Sunday, August 20, 2006

Why We Need Divided Government

In November of 2006, Americans will go the polls to elect our congressional representatives once again. All of the members of the House of Representatives and a portion of the Senate will be up for election. Perhaps more than ever, it is vital that at least one house of congress elect a majority that is not of the same party as the current administration installed in the White House. Why? Because as Lord Acton said, “Power tends to corrupt, but absolute power corrupts absolutely”. The Republican party has enjoyed a majority in both houses of Congress and in the presidency for a number of years now. The result has been an extraordinary failure of leadership in each area of government. The “corruption” here is the erosion of the checks and balances in our government when there is a single party in control.


The Cato Institute has an excellent piece on why divided government works. The major factors of influence by single party control: War and Governmental spending are Cato's points of argument for divided government. Each example they provide shows that at least since the 1950's, our government works better (or as the Cato Institute says, works less, which may be the same thing) when one party is in control of the White House and the other has control of Congress. Ideally, we would see independents grow to the point that would require coalition governments, but that is unlikely in our system.

From the article:

American voters, in their unarticulated collective wisdom, have voted for a divided federal government for most of the past 50 years. Divided government is not the stuff of which legends are made. But the separation of powers is probably a better protection of our liberties when the presidency and the Congress are controlled by different parties

I would add a third factor of influence: Lack of governmental oversight is much higher when a single party controls the White House and Congress. The recent hoopla over Judge Anna Diggs Taylor's finding of the warrantless wiretapping by the Bush administration unconstitutional speaks volumes over the lack of the Congress in doing it's job. The matter of whether or not the Bush administration is breaking the law by conducting wiretaps without a warrant should not have to be settled in the courts. The Congress is responsible for writing the law. They should know whether or not the Bush Administration's behavior violates the statutes they have created or not. It's easy for the Congress to sit back and allow the courts to render a decision that never should have had to been made. It's red meat for some, who love decrying "activist judges" and "legislating from the bench". Had this action been done by a Democratic president, it's safe to say that there would be non-stop hearings on whether the administration had exceeded its authority.

An opposition Congress can have a chilling effect on the executive branch's actions, and it should. As the Cato Institute's article suggests, we seem to have better results with a divided government. This November's election, with luck will see a more balanced government prevail.

1 comment:

  1. Niskanen shows that divided government can restrain the growth of the state. Why not vote to accomplish this libertarian objective rather than throw your vote away on a Libertarian party?

    Voting for divided government, is an easy way to vote in '06 and actually have a real impact. It is certainly true, that we are talking very long odds here. But in '06, with a limited turnout, and a highly polarized electorate, it is just possible that a simple idea, widely communicated, to a relatively very few voters on the margin can make a difference. If only there was some sort of ubiquitous communication medium that had the potential of getting this idea widely disseminated, we might get just enough votes to make a difference. Something like a vast network of tubes. Too bad it does not exist. If it did we could let the politicians know that thereis a libertarian voting block that does not throw it's vote away every election.

    What is needed, for this to work in this very short time-frame, is an organizing principle. A principle that is so obvious, so logical, and so clear-cut, that no leadership is needed, no parties are needed, no candidates are needed, and no infrastructure is needed. Ideally it is just this easy: You think about the principle, and you know how to vote.

    That organizing principle exists. It is Divided Government. It is absolutely clear-cut and easy to understand. Divided Government is documented by Niskanen et.al. to work in a practical real-world manner to restrain the growth of the state. The entire idea can be communicated in a sound byte. As a voting strategy it can be implemented immediately.

    Whatever the percentage of the electorate that libertarians and disgruntled limited government advocates represent, whether it is 9% or 20%, if they vote as a block for Divided Government, they become the brokers of an evenly split partisan electorate. They arguably become the single most most potent voting block in the country, specifically because they are willing to vote either Democratic or Republican as a block. Specifically because they are not fused to one party or the other.

    It means, libertarians must ignore what the politicians say and look at what they actually do (Niskanen again). It means ignoring spurious invitations to fuse with either "big tent" party that no longer stands for anything meaningful. It means voting straight Democratic in 2006, and (if successful in establishing divided government) voting Republican for President in 2008. It means the difference between libertarians being a completely impotent political force, and libertarians having the biggest swinging political "hammer" in town.

    And it can be done this year.

    It can be done in the next in the next three months.
    Just Vote Divided.

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