I’ve read two editorials in the past months, both making the case for a Kerry presidency not based on any of his merits, but on the inherent advantages of a divided government. Brian Doherty writes:
In the past, divided government has shown great power to curb federal spending. As William Niskanen, a former chairman of President Reagan’s Council of Economic Advisers, has noted, the only two post-World War II periods of genuine restraint in federal spending growth (with annual increases of less than 1 percent) came during the Eisenhower and Clinton administrations. Both presidents mostly lacked Congresses controlled by their parties.
[login as colinsearle/bristol to access the full article]. And in the October Atlantic, Jonathan Rauch argues that some of our governemnt’s better reforms have come about during periods of divided control. (Unfortunately the full article is only available to subscribers). His case goes something like this: George Bush campaigned as a centrist, a “uniter, not a divider” – something he was apparently sincere about, at the time. Since then, much has changed. With Republican control of both the executive and legislative branches, there is little incentive to cater to the center. His attempts to do so (drug benefits, no child left behind, steel tariffs) have gained him no love from the embittered democrats, while his more conservative initiatives have been gleefully rubber-stamped by Republicans in congress. The result has been a steady movement to the Right by the Bush administration, profligate spending, and an increasingly polarized government.
I’ve long speculated that, in the absence of real liberty-oriented reforms, the best we can hope for is a government which accomplishes little. Perhaps a Kerry victory (however seemingly unlikely, at this juncture) would be a step toward moderation and benign deadlock.