The Logical Conclusion of the Argument for Divided Government

The extent to which the ideology of the two-party state has eroded constitutional government in the United States is sometimes most clear in the off-hand comments of the apologists for the dictatorship of the ruling Democratic-Republican party.  1580AM radio, which syndicates Lou Dobbs' talk show, relays a Youtube video entitled, "Lou Dobbs Post-Show Debrief 1.3.11."  Here's the teaser:
Lou Dobbs talks about the ‘NEW’ Congress taking office this week and the country returning to an ACTUAL ‘two-party’ system of checks and balances with Democrats AND Republicans holding power in Congress.
In the video "debrief," Dobbs states:
We're coming up on a big week as we launch 2011.  Congress is coming back on Wednesday.  Can't wait.  Can you?  It's felt pretty good not to have them in session, I don't know how it's going to feel to have them back.  I'm sure of one thing: it's going to feel better than last year because this year we don't have one-party rule.  We're back to the two-party political system in our government, checks and balances, all that sort of thing.  It's a very very important development.  I think it's part of the reason I feel so good about this year . . . [Emphasis added.]
In this short statement, Dobbs manages to conflate divided government with the two-party system while confusing the two-party system with the system of checks and balances.  In effect, his working assumption is that only divided government provides the conditions necessary to ensure checks and balances.  Given that divided government has become the rule rather than the exception at the federal level over the last fifty years or so, it is likely that many American would essentially agree with this proposition.  If it is true, however, then we must draw the obvious conclusion that government by the Democratic and Republican parties has undermined the separation of powers in the United States.

The argument for divided government under the conditions of the two-party state is actually quite simple.  When the presidency and the legislature are controlled by the same party, the president will not check the Congress and the Congress will not check the president, but rather they work in concert for the benefit of their party and its primary constituencies, and the separation of powers will be undermined.  When the powers of government are divided between the parties, the argument goes, we are ensured an antagonistic relationship between the executive and legislative branches. 

Yet, though they pander to different segments of the public, the major parties ultimately serve the same interests, namely, those of the ruling criminal-political class, and thus a very similar argument can be made with respect to so-called divided government itself.  When the presidency and the legislature are controlled by different factions of the two-party state, the president does not check the Congress and the Congress does not check the president, but rather they work in concert for the benefit of the parties themselves and their primary constituencies, and the separation of powers is undermined.   Consider but one obvious example of such political malfeasance.  Arguably, the imperial presidency and the cult of the executive rival the two-party system itself as the single greatest threat to the separation of powers in the United States.  Support for the imperial presidency is rampant among the legions of executive cultists in both the Democratic and Republican parties.  The imperial presidency and the cult of the executive have thrived and metastasized under the conditions of divided government over the last fifty years, no matter which party has controlled the Congress or the Presidency. 

Perhaps, in this context, all that need be done is to take the argument in favor of divided government to its logical conclusion: no party should control the presidency, or the Senate or the House of Representatives.  An independent opposition is necessary to counter the enemies of constitutional, democratic, republican government in the ruling political class.


Samuel Wilson said...

Did "undivided" government trouble Dobbs in January 2001? I doubt it troubled him as much. In any event, the idea that partisanship trumps traditional checks and balances is a recent one, dating back no further than the 1960s or 1970s. I've seen the change traced to the ideological realignment beginning in 1964, after which regionalism or localism rarely served as a check on partisanship defined as loyalty to the president. Has the tyranny of fundraising made matters worse? Most likely. But the solution isn't to aspire to perpetual bipolarchy in the name of balanced government, but to elect people who will represent their constituents first and their party second at best.

d.eris said...

It's funny. As I was writing this post, I wondered the same thing about Dobbs's position on divided government vs. undivided government during the Bush administration, but decided to let the dead-enders of the Democratic party do the research to play the partisan hypocrisy card, since that's their specialty.

The linked Wikipedia graph of the history of divided vs. undivided government in the US in the 20th century is really telling. It's undeniable that the nature of party government changed rather abruptly following WWII. In the first half of the century undivided govt was the rule, interrupted by brief periods of divided government. In the second half, things are exactly reversed: divided government is the rule, interrupted by short periods of undivided government. But there are so many other variables, as you indicate, that are at play over the same period: ideological realignment, technological advances, fanatical devotion to the two-party dictatorship from technocrats and so-called political scientists etc.

btw, Sam, I like the notion of the TV Advertising Toll you brought up recently at Think 3. I wonder whether we could actually think of it as a kind of corporate-levied tax on our political and electoral system.

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