The Coalition of the Divided

By mw | Related entries in Barack, Ideas, Libertarian, McCain

Dyre42 in a recent post.

“I think its important for bloggers to lay their biases out in the open. Particularly if one happens to be a moderate/centrist/independent. Moderates are supposed to be more objective than their more partisan counterparts.”

I agree. I think I have been pretty clear about my own bias here, but thought I’d take this opportunity to get more explicit as we sprint to the electoral finish.

To the surprise of no one who has been reading my recent posts and comments at the Donk, I have made a decision on how I will vote in November. I will be voting for divided government. As I expect that the Democrats will extend their majorities in both houses of Congress, the only way to accomplish that state is to support John McCain for President.

For me, this election choice is not really between “Experience” vs. “Change”, nor is it between “Experience” vs. “Experience”, nor is it between “Change” vs. “Change“. This election is not really even between McCain vs. Obama considered in a political vacuum. Since the Democrats will increase their majority in the House and Senate, this election is actually about choosing between one of these two federal government configurations in 2009:

  • CHOICE A:
    McCain/Palin ( R ) + Pelosi leading an expanded D majority in the House + Clinton/Reid leading an expanded D majority in the Senate.

    Two Republican reformers with a reputation for bucking their own party and launching bi-partisan initiatives working with a Democratic Party potentially holding the largest single party congressional majorities in modern history.

  • – OR -

  • CHOICE B:
    Obama/Biden (D) + Pelosi leading an expanded D majority in the House + Clinton/Reid leading an expanded D majority in the Senate.

    A toe-the-party-line Democratic President and a consummate Washington insider working with a Democratic Party potentially holding the largest single party congressional majorities in modern history.

That is an easy choice. I am voting for what I firmly believe to be in the best interest of the country. By voting for divided government I am voting to distribute power rather than concentrate power. I am voting to reinforce the checks, balances and separation of power enshrined in the Constitution and not voting to undermine those constitutional constructs. To that end I will also vote for my Democratic congressional representative, Nancy Pelosi, and I will contribute to the DCCC to help Democrats extend their majority in the House.


There is a lot of campaigning left. Is it possible that events over the next few months might change my vote? Certainly. I don’t expect it, but it could happen. The single biggest factor would be if the Republicans look like they might retake Congress. Doug discussed this possibility in a recent post.

I don’t believe for a second that will happen and in fact, I expect the opposite and that the Democrats will expand their majorities. Still, I’ll watch it closely. If I come to believe that the Republicans will retake Congress, I will switch and support Barack Obama for President, despite deep personal misgivings about his readiness to be Commander in Chief. I would far prefer that a leader with his limited level of experience spend 4-8 years as Vice President before taking on the top job. But I will give him the benefit of the doubt on qualifications, rather than vote for a president who will take office with a boot-licking Congress from the same party. That always turns out badly.

Despite the fact that Donklephant has recently become primarily a forum for debate about the merits of the Republican VP nominee (a forum in which I have been an overly active participant), Palin was not a factor in my decision. She certainly makes it easier for me to vote for McCain, as I find the ticket much more palatable with her on it than it would have been with one of the hacks (Romney, Giuliani, Lieberman, etc.) bandied about before the selection. I also think she significantly improves the chances for McCain to win (which I still consider a longshot), assuming she does not turn into Dan Quayle between now and the election. So far, so good.

I must admit I am still nursing deep psychological wounds inflicted by JG in a comment on one of my posts earlier in the year:

“…there are simply too many holes in the divided government philosophy for anybody but yourself to really buy into it.” – JG

That comment motivated me to get more aggressive about identifying and promoting like-minded bloggers and pundits writing in support of a divided government voting heuristic.

Between now and the election, I will be accelerating the “Carnival of Divided Government” compilations posted at my blog from a monthly to a weekly cycle. The carnival offers links, excerpts and commentary from writers and pundits thinking about the topic of divided government. Some sample links from the most recent edition here:

In addition, here are a couple of interesting MSM essays commenting on the topic last week, both published too late for inclusion in the last Carnival, but will be in the next and previewed here:

David Brooks, writing in the New York Times has advice for both campaigns, but particularly good advice for McCain in his Op-Ed column “Surprise Me Most“:

If I were McCain, I’d make the divided government argument explicit. The Republicans are intellectually unfit to govern right now, but balancing with Democrats, they might be able to do some good. I’d have McCain tell the country that he looks forward to working with Congressional Democrats, that he is confident they can achieve great things together.”

Duncan Currie writing in The American analyzes what we might expect out of such a divided government led by a McCain administration in “2009: A White House Odyssey“:

“At the forum in Minneapolis, Senator Kyl observed that some of the biggest domestic reforms in recent decades have been produced by divided government. Prominent examples include the 1986 tax reform bill (passed by a Democratic House and signed by President Reagan) and the 1996 welfare reform bill (passed by a GOP Congress and signed by President Clinton). “It’s an interesting and somewhat paradoxical phenomenon,” Kyl said. With a President McCain and a Democratic Congress, “it might be possible to tackle a couple of big things.” As Kyl noted, McCain is “very unpredictable” and has repeatedly “worked on big things with Democrats.What “big things” might be feasible under a McCain administration? Two possibilities are immigration reform and a “cap-and-trade” system to regulate carbon emissions.”

