The vast majority (80% +) of the American electorate are "light switch" partisan voters in all federal elections. Regardless of whether they identify as partisan Republicans, partisan Democrats, or whether they delude themselves by claiming to be "Independent", most Americans always vote a straight partisan ticket. They always vote the same party for President, Senator and Representative - without exception - every single time - over decades.
The Myth of the Independent Voter
FYI - "leaners" vote exactly the same as "partisans"
On or Off The only real choice for partisans (and leaners) is not who they vote for, but whether or not they choose to vote. They can only turn the switch on or off. Since partisans have limited choice, they can become particularly frustrated when the partisan options selected by their partisan tribe are not particularly likable, trustworthy, qualified, or even remotely competent as candidates. Like, for example, the nominees in the 2016 presidential election.*

In a presidential year, the crisis of partisan choice becomes even more acute. This, in no small part, due to the identity voters invest in, and the importance voters attach to the role of President. The President is, after all, "Leader of the Free World" and "Commander in Chief" of the most powerful military in the history of the world. But voters investing their ideological hopes in a Presidential candidate tend to overlook an important aspect of the role.  To whit - The President of the United States is not the government of the United States. The President is not even necessarily the leader of the government of the United States. The President is the leader of a political party. When we have a unified one party government, the President may function as the leader of of the United States government if the president's party demonstrate sufficient partisan discipline.  But even under unified government, it is not always clear exactly where the seat of the United States government leadership resides.

Who Leads Our Government?
Barack Obama had the luxury of a unified Democratic one party government for the first two years of his presidency. His administration's signature policy initiatives, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (aka Stimulus), and the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare), were accomplished during that two year window of unified one party rule. Arguably, a case can be made that even these early policy accomplishments, while initiated by President Obama, were actually shaped and led by Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi. But, in general, the President can lead a unified one party government. When there is a divided government, as we have most years, that is not the case.  In divided government the  President of the United States can only lead part of the government. Our Constitution is specifically designed to limit the leadership capacity of the executive. That constitutional intent is undermined by a unified government and is reinforced in a divided government.

Understanding Separation of Power For Kids
Most people have a grade school understanding about how our constitution separates power between three co-equal branches - the Executive, Legislative and Judicial branch. In fact, a grade school primer may be the best vehicle for voters to understand exactly what that means.
Separation of Powers
Of the three co-equal branches, the voters elect, either directly or indirectly, the legislative and executive branches.  Congress is additionally split into two co-equal legislative bodies, the Senate and House of Representatives. Voters elect a President, Senator, and Representative to govern them.

The President Is Not The Government
Here is the point. Despite popular perception, the elected government of the United States is not led by the President of the United States. A co-equal triumvirate governs the United States. This structure is unique.  The government of the United States is led by the Speaker of the House and Senate Majority Leader representing their respective institutions, as well the President of the United States. The personalities, interpersonal relationships, communication skills, ideological motivation, partisan loyalties, personal ambitions and dynamic interactions between those three leaders determine the domestic policy and international posture that governs the United States. This is what makes our system exceptional. This is by design:
James Madison - Federalist No. 58 - February 20, 1788: 
"An elective despotism was not the government we fought for; but one in which the powers of government should be so divided and balanced among the several bodies of magistracy as that no one could transcend their legal limits without being effectually checked and restrained by the others."  
George Washington - Farewell Address - September 19, 1796:
"The necessity of reciprocal checks in the exercise of political power, by dividing and distributing it into different depositories, and constituting each the guardian of the public weal against invasions by the others, has been evinced by experiments ancient and modern, some of them in our country and under our own eyes."  
Alexander Hamilton - Federalist No. 75 - March 26, 1788:
"The history of human conduct does not warrant that exalted opinion of human virtue which would make it wise in a nation to commit interests of so delicate and momentous a kind, as those which concern its intercourse with the rest of the world, to the sole disposal of a magistrate created and circumstanced as would be a President if the United States."  
Thomas Jefferson letter to James Madison - January, 1797:
"The principle of the Constitution is that of a separation of legislative, Executive and Judiciary functions, except in cases specified. If this principle be not expressed in direct terms, it is clearly the spirit of the Constitution, and it ought to be so commented and acted on by every friend of free government."
Read those quotes again. The framer's clear intent was to check, constrain, and obstruct executive and legislative power. To specifically not let the President (or the legislature) govern the country unconstrained.

By contrast, there is effectively no check whatsoever on the executive of a unified partisan government in a European style parliament while between popular elections.  There the tyranny of the majority rules, unless the governing parliament also happens to be divided. Some Americans would prefer that system. The Dividist would not. Fortunately the Framers made it extremely difficult to change the Constitution, in order to protect our system from Progs afflicted by parliament envy as well as other threats.

How To Think About Our 2016 Federal Elections
Given how our country is actually governed, would it not make sense to think about our elections in terms of the triumvirate that lead the country instead of the disproportionate focus on the Presidency? Perhaps thinking this way would make our 2016 election choices seem more palatable.

Consider the actual choice we are making.  In this election we are choosing a President, Senate Majority Leader, and Speaker of the House to lead our government and country for the next two years. There are eight different partisan configurations among those three offices:

All Possible U.S. Executive and Legislative Branch Partisan Configurations
Divided Government is Better Government
We'll make two simplifying assumptions. As noted elsewhere in this blog, there is no realistic scenario where Democrats retake the House majority this cycle. Republican Paul Ryan will be Speaker of the House for at least the next two years. The Senate is a coin flip, but should the Democrats retake the Senate majority, it is likely that Chuck Schumer will succeed Harry Reid as Senate majority leader.  That leaves four possible governing outcomes in the 2016 election.

Your 2017 United States Government Options:

CHOICE I:  Democratic President, Republican Congress
This is the Dividist's preferred outcome. The gold standard in divided governments. It worked out well in the previous Clinton administration and was pretty good at keeping Obama in check over the last few years.  Some analysts even suggest this configuration is best for the economy and stock market. Your mileage may vary. 

CHOICE II: Democratic President, Democratic Senate, Republican House
The biggest impact would be on Supreme Court nominations. Despite a divided government, it's conceivable that Democrats will invoke the "nuclear option", stop the Garland nomination, and give Clinton a free hand on Supreme Court picks.

CHOICE III: Republican President, Democratic Senate, Republican House.
Should Donald Trump win the election, we can only hope the Democrats take the Senate majority in order to maintain divided government and some constraint on his megalomaniacal and authoritarian instincts. This is an unlikely scenario, as a Donald Trump win would probably indicate he has sufficient coattails for the Republicans to maintain a narrow Senate majority. 

CHOICE IV: Republican President, Republican Congress
The worst of all possible worlds. Donald Trump would be a big spending, big government president with a lapdog Congress in a One Party Republican Rule unified government. Been there. Done that

You have a choice America. Choose wisely.

Divided Government is Better Government

*NOTE: The Dividist is ignoring both the Libertarian Party and Green Party candidates in this post. With good reason.

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