Divided government and ch-ch-ch-changes

By mw | Related entries in Change, Democrats, Ideas, Republicans

Jason Smathers wrote a great column in The Badger Herald exploring the themes of divided government and change. Coincidently, the title of the piece is the same as my blog Divided we stand, united we fall?:

“… despite its name, divided government is the only path for meaningful progress, especially given how “change” has ravaged this country at times. In the last 50 years, divided government has been relatively common. During the ‘50s, a combination of the Democratic Legislature and Republican executive resulted in an end to the Korean War, incredibly low rates of inflation and only minimal flare-ups in the Cold War… The same sort of stability occurred during the Clinton presidency — low inflation, low unemployment, economic prosperity along with relative peace in terms of foreign policy. However, the pitfalls of unified government revealed themselves again during the six years of Republican control..
In that sense, a Republican president may not be the worst decision for America at this point. Sen. John McCain may now be pandering to the conservative base, but if he decides to once again take up the banner of Goldwater Republicans, he could provide a perfect complement to a visibly frustrated Democratic congress. Skepticism of Mr. Obama’s “post-partisan” politics is partially developed out of a sinister second meaning appropriated by bandwagon “agents of change” — pushing an agenda through a unified government with little to no opposition. It’s not partisan because there is only one side. Yes, they could get a lot done. They could also do a lot of damage.

I found his point about a potential McCain presidency with a Democratic Congress to explore a similar theme as the question Justin posedMcCain: The Only Viable Green President?. Jason is a senior at the University of Wisconsin majoring in history and journalism. He has gone a long way to restoring my faith in the younger generation.

It is really not hard to understand why divided government works better. Use any mechanism the way it was designed to be used, it just works better. A car is designed to run on roads, try to use it as a boat, and you won’t get where you intended to go. We have a system of government built on the concept of checks, balances and separation of power. The Constitution was designed with a specific architecture to ensure that (as James Madison said in the Federalist #51) “Ambition must be made to counteract ambition.” Divided Government reinforces the foundation of our Federal Government. It works the way it was designed to work by the founders – messy, slow, and contentious. Single party government undermines constitutional checks and balances, restrains oversight, invariably increases opportunity for corruption and bad decision making, resulting in depressingly consistent disastrous results.

As long as we are on the subject of “CHANGE” I thought you might find this YouTube video amusing, and a useful supplement to my earlier post – “Keep the Change”. I can’t figure out how to embed it, but it is linked here: Ch-ch-ch-changes. Enjoy.


This entry was posted on Wednesday, January 23rd, 2008 and is filed under Change, Democrats, Ideas, Republicans. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

4 Responses to “Divided government and ch-ch-ch-changes”

  1. Jimmy the Dhimmi Says:

    The same sort of stability occurred during the Clinton presidency — low inflation, low unemployment, economic prosperity along with relative peace in terms of foreign policy

    Wiat a minute. Under the first 6 years of the Bush presidency, there was low inflation, the lowest unemployment, the highest volume of trading on the stock market, the highest tax revenue acrued, ever (along with lower tax rates), the highest amount of home ownership ever recorded, and the only reason why there was “relative peace” during those Clinton years was because Mohammad Salameh and his pals parked their Fertilizer truck-bomb several yards too far away from the central support pillar in the subterranian parking lot of WTC1 in 1993.

    Dont forget the Balkans, operation Desert Fox and the Iraq Liberation Act, and there is even some evidence that TWA flight 800 might have been a terrorist attack in the vein of PA flight 434 a year earlier.

    Oh yeah, and don’t forget Mohammad Atta and his goons emigrated to the U.S. in 1998 after Osama Bin Laden (who escaped Clinton’s limp-wristed persecution) declared war on the United States. Ah, the good ‘ole days.

    None-the-less, generally speaking, you are right about divided government. The reason why it works is because the government ends up doing nothing. Government involvement in the economy is generally bad. So why won’t espoused Donkles like JG get on the bandwagon to take the government out of the economy-regulation business, since that is the effective reason why the divided government works in the first place?

  2. mw Says:

    I’ll take the last first -

    “generally speaking, you are right about divided government.”-jd

    There are times when I find you to be an insightful and intelligent commenter. That statement is one of them.