As I’ve mentioned before, I harbor no illusions that strategic voting for divided government will ever be anything more than a small minority view. My guess is -at best- it can serve as an organizing principle for about half of what David Boaz and David Kirby identified as The libertarian swing vote – so maybe 6% of the electorate could be enticed by this voting heuristic at the most. However, if the election is close, balanced and polarized, that six percent – as a true swing vote – could determine the outcome of the election, as it arguably did in the 2006 mid-terms.

To help our small band of blogging Dividicans find each other, I’ve begun to maintain a Coalition of the Divided Blogroll (located in right side bar of my blog – link here) . Any bloggers or commenters I find writing in support of divided government will be automatically included.

I’ve been flogging this concept for a couple of years and think I’ve heard all the arguments against voting for divided government, both in general arguments and those specifically focused on the 2008 election. In my next post I will endeavor to address the arguments I found compelling. Any readers who would like to seem me respond to specific arguments or issues, let me know in the comments, and I’ll try to address them in that post.

Please note that arguments of the form “Republicans are the spawn of satan and Democrats are the agents of angels.” are actually not arguments but statements of your partisan belief system. I can’t help you with that.

Excerpted from the “Carnival of Divided Government 25” at DWSUWF


This entry was posted on Sunday, September 14th, 2008 and is filed under Barack, Ideas, Libertarian, McCain. 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.

24 Responses to “The Coalition of the Divided”

  1. Eric Dondero Says:

    Only problem with your strategy is that it’s increasingly looking like the Republicans might have a chance to win back the Senate, and even the House.

    But then again, McCain/Palin is not so much a “Republican” ticket as it’s a moderate Centrist with a Libertarian as his running mate ticket.

  2. mw Says:

    Eric,
    Well so far we have seen exactly one outlier generic national congressional poll that indicates new strength, and it is the kind of poll notoriously inaccurate in predicting district by district results (the national disgust with Congress does not include my representative phenomena). So I’d say you are wildly overstating the Republican congressional prospects.

    But as I state in the post (the portion below the fold that you did not read) – If I come to believe that the Republicans will retake Congress, I will support Obama for president.

  3. Avinash_Tyagi Says:

    I still find it interesting that you are willing to believe that supporting a cantidate who has shown himself to be willing to say anything to get elected (McCain has been more and more willing in the past few weeks to make and repeat, statements which are proven to be outright lies), will bring about a beneficial government, especially in light of what we’ve seen the last two years under a divided government. Rather than improvement, we’ve seen our situation actually continue to decline as Republicans in congress and Bush have managed to impede and outmanuevar the democratic congress

  4. Todd Says:

    Hi MW,

    I have always been a fan of divided government … say what you will about Clinton and Gingrich, but government did accomplished a few useful things in the 90s.

    That being said, we’re not in the 90s anymore. Compromise has become a “bad” word … on both sides … but especially with the Republicans.

    The pick of Sarah Palin has had the opposite effect for me as it has for you. Up until a couple of weeks ago, I though the country would be “ok” no matter which guy won the election. Now, I have serious reservations about John McCain’s judgment. And it’s not even anything particularly about Palin … for me, the disturbing part is still about how the pick was made.

    Also, to say that Conservatives are “excited” about the pick of Sarah Palin would be the understatement of the year.

    But seriously, just like in 2004, these people are going to expect some “payback” for their electoral support.

    What do you think is going to happen the first time a President McCain signs “compromise” legislation on something like immigration? … or even worse nominates a judge who even smells a little bit like a “moderate”?

    At this point, as an Independent moderate, I’m more of the mindset that the Republicans had basically 4-6 years where they controlled essentially Everything in government. Although I’m not terribly optimistic, I’m willing to give the Dems the same chance.

    … could they really do any worse?

  5. Joel Says:

    Todd,
    I agree with pretty much everything you’ve said. I am an Independent, somewhat Republican leaning, but I have gotten very tired of the Republican agenda during the Bush years. Specifically, the Iraq war, out-of-control deficit spending, unilateral diplomacy, threatened civil liberties, lack of leadership on energy and environmental policy, etc. I think it’s time to “give the ball to the other team” and see if they can turn things around. If the Democrats fail, in 4 years we’ll have a Republican president again. Obama may be thin on experience, but he has a clear vision and a pretty deep knowledge of the issues. I think that Joe Biden complements him very well, because his knowledge of how things work in Washington will help Obama with implementation. I honestly don’t see McCain changing things very much; vague promises like “reducing earmarks” and “cleaning up the corruption in Washington” do not impress me. I look forward to the 3 presidential debates as well as the vice presidential debate, and hope that as many people watch them as watch the conventions.

