Tuesday, January 08, 2013

Cliff Notes on the Recent Unpleasantness

What’s wrong with American, today?  Is the latest slapstick in Washington proof that America is ultimately a failed system?  Will we eventually plunge over the way hyped cliff of some sort?  Lots of questions like this floating around about what is wrong with that American dream of we are the best and brightest, the finest, and the future of the world.  And yet, we seem to be stuck, unable to progress, unable to get done what needs to be done, unable to move on. 
It’s not Obama. It’s not liberals, nor is it right wing extremist.  It’s not the end of the America that everyone in the world has dreamed, feared, or fanaticized.  It is the current structure of our government.   Not the structure a president and two houses of Congress, but the structure of which party controls what.  Our current structure is not unprecedented but it doesn’t happen often, and when it does, things tend to go undone.
The cold hard truth is:  a Republican Congress does not work well with a Democratic President.  If a Democrat is in the White House, and Republicans control either house of Congress, nothing gets done.  Government comes to a standstill.  Democrats in control of either house of Congress will work with a Republican president, but alas, the reverse is not true.  Republicans will just not work with a Democratic president.  A split Congress in which one party controls one house and the other has the majority in the other is even worse than one party controlling both houses of Congress and the other in the While House.
The rise of the Tea Party Republicans has made this situation even worse.  While Republicans march lock-step – moderates are afraid to moderate for fear of loosing their party’s nomination in the next election – unity among Democrats is like herding cats.  There is no control of Democrats like we are seeing of Republicans.  Democrats will cross over and support Republican legislation they deem importation to the nation, if not their constituents, while Republican never will.  So, the defining moment is which party is in the White House and which party controls Congress at the same time. 
But these are new times and Congressional Republicans fear the Tea Party or Grover Norquist or Fox News.  One thing can be said for all Republican congressional members, they speak with one voice.  It’s just whose voice is it that is the question - certainly not their constituents.  Democrats are not like that, and recent history has shown, they will support a Republican president.
Poor Obama:  the first black president, overwhelmingly reelected, and stuck with Republican control of at least one house of Congress in which the Tea Party has undue influence.  Maybe claim to a precedent is more important than any legacy. 
During Bill Clinton’s presidency, six years of Republican control in both houses of the 104th to 106th Congress, statistics show that legislation was passed consistent with scenarios in which the same party was in both the White House and Congress or a Republican White House with a Democratic control of one house of Congress.  However, this says more about Bill Clinton than government structure.
Sadly, as we all witnessed over the last few years, Obama may be the better family man but he is not the better politician.
The statistics for the 96th through 112th Congress (1979-2012):
Party in While House/Party in Congress
Number of Occurrences
Average Number Laws Passed
(Obama) Dem/Split
(Clinton) Dem/Rep

Since FDR, the only other Democrat in the While House other than Clinton to face a Republican Congress was Truman and the 80th Congress.   The “do nothing” Congress that Truman ran against in 1948.  Eisenhower and Nixon governed with a Congress controlled by Democrats, but like I said, the statistics support the old saying that Democrats will work with a Republican President.
So you see it’s not that America has failed as a democracy to govern itself, but just a period of unpleasantness in which America has painted itself into its least favorite corner.  Everything will be OK once Democrats regain control of both houses of Congress or any Republican is elected President.
Some would argue in favor of the current stalemate under the delusional assumption that less government is better government.  While a government that has difficulty passing anything may create fewer laws, that does not prevent it from passing a bad law, and then it cannot pass the needed legislation to correct its mistakes.  The recent “fiscal cliff” deadline is a prime example. 
The source for the numbers above can be found at GovTrack.us and Party Control of Presidency and Congress.