    “The reason why it works is because the government ends up doing nothing. “-jd

    I understand you are exaggerating for effect, but this is not, strictly speaking, true. The reason why it works, is that it is harder to get bad legislation passed, not impossible but harder. The bills that do pass must be forged in highly partisan debate, with both parties holding levers of power. The effect is that the worst partisan elements of both the right and left are stripped out. Scholarship shows that in recent decades, the most far reaching, longest lasting reform (i.e. not reversed in subsequent administrations) has been passed during divided government (examples include Tax reform under Reagan, Welfare reform under Clinton).

    Regarding the opinion of other Donkles – you’ll have to ask them, I have no more influence on their opinions than I do on yours. But I do think it is wise for a R partisan such as yourself to get behind the divided government meme, since that is the very best that R’s can hope for out 2008, and frankly even that does not look to likely now. I am afraid we are going to see once again at lest two years of disastrous single party government – this time under the Dems. I just hope that in those two years they won’t have enough time to do as much damage as the Republicans did in six.

    On that subject, not sure where you are getting your financial numbers, but the simple fact is that under six years of single party Republican control, we had the largest increase in government spending, largest increase in the deficit, largest expansion of government entitlement programs (including the first entirely new entitlement program since LBJ), largest increase in earmarks,and largest increase in government bureaucracy since LBJ. In fact, in most of these categories GWB exceeded LBJ. It’ll be tough for the Dems to beat that record.

    Finally, regarding the security issues you highlight, I understand that from your partisan perspective it is mandatory to insist that everything Clinton did was bad and everything Bush did is good, just as it is required for left partisans to say the opposite. But it is tiresome.

    The writer of the quoted article asserted that there was greater “relative”peace under Clinton than GWB. That point really cannot be argued. Operative word is “relative”.

    I will agree that the “silo” intelligence infrastructure was bad before Clinton/Reno and made worse under their tenure. But Clinton was at least concerned enough to put Richard Clarke into a special role and invest him with enough authority to try and cut through the bureaucracy, consolidate intelligence, track and attack Bin Laden.

    By contrast, the early Bush administration was more concerned about building a “Star Wars” ABM defense than they were about Bin Laden. Clarke was demoted, largely ignored, with his warnings intercepted and filtered by Condi. Recall the that the Intelligence memo entitled “Bin Laden determined to attack America” , flown and hand delivered to President Bush in Crawford the month before 9/11 was greeted by this response: “Ok – you’ve covered your ass.”

    We agree that Clinton’s approach to Bin Laden was bad. GWB’s pre-9/11 approach was far far worse.

  3. Jimmy the Dhimmi Says:

    Hey I don’t mind a divided government, but I also want my taxes to go down, and there are national security issues I think need to be resolved, judges to be appointed without filibustering ect.

    …largest increase in the deficit…

    This is misleading. Though the defecit has been upticking in recent months due to the slow down; however, since ealy 2003 the deficit had been shrinking consistantly. The reason why we had surplus under Clinton was because of the “peace dividend,” or a cutting in defense spending to bring federal expenditures under the federal tax income.

    from your partisan perspective it is mandatory to insist that everything Clinton did was bad and everything Bush did is good,

    I never said that, when did I say everything Bush did was good ? There is enough blame to go around. You are the one claiming Clinton’s anti-terrorism effort was better. Were there coffee and donuts at those bi-monthly meetings about Bin Laden?

    Whether it be 8 years of Clinton or 8 months of Bush, they both sucked royally, and my point was that “relative peace” is nothing to write home about, considering that “relative peace” is defined by a terrorist attack that accidentally failed (which could have killed 50,000 people), a possible terror attack that kiled 250+ people and was covered up, a rising Islamic Jihadist movement, and the inevitable eventuality of 9/11.

    Oh yeah, and Saddam’s Weapons of Mass Destruction.

  4. mw Says:

    Bimonthly meetings with donuts are still better than canceling the meetings and ignoring the threat altogether. And regardless of who gets elected, there will be another peace dividend to spend in the next administration. The vast majority of Americans want that, and they’ll get it.

    But I am in an agreeable mood, so I’ll just leave you the last word and say that – at least as it regards security and the WOT – we are of one mind on this point:

    “Whether it be 8 years of Clinton or 8 months of Bush, they both sucked royally…” – jd

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