  6. mw Says:

    @avinash
    As usual avinash, you first make me wade hip-deep through empty partisan rhetoric* to even figure out whether there is any content in your comment. So lets just dump out the bedpan first.

    I still find it interesting that you are willing to believe that supporting a candidate who has shown himself to be willing to say anything to get elected (McCain has been more and more willing in the past few weeks to make and repeat, statements which are proven to be outright lies), will bring about a beneficial government… -a

    The easiest way to deal with this kind of partisan nonsense is just cut paste replace with the candidate of your choice, and modify as needed. Example:

    Avinash – I still find it interesting that you are willing to believe that supporting a candidate who has shown himself to be willing to say anything to get elected (Obama has shown a willingness throughout the entire primary and general campaign season to insult his opponents, base his policies solely on political expediency, renig on commitments, reverse his positions, make and repeat statements which are proven to be outright lies), will bring about a beneficial government…

    Now the usual next step is for you to bring your list of top ten McCain lies, and I’ll bring my list of top ten list Obama lies, and we argue about whose lies are worst. But you are going to have find some Republican partisan to play with, as I’m bored with that game.

    All politicians lie and pander to get elected. In point of fact, as Alan pointed out, these two are better than the choices we get in most presidential elections. That does not change the partisan game, nor the enormous blind spots in partisan supporters like Avinash.

    Ok, Having shoveled out the stable, we find that Avinash has a real point to make. Was the divided government of the last two years a failure? This is deserving of a more detailed post, and I’ll need to research this a bit more, but here is my initial response –

    The fact is that the divided government state did begin to reverse the trend. Six years of abusive single party control is not going to be undone by 20 months of divided government. Yet, as a direct consequence of divided government, we have a new Secretary of Defense, a new Attorney General, a marginal improvement in the Patriot Act and FISA vs. the Bush/Cheney versions, a great deal more oversight revealing many of the abuses of the six years of single party control, a revised strategy in Iraq resulting in an improved security situation, and a reduction in the rate of spending growth in 2007. These improvements, though marginal, are not insignificant. It is the nature of divided government that improvements will be incremental and that is what we have seen so far.

    The absurdity and extreme danger of handing all the levers of power to the Democrats as a cure for the abuses we saw as a result of handing all the levers of power to the Republican should be obvious on its face. Particularly when you consider the Democrats will likely have bigger majorities than the Republicans had combined with a Cheney enhanced executive. Quite possibly this would be the greatest concentration of power in one man and one party in the US federal government in the lifetime of anyone reading this blog.

    Do you really think that Democratic politicians are that much different than Republican politicians? Look at Jack Murtha’s record of corruption. Recall that the real reason for the Gingrich revolution in ’94 was public disgust at the corruption in the congress of the single party Democratic government in the first two years of the Clinton administration.

    You gotta really have the partisan blinders on to believe that they can be trusted with the “ring of power” just because they are Democrats.

    *please substitute another word for rhetoric with the acronym “BS”.

  7. mw Says:

    At this point, as an Independent moderate, I’m more of the mindset that the Republicans had basically 4-6 years where they controlled essentially Everything in government. Although I’m not terribly optimistic, I’m willing to give the Dems the same chance. … could they really do any worse? – Todd

    @Todd
    Yeah. I have wrestled with that one, and will expand on it with my next post. The way I think about it, is to consider not only whether the Republican party should be punished by voters for what they did to this country during the six years they had all the controls but to ask the question of whether the Republican Party should even exist. Perhaps the right answer is to work for the destruction of the Republican Party in order to make room for some other opposition party, something new to emerge. Frankly, I think there is a pretty good case to be made there.

    However, even if you believe that, it does not follow that it is a good idea to have the Democrats control everything. Because to answer your question, if we give them the same amount of time controlling all branches, yes they will be just as bad or worse for the country.

    So – I want to see the Republicans punished. I really do. The way to do that, in my mind, is in the Congress. Throw the bums out, give the Dems bigger majorities, but install McCain to keep a veto and some level of credible opposition for the next 2-4 years. Time to figure out if there is an alternative to the Republican Party or if it can be rehabilitated.

    P.S. – To answer your question about judges – recall that McCain led the “Gang of 14” in the Senate that forced a compromise on judicial appointments which infuriated the right. This is the same McCain. He’ll take a middle road on judges.

  8. Gaucho Politico Says:

    You guys really think McCain is going to go middle of the road on judges? Really? That means when he made the expressed declaration that he would have a prolife presidency at the saddleback forum he was not talking about over turning roe v wade. How else is he going to have a pro life presidency other than putting on judges who want to reverse roe? At the very least that is what the right understands his comments to mean. So McCain is either going to give them judges who make policy decisions then apply ex post facto justification or he is deceiving the right by leading them to believe he is giving them the judges.

