Friday, October 31, 2008

United we stand.

Via an email tip from Jonathan Schwartz, Bob Benenson contemplates the pleasures of divided government...
There are cogent arguments in favor of divided party rule in Washington. The metaphors for one party running both the executive and legislative branches run from a kid in a candy store to a bull in a china shop to the dog that caught the car.
I'm not sure metaphoric cliches are actually cogent arguments, but Benenson offers examples...
We saw it after 1992 when Bill Clinton, was elected president at a time when the Democrats appeared to have solid and sustainable majorities in both chambers of Congress. Clinton pushed so hard and so fast over his first two years in office on issues such as health care reform and gays in the military that the voters took Congress away and handed in to the Republicans in the 1994 elections.
The example, sadly is no more convincing than the cliches. Bill Clinton backed away from gay military service as fast as he could pedal, alienated the strong single-payer constituency in the Democratic Party and put many Democrats on the ropes over his betrayal of organized labor on trade issues. He blurred the partisan lines on other issues as well, to the degree that abandoning the promise of the Great Society is now counted as one of his proud achievements, the subsequent rise in the poverty rate notwithstanding. Democrats of a more progressive bent were left hanging. Sheesh, Bob, where were you in '92.

To his credit, Benenson offers balance...
And just four years ago, Republicans over-interpreted President George W. Bush’s narrow re-election victory and their retention of Senate and House majorities as a mandate for long-term GOP domination. They then saw their control of Congress crushed two years later under weight of Bush’s plunging job approval ratings and a series of tawdry corruption and ethics controversies within the poorly policed ranks of congressional Republicans.
See. I thought there was a war involved.

The point is he's determined to make is that McCain's invocation of fear of united government is hypocritical because he didn't object to a united Republican government in the past. Likewise...
With the Democrats now appealing for the election of Obama as president and for greatly expanded majorities in both the Senate and the House, it is clear that they strongly believe in divided government — unless they are the ones who get to run everything.
So each political party seems to believe that it has the best ideas for the governance of the country and would like to have a relatively unhindered path toward implementing those ideas. I'll happily concede, but note that I find the notion unremarkable.

As unremarkable, in fact, as united government in the United States. The White House and both houses of Congress were united for 69 of the first 109 Congresses. The periods of divided government, in fact, might be best viewed as transitions from the dominance of one party to another for an extended period.

The Republicans have had unified control for three of those extended periods. They produced civil war, the rise of the Robber Baron era and the onset of the Great Depression.

Democrats have had more opportunity, being senior to the Grand "Old" Party, but perhaps those partisan grey hairs explain why those opportunities, the first of which has been labeled 'The Era of Good Feeling,' have been more fruitful for the nation in matters ranging from national expansion to space exploration, from extending the franchise to victory in two World Wars, from diminishing poverty to honoring labor and creating the glory days of the middle class.

It's not surprising that we think we're right and they're wrong. What's notable is that we have proof in the form of outcomes.

After all, a united Democratic government made widows, children and elders more socially secure.

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