Gridlock Is Good [updated]

By  | 

Doyle McManus at the LA Times considers the challenges the GOP must face to press their advantage in November, and the challenges facing the country should they prevail:

A post-November congressional outlook: partisan gridlock

“But there’s at least one potential problem for the Republicans: They haven’t settled on a unified national message yet — and a quiet civil war is brewing over what, if anything, it should say. In one camp are House conservatives, led by Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.), the House minority whip, who argue that Republicans won in 1994 because the Contract with America laid out by then-Rep. Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) articulated a coherent message around which candidates and voters could rally… Republicans, reportedly including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), worry about finding a tent large enough to include all GOP viewpoints. Trying to come up with a single platform, they believe, could be divisive, and the party should simply embrace a few broad issues such as cutting taxes and spending. We’re already winning, they argue; why get too specific and give Democrats a clearer target to shoot at?”

There is simply not a tent big enough to encompass the full spectrum of policy positions held by those opposed to our current One Party Democratic Rule, including: fiscal conservatives; social conservatives; Republican partisans; libertarians; independents; and the tea party movement. But there does not need to be a unanimity of policy preferences for the GOP to prevail. All they need in November is a common objective and general agreement that a key issue takes precedence over all others. My take –

  • The objective is restoring balance and restraint in our federal government.
  • The key issue is restraining the insane growth of spending and curtailing the fiscal irresponsibility exhibited by the Democrats and this administration.

In a nutshell – “It’s the spending, stupid” – (Thank you again James Carville).

The Tea Party movement is a microcosm of the opposition coalition, willfully misunderstood and mis-characterized by Democratic Party partisans. So far, the Tea Party has shown considerable focus, political acumen and seem to understand that social issues must take a back seat to economic issues in this election.

Flipping majorities in the House of Representatives is extraordinarily difficult. Gerrymandered districts, high congressional re-election rates, and the propensity of voters to dislike congress in general but like their specific congressperson in particular – all must all be overcome to flip the House. It can only happen when a pervasive national mood overcomes the Tip O’Neill homily “All politics is local”.

Difficult, but doable. It happened in 1994 when disparate opposition united to reject the overreach, fiscal irresponsibility, and corruption of One Party Democratic Rule. It happened in 2006 when disparate opposition united to reject the overreach, fiscal irresponsibility and corruption of One Party Republican Rule. Voters don’t need a sweeping agenda. They just need to be unified in a desire to sweep out the party in power. The opposition voting coalition may not survive beyond the 2010 mid-terms, but it does not need to.

McManus continues:

“No matter what happens in November, we will have a divided government. If Republicans win a majority in the House, they will still be dealing with a Democratic president and, probably, a Democratic Senate. If Republicans fall short in the House, they may still reduce Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s majority enough to make bipartisan deals possible in the middle. In that divided-government future, it would be a good thing if November’s elections produced a mandate for something specific, but that can only happen if Republicans and Democrats alike lay out specific agendas. The all-too-likely alternative is two years of partisan gridlock.”

The bogeyman of “gridlock” will not dissuade voters. While often messy, political gridlock in Washington D.C. can yield very positive results. The poster child of dysfunctional gridlock is the Clinton/Gingrich budget impasse that shut down the government in 1995. Ugly – to be sure. Yet out of that same dynamic during the six years of divided and “gridlocked” government, we got a lot of good, smart governance: NAFTA, GATT, Welfare Reform, PAYGO, Tax cuts, reduction in the growth of federal spending, deficit reduction, growing economy, Crime Bill, Brady Bill, new national parks, low unemployment and a balanced budget. Ahh, the good ol’ days. I’ll take that kind of gridlock anytime.

I am not the only one nostalgic for the golden age of