    Putting someone in the presidency is about more than simply the bills that come out of congress. That is a very shallow view. The president appoints people in federal agencies and sets the policy for those agencies. Those agencies decide how the law is going to be interpreted and enforced. The presidency is soo much more powerful than the congress especially since congress totally abdicated any interest in oversight. What good is a divided government when the democratic leadership is willing to cave on any issue?

    I am also interested in where people get this idea that McCain will somehow be independent of his party and their ideas once he is elected. McCain has not stood by any of the failed attempts at reform that people talk about ie immigration. He has no major reform to show other than campaign finance for his years in the senate. even his campaign finance reform bill is something he does not like to really own. When it comes down to the end and it goes to a vote McCain goes with his party. He votes with his party when there is a chance he could make the difference. When he does vote with dems it is on issues where the bill was going to pass and it makes no difference.

  9. mw Says:

    Gaucho – Gang of 14. John McCain made a real difference standing up to his party and paid a price. Now show me anything at any time that Obama has done that is even vaguely comparable standing up to the Democratic Party.

  10. Todd Says:

    P.S. – To answer your question about judges – recall that McCain led the “Gang of 14” in the Senate that forced a compromise on judicial appointments which infuriated the right. This is the same McCain. He’ll take a middle road on judges.

    That’s exactly my point. This bounce that McCain has gotten from the base is almost 100% Palin. Conservatives still do not like or trust John McCain.

    If he tries to govern as anything other than a hard-line Conservative (someone who really will make Bush look compassionate in comparison) the right wing will revolt. (and/or pray for his quick demise *tongue in cheek* )

    And with the extremely negative scorched earth campaign that he’s running right now, he’s quickly burning his bridges with Democrats too.

    I just don’t see any way that John McCain will be able to govern effectively if he does manage to win the election.

    … then again, maybe at this point he’s not even thinking that far ahead.

    To me, that’s the biggest difference in the VP picks.

    Obama chose someone who he thinks will help him govern.

    McCain chose someone who he thinks will help him get elected.

    Just based on that, who’s more likely to actually have an effective plan for running the country?

  11. mw Says:

    “Obama chose someone who he thinks will help him govern. McCain chose someone who he thinks will help him get elected.”

    BUZZZZZZ. Oh. Sorry Todd. You just pegged my partisan BS detector. You are saying that helping get Obama elected was not part of the Biden selection? Gimme a friggin’ break. Even Obama does not say that is true. Biden was picked because he talks a great game and would have done well in debates against the VP pick that Team Obama expected McCain to pick – Romney. Biden was picked because Obama needs PA, showed up very weak in PA vs Clinton and Biden grew up in PA. Biden was picked because he is blue collar and Obama is a Harvard ivory tower academic who has a real political problem with blue collar voters. Biden was picked because Obama has no real foreign policy experience and Biden partially fills that gigantic glaring hole. Biden was first and foremost a political pick. And – oh yeah – he will help Obama govern. If Obama picked after McCain, Biden would not be the VP candidate right now. Clinton would be. Obama got outflanked. Thats the way the cookie crumbles sometimes.

    Palin was also a political pick. The VP always is. Always. Always. Always. 100% of the time for every single presidential candidate since the top of the ticket got to pick his second. She will also help McCain govern, not in foreign policy, because unlike Obama, McCain does not need help there. She will help with energy policy, which some of us think is also pretty important. And she does know more about energy policy than Biden, Obama, and McCain combined. Just watch that Maria Bartiromo interview on CNBC the week before she was selected.

    I really do not understand what you are saying about McCain and the gang of 14. He stood up to his party and suffered the slings and arrows when he knew he would really need them to get the nomination. Now you are saying he will kowtow to them after he is president and does not need them? You’ve got it completely backwards my friend.

  12. Todd Says:

    BUZZZZZZ. Oh. Sorry Todd. You just pegged my partisan BS detector. You are saying that helping get Obama elected was not part of the Biden selection? Gimme a friggin’ break.

    LOL, fair enough … I will concede that ALL VP selections are pretty much political.

    That said, I think of the choices he had, Kaine, Sebelius and definitely Clinton would have been much more political picks, as far as what they might bring to the map.

    Biden was essentially the “do no harm” pick … lol, with fingers crossed that he doesn’t have too many foot in mouth moments between now and Nov.

    To be perfectly honest, I was really scared leading up to the pick that it was going to be Clinton. To me, that would have been every bit as bad for Obama as picking Palin was for McCain. It would have been all about getting elected, with no consideration for the difficulties of actually governing.

    I really do not understand what you are saying about McCain and the gang of 14. He stood up to his party and suffered the slings and arrows when he knew he would really need them to get the nomination. Now you are saying he will kowtow to them after he is president and does not need them? You’ve got it completely backwards my friend.

    I’m coming at this as someone who liked McCain. I admire the fact that he’s stood up to his party. Unfortunately, he’s since changed his position and/or considerably backed down on just about every major issue where he previously opposed the right wing of his party.

