Two cheers for divided government.

Two cheers for divided government.


Push Me Pull You
Truly a double header. Not only does the New York Times provide a reasonably accurate description of the virtues of divided government, but we also get their rendering of the creature known to us fondly as the “Donklephant”.

We’ll add it to our growing collection of similarly structured creatures, including the back-assward AARP version and the tragic Daily Show Elephonkey.

Truth be told, the graphic is a bit forced. Regardless, you’ve got to hand it to Peter Baker for his article in the NY Times – he gets it. Our federal government is not dysfunctional. It works as it does for the simple reason that this is exactly how it was designed and intended to work:

Hip, Hip — if Not Hooray — for a Standstill Nation

“Is this any way to run a country? As it happens, yes. Ideal it is not. Inspiring, hardly at all. But the fractious, backbiting, finger-pointing, polarizing, partisan, kick-the-can-down-the-road brinkmanship of Washington politics these days is, let’s face it, the reality of American governance in the modern era. For all the hand-wringing about how the system is broken, this is the system as it was designed and is now adapted for the digital age. All the high-minded vows to put politics aside for the greater good ignore the fact that the system is built on politics, with the idea that politics, however ugly, eventually can produce a greater good, however imperfect…

Moreover, it’s useful to remember that the founders devised the system to be difficult, dividing power between states and the federal government, then further dividing the federal government into three branches, then further dividing the legislative branch into two houses. The idea, James Madison wrote, was to keep factions from gaining too much power, presuming that “a coalition of a majority of the whole society could seldom take place on any other principles than those of justice and the general good.”

And to be sure, gridlock is in the eye of the beholder. For those whose ox would get gored — for instance, those adamantly opposed to tax increases or to cuts in entitlement benefits — a little stalemate may not seem like a bad thing if it prevents what they consider a worse outcome. One person’s obstructionism is another’s principled opposition.”

Pardon me… I am experiencing a bit of cognitive dissonance reading something this spot-on in the Times. I just do not recall reading anything in the Times casting divided government in quite so favorable a light at any time in the run up to the 2010 election.

You don’t suppose the fact that avoiding one party rule in 2010 meant voting Republican and avoiding one party rule in 2012 means voting to re-elect President Obama has anything to do with it – do you? Nah. Certainly not.

In any case – the read is well worth consuming one of your 20 free NYT articles in June.

X-posted from Divided We Stand United We Fall

  • kranky kritter

    It occurs to me that the most symbolically accurate figure would be two-assed and no-headed.

  • mw

    Dyre42 came up with the proper appellation for such a figure in a comment on the AARP post. An “Assyderm”.

  • gerryf

    Only a true zealot would conflate Madison and the founding fathers intent for a balance of power with the warped admiration for the partisan bickering, power seeking for the sake of power and gridlock that is divided government.

  • theWord

    I would argue that essentially what you get is one side taking as much as they can and the other side too gutless to do as much for their viewpoint. We keep drifting farther and farther to the Right IMO. Bill Maher said it best the other night when he said, “I’d hate to lose the next election and not even have implemented Democratic policies” At least when the GOP goes down in flames they did it based on what they wanted to do.

  • Centerist Cynic

    I agree with Baker the intent of the founding fathers was for healthy debate and gridlock when consensus could not be reached. Sadly our founding fathers thought this would come from divided government not factions of political parties. The balance or gridlock was supposed to be in the tension between the legislative, executive and judical branches of government. Many of the founding fathers were firmly against political parties precisely because of the issues we are facing today.

    It is rare for anyone of either party to acknowledge that the otherside has a point and work toward a compromise. We risk the default of the US for political theater. We risk the health of the planet so we can pretend we have not become the most polluting generation yet.

    Our founding fathers did not count on career politicians who’s goal in life was to get reelected. Our founding fathers envisioned educated citizens choosing to serve their country to solve real problems. Public service was not intended to be a life long career for the chosen few with the millions to finance it.

    In using the founding fathers arguments about divided government to justify the brinkmanship of modern day politics, Baker is doing no more than justifying the bad behavior that is harming our country.

  • theWord

    Not to mention the fact that we probably have more valid criteria to make decisions with for now than existed or were even envisioned 200+ years. They got a lot right but they also got a lot wrong.

  • kranky kritter

    I agree we’re drifting towards the right. The left needs to make a stronger clearer case that actually convinces a majority on specifics and then and act on those, or accept that a majority of Americans isn’t with that stronger case.

    At the same time, Suppose that Obama had gone more strongly left on things he has been criticized for timidity on, like healthcare reform, staying the course in Iraq and Afghanistan, and insisting on not renewing the Bush tax cuts only for the top bracket. Here’s what I think we’d have:

    • no healthcare reform
    • all the Bush tax cuts repealed and no unemployment extension, meaning higher taxes for the middle class and lots more unemployed folks on the brink
    • already resurgent anti-american activities in Afghanistan and possibly an Iraq in civil war

    Obama wasn’t elected King.

  • theWord

    We agree on much and not on much. You are right, he was not elected King. He was also not elected to do more of the Republican policies. There was an interesting piece on Rachel Maddow’s show the other night about judicial appointments. When Bush was President, they were so mad at the paltry number of nominations that had gone through that they talked of the Nuclear option and filibustering. At this point Bush had gotten 144 through (The EXACT same number as Clinton) Obama has gotten 85 and many of his cabinet appointments are temporary because the Republicans are keeping him from BEING President and choosing to be President. I agree he should be a leader but if we can shut down the government, couldn’t he make the case that nothing happens until they act like adults? If he’s gone in 2 years or 6 years, I’d like to feel at some point that what I voted for got represented.

    Tha captcha’s are getting really obtuse again

  • theWord

    What I meant to say is the GOP says we won’t do anything unless you do this (usually ONLY what we want no negotiations) Democrats give and give but never say, let’s do this fairly.

  • Tully

    The balance or gridlock was supposed to be in the tension between the legislative, executive and judical branches of government.

    Heh. No, that “tension” was meant to extend to the whole of the polity, not just in the internal structure of federal government but in how same functioned under factionalism and partisanship, not just in states versus states but within society itself.

    Nowadays we call that “pluralism,” though at the time the label had not been ninvented other than as referring to the relation between the state and religion.

  • kranky kritter

    I’d like to feel at some point that what I voted for got represented.

    Well, that’s a problem for you. And for anyone else who makes the mistake of thinking they voted for a what instead of a who. You may think you voted for policies x, y, and z, but you were wrong. You voted for Barack Obama. And that’s what you got.

    FWIW, I think you’re right to suggest Obama has been more timid and circumspect in office than one might have expected. But as an independent who tends towards moderation on many issues, I expected Obama to govern from the middle. And I predicted that folks more towards the liberal end would be disappointed quickly. IMO, many liberals saw what they wanted to see.