    Now that it looks like McCain might actually have a chance of winning, I do have a secret little fantasy that maybe John McCain is still the guy he was back in 2000, and once he’s elected, he’ll tell the Rush Limbaughs and Sean Hannities of the world to go jump off a bridge.

    But right now, I honestly have no clue where the man really stands on anything.

    Except for the war … which is an issue that I disagree with him on.

    (and before anyone tries to slam me too hard for that, I’d be much more open to listening if you’ve actually spent time in Iraq or Afghanistan … I have)

  13. Togakangaroo Says:

    As a natural born contrarian you’re going to have to indulge me. First of all one thing that makes me nervous is how you say that you might change your vote but imply that it would be impossible to change your mind on your reasoning. I believe that you’ve researched a great deal. But really? You’ve heard EVERY argument? Its not EVER going to add up?

    Second, and this is something I’ve never really seen anyone mention, what do you think of the statement that the democrats are a whole lot more divided than republicans? Frankly – and I will try to not talk myself too much into a corner here – it seems to me that the republicans are the face of 2 to 3 basic factions whereas the democrats are a much more loosely held coalition mostly characterized by their opposition to republicans.

    Please you divided government guys (and though I support Obama I am in spirit with you), discuss and factor this into your decisions.

  14. Lit3Bolt Says:

    If the issues facing the country were purely domestic I would agree, but Congress, even if stuffed chock full of Democrats and moustache-twirling socialists, would still roll over and play dead on issues of foreign policy, especially if the president is Republican.

    On issues such as judges, healthcare, and immigration, sure, divided government all the way. These are issues I still feeel I can trust the Republican party somewhat.

    On finances and civil liberties and foreign policy, no freakin’ way. I will never trust a Republican on these issues, at least not for a while. (God grant me a real libertarian, please.)

    On the economy, meh…I don’t know. I think Democrats are essential for protecting the consumer, while Republicans protect the investors, which stimulate the economy. Both can lead to various kinds of crashing and burning.

    Energy independence? Who should I trust on this issue?

    I sympathize with mw’s view, but it seems too easy and simple minded, because you could answer every crisis the country faces with “Divided gov’t, divided gov’t.” But that is a partisan mantra unto itself. (Zing! Points for me in the game of “Intellectual Gotcha!” I tagged mw with the dirty filthy word, partisan)

    I think the pendulum needs to swing fully back into the Democratic side for some years now, more than anything to send the Republicans out into the wilderness for some time, shake off the crazy, and come back as actual fiscal conservatives and trustworthy on national security.

  15. Susanna K. Says:

    “By voting for divided government I am voting to distribute power rather than concentrate power.”

    One thing you’ve failed to take into consideration is that another Republican administration means that they get to make the next round of appointments on the Supreme Court, leaving power strongly concentrated among the conservatives for years to come.

    This is the only reason, by the way, that my husband, who is otherwise a big fan of McCain, plans to vote for Obama. He wants to maintain balance in the Supreme Court.

  16. mw Says:

    Ok. I’m getting exactly what I asked for here. I appreciate the thoughtful comments. I said I would respond in my next post, which I’ll do, but I’m going to make a first cut of the rebuttals here first. This is my favorite way to write a post – rough it out in a comment discussion – then try to pull it back into a semi-coherent, reasonably succinct post. This one may take a few days.

    FWIW my process will be to go FIFO with the comments, summarize the objection to voting divided and then reply. I’vd got some other things to do today, so it may take me a while to get back to some the comments, but my intent is to respond to them all in this thread –

    First back to Todd:

    Objection: The issue of ending the war overrides all other issues – including maintaining a divided government.

    I actually agree with this. After the midterms, I was advocating for Hagel, (and later Paul) to win the GOP nomination exactly because I felt the ending the war took priority over – well – everything. In fact, in January ’07 I wrote a post and created a YouTube video titled “It’s the war, stupid.” where I tried to identify who made the right call and who made the wrong call on the war in 2002. Interestingly, on the Dem side, I created a graphic that showed Obama and Biden as the ones who were on the right side of that decision.

    However, my take now, is that events in Iraq have overtaken the campaign and rendered this issue moot. Yes Obama was right and McCain was wrong in 2002. But McCain was right and Obama was wrong on the surge in 2006. It’s a wash on the judgement question. And as a direct consequence of the surge, Maliki and Iraq have stood up and we are going to stand down. A date has been set, and by 2011 we will have a significantly reduced presence in Iraq, regardless of who is president.

    Our military leadership wants a draw down in Iraq, because we need to rebuild our forces and reinforce Afghanistan. The majority of Americans want out, because we cannot afford to maintain this level of military presence in Iraq. And now the Iraqi government want us out by the end of 2010, because they want their country back. It is inevitable that we will be mostly out of a combat role in Iraq in this 2010 timeframe.

    Thanks to Maliki, there is now no practical difference on what our military posture will look like in Iraq by the end of 2010 regardless of who is president. In fact, it is very possible that we will be able to draw down faster with McCain as president, as his credibility as a warrior will restrain the objections from the right, while Obama would have to try and steamroll those objections.

    Net net. As a voter I get my cake and eat it too. I can vote to limit the concentration of single party power in Washington, and get also get a quicker or at least equivalent draw down in Iraq by supporting McCain. It’s all good.

  17. mw Says:

    “…what do you think of the statement that the democrats are a whole lot more divided than republicans? Frankly – and I will try to not talk myself too much into a corner here – it seems to me that the republicans are the face of 2 to 3 basic factions whereas the democrats are a much more loosely held coalition mostly characterized by their opposition to republicans. – Toga

    Objection: We don’t need a government divided between Democrats and Republicans, because the Democrats are divided all by themselves.

    Amusingly, I heard the same thing from Republicans arguing against divided government in 2006. Only they were saying that the real problem was the RINO’s in congress who should be counted as Dems. So they were divided all by themselves. Complete nonsense of course.

    Essentially I see this as a definition question. Bear with me, I need to backfill.

    For me, a large part of the appeal of voting for divided government is that there is a large body of historical research and analysis by political scientists and economists on the divided government state, showing a compelling correlation between divided government and consequential outcomes that I consider positive, or at least, less negative. These consequences are consistent with political objectives I hope to see in our government which I have tried to summarize like this:

    “Federal government should be limited in scope, provide for common defense, protect and respect individual rights, spend and tax in a fiscally responsible manner, provide effective oversight of elected and appointed representatives, legislate carefully and slowly, and pass only laws that are tempered in the fire of partisan debate.”

    The scholarship shows unequivocally that we get more of these objectives met when the federal government is divided than when it is controlled by a single party. So – I think it makes sense to vote that way. Hence my obsession and my blog.

    Here is the rub – All of this scholarship is based on a specific definition of Divided Government: One party controls the White House and another party has a majority in one or both houses of Congress.

    Obviously, advocating a voting strategy based on that research will have no validity or foundation if a different definition is used other than the definition on which the research is based. Both Republicans and Democrats will argue (depending on election) that their respective parties are so ideologically mixed, that they constitute a divided government, even if they have secured single party control of the federal government. This argument completely misses the point. It is an attempt to avoid the consequences of a rational argument by changing a politically inconvenient definition.

    If one would like to see these objectives advanced, based on this scholarship, then one must use the same definition of divided government on which the scholarship is based. If there is any research showing the consequences on spending growth and federal governance when we have a divided government defined as a mixed cabinet, or an ideologically split single party, then there is something to talk about. I am unaware of any such research. Until I see it, I’ll stick with this definition.

  18. Togakangaroo Says:

    …there is now no practical difference on what our military posture will look like in Iraq by the end of 2010 regardless of who is president.

    I would actually like to lend some ammo to that statement and would like to direct people to an hour-long interview with After Bush author Timothy Lynch (here: http://podcast.rbn.com/cspan/cspan/download/podaudio/arc_btv_083008_4.mp3) where he discusses the very idea.

    Secondly,
    All of this scholarship is based on a specific definition of Divided Government: One party controls the White House and another party has a majority in one or both houses of Congress.

    Interesting, I am not at all familiar with the scholarship you refer to nor – not being a political historian – would I be. In doing your research for your upcoming article I would urge you however to look a little deeper, as at seems to me that though that might be the surface definition it is likely that the true reference is to a particular dynamic, possibly one that a democratic congress+white house would still retain.

    Finally,
    Lets raise one more objection. As you’ve already said the war is the most important thing, trumping thoughts of divided government. I’ll propose however, that just as important is to put a complete and utter halt to anything even faintly smacking of state-sanctioned torture and to do whatever we can to ensure that it will never happen again. McCain has been waffly on the subject lately (the cia should not have to abide by the same rules as everyone else?) but I DO believe that he takes the issue very seriously and will do his utmost to put an end to all this horrible nonsense. But, he IS very old, in somewhat poor health, and I trust Palin on this not a bit.

    And then there’s the second half of it, to ensure that we as a nation do not torture again. To do this, I trully think there needs to be criminal charges and a body-count. The guys who allowed this to happen NEED to be held accountable. Now I’m far from 100% sure that Barack would be strong enough to steer the ship to that port (though the choice of Biden goes a long way toward relieving my concerns) but there is NO WAY that is a course that McCain can or ever will pursue.

    Thoughts?

  19. mw Says:

    “God grant me a real libertarian, please… I sympathize with mw’s view, but it seems too easy and simple minded, because you could answer every crisis the country faces with “Divided gov’t, divided gov’t.” But that is a partisan mantra unto itself. (Zing! Points for me in the game of “Intellectual Gotcha!” I tagged mw with the dirty filthy word, partisan)… I think the pendulum needs to swing fully back into the Democratic side for some years now” – Lit

    LIT3 OBJECTION: You are trading partisan dogma for divided government dogma.

    Lit3Bolt actually has three or four objections in that comment, a couple of which I’ve already addressed, so I am going focus on the one that cut me to the bone – that I am an overly simplistic dogmatic partisan Dividican. Let me compose myself. Ok. Now this objection I have to come at sideways. And this reply is directed only at those of the libertarianish persuasion. So I’d like to ask all R’s and D’s to read no further and please skip over the rest of this comment.

    Waiting for God to deliver a real libertarian candidate with a chance of winning is a strategy I suppose. However, it does appear to me that God must have different political views, as the only political messiah I have seen recently is of a much more liberal statist creed. The question to consider, is there any voting strategy that offers any hope to libertarians as we continue to accelerate at breakneck speed down the highway to leviathan hell?

    First, there has to be a clear eyed recognition that even using the broadest definition, the libertarianish leaning Independents represent no more than 12% of the electorate (using the generous CATO libertarian swing vote definition linked in the post). As they are roughly evenly split between those that will prioritize economic and cilvil liberties, when they vote in their R and D confort zone they cancel each other out. The Libertarian Party? Never gets above a couple of percentage points nationally, and since it contains the same mix of civil and economic focused libertarians, they don’t even function effectively as a spoiler. The libertarian leaning can be safely ignored by both parties in the political process, because they are politically impotent. So until our libertarian messiah comes walking down from that stairway to heaven, if libertarians want things to change, they need to find some way of overcoming this electile dysfunction.

    Divided government is not a panacea. It may not always work. But when there is an obvious divided government vote (as in ’06 and ’08), voting for divided government is the best way to accomplish the libertarian objective of limiting the growth of the state. It may not always be that way, and accomplishing these objectives may not always require a divided government vote. After all, it is the objectives and not the divided government state that matters. One could speculate that if this meme were to evolve into a tightly organized and highly sophisticated voting block, it could become very granular and work to maintain a divided congress at all times, so the presidential vote would always be “free-agent,” “best-man,” lesser-of-two-evils,” most libertarian, whatever. But that is getting pretty far-fetched, even for me.

    Ultimately, I see this voting tactic as highly effective, but short-term and self-limiting. The primary benefit of implementing this voting strategy is as a band-aid to limit the growth of the state and improve governance. BUT – as a side benefit, it could also serve to establish the moderate libertarian center as a self-aware, broadly recognized and organized voting block.

    Objectively, divided government only slows the growth of the state, with no evidence that it can actually begin to reduce it. One way to describe the situation is that the “Divided Government vote” stands down when the “Moderate/Centrist/Libertarian vote” stands up. Ultimately, if a divided government constituency is co-opted and eroded because Democrats and/or Republicans are wrestling with each other to prove who are the better, more effective moderate/libertarians, and can prove this to a skeptical, rational, empirical moderate/libertarian swing vote … well then our job here is done.

    None of that can happen, if the libertarian vote is not recognized as a block. It cannot be recognized as a block if there is no organizing principle to vote as a block. Which – libertarians being libertarians – is almost impossible (insert cat-herding aphorism here). The libertarianish are not going to organize around a party. They might temporarily organize around a personality like Ron Paul, but that is a temporary and self-limiting state. If the personality does not win the nomination of a major party? Back to being politically impotent and inchoate. One other alternative is that libertarians can organize around a very simplistic voting strategy. Simplistic, because it has to be.

    Voting for divided government is a very simple tactical voting heuristic that, if promoted and executed, will effectively slap both major parties upside the head and say “pay attention!” With that attention, comes pandering. With pandering, comes policy. With policy, comes change.This simple organizing principle produces a voting block, but has no candidates, no leaders, no platform, no conventions, none of the trappings of a political party. It only needs a small group of libertarianish voters to embrace and promote it. Members of the voting block decide for themselves. In any given federal election, the divided government vote is either obvious, or there is no divided government vote. And in a close partisan election, as few as 2-3% voting this way may be enough to shape the election.

    Shaping an election outcome one time can be dismissed as a rogue political wave. Shaping two consecutive federal elections is a sea change that cannot be ignored. If the libertarian “divided government vote” is shown to swing the 2008 presidential election as it did the Congressional outcome in 2006, then libertarians will no longer be inchoate, their message no longer diffused, and their political clout no longer flaccid. As long as the bulk of the electorate remains polarized and balanced (like now) even a small percentage libertarian swing vote organized around divided government will be enough for libertarians to display the biggest swinging political “hammer” in town.

  20. Todd Says:

    Yes Obama was right and McCain was wrong in 2002. But McCain was right and Obama was wrong on the surge in 2006. It’s a wash on the judgement question. And as a direct consequence of the surge, Maliki and Iraq have stood up and we are going to stand down.

    I don’t want to hijack this thread in a whole different direction …

    But since you “accused” me of politics earlier :), I would submit that the couple of sentences quoted above is the “sound bite” version of how things stand now in Iraq; and how we got to where we are.

    I would highly recommend giving Woodward’s new book a read.

    The main thing I took away from the book is that “right” and “wrong” when it comes to Iraq are very much moving targets.

    … and there is surprisingly little consensus among a whole lot of very smart people (both in the military and out) about exactly what to do in that region of the world.

    As someone who’s life is Very Directly affected by the decisions of our country’s leadership when it comes to issues of war and peace; I don’t want to sound like a wimp (I’m not) … but I’m inclined to appreciate the guy who seems most willing to view the military as a LAST resort.

    Just my two pennies.

  21. mw Says:

    It looks like this thread is winding down. Some great comments and food for thought. I’ll respond to a few more of the points here then get started on my next post.

    “One thing you’ve failed to take into consideration is that another Republican administration means that they get to make the next round of appointments on the Supreme Court, leaving power strongly concentrated among the conservatives for years to come.” – Susan

    @susan
    This is simply incorrect. The president does not make Supreme Court appointments in a vacuum. They have to be approved in the Senate. The Democrats will be expanding their majority in the Senate. They probably won’t get to a 60/40 filibuster proof majority but it could be close. Even Bush had to moderate his recent appointments with a 51-49 Senate and worked with Schumer and other Dems to compromise on the picks. The Democrats are not going to permit extreme jurists to be appointed. McCain also showed by leading the “Gang of 14″ compromise a willingness to stand up to the right wing of this party on judicial appointments. We’ll get compromise picks out of McCain, because he has to.

    “I would urge you however to look a little deeper, as at seems to me that though that might be the surface definition it is likely that the true reference is to a particular dynamic, possibly one that a democratic congress+white house would still retain.” – Toga

    @toga
    Look. There are real hard historical facts and research that support arguments for what happens in divided government with a conventional definition. I have a tough enough time making an argument with that supporting research to back it up. There is none for supporting arguments about how a Democratic President and a “Divided” all Democratic Congress behaves. It would just be rhetoric. I’ll leave that for someone else.

    “I’ll propose however, that just as important is to put a complete and utter halt to anything even faintly smacking of state-sanctioned torture and to do whatever we can to ensure that it will never happen again.” – Toga

    @toga
    I agree with you 100% on this, but disagree about your assessment of McCain.By bucking his own party McCain did more to stop the torture regime than anyone else in the Senate. I simply don’t buy that he has been waffling on the issue, but rather moved behind the scenes and by threatening to publicly oppose he got the laws modified and a compromise worked out with the administration before they came to the floor. On the hand, after Obama’s complete capitulation and flip-flop on the FISA issue for clearly political reasons, I have no idea what principles he really believes, stands for, or is willing to fight for. My take is he will not fight for anything. It is all political calculation in that one.

    “The main thing I took away from the book is that “right” and “wrong” when it comes to Iraq are very much moving targets… and there is surprisingly little consensus among a whole lot of very smart people (both in the military and out) about exactly what to do in that region of the world … but I’m inclined to appreciate the guy who seems most willing to view the military as a LAST resort.” – Todd

    @todd
    I agree with you. I’m just giving my opinions to add to all the others. Obama was right to oppose and McCain was wrong to support the occupation in 2002. McCain was right to support and Obama was wrong to support the surge in 2006. BTW – I was wrong twice – I supported the initial action in Iraq based on my president saying there was a real and imminent threat. There wasn’t. I opposed the surge because I believed it was a quagmire that would not improve – a Vietnam redux. The surge has created enough stability that we have a window to get out without having Iraq completely collapse. For the reasons I listed above, we will take advantage of this window regardless of who is president. Americans and Iraqi’s want us out – so we are out – done deal.

    From your comments it sounds like you are an anonymous military blogger. Let me just take this opportunity to thank you for your service.

  22. Togakangaroo Says:

    mw,
    That is a fair disagreement on McCain. And like I said, I DO believe that he will try his best to halt any future abuses. However you did not address the other issues I brought up: the possibility of Palin taking over, and the almost more important issue of prosecution. I really doubt you’re going to claim that a McCain administration would be more likely to try to bring high-level figures to trial more than an Obama one.

    I would vote divided but for me, the torture (and to a lesser degree domestic spying) issues are complete show-stoppers easily trumping concerns of a voting strategy or forming a third-block.

  23. Divided We Stand - United We Fall Says:

    The Coalition of the Divided…

    cross-post with the same title as this one, but completely different content. Don’t ask me why. It just turned out that way. Hoping to stimulate some debate, I got exactly what I asked for in the comments. Some pretty interesting stuff, and fodder for…

  24. Donklephant » Blog Archive » Happy Constitution Day! Says:

    [...] However, until such time that additional protections for the governed can be built into the Constitution, we the governed can address this Constitutional defect on our own – by never voting one party into control of the Presidency, Senate, and House or Representatives. By voting for divided government. [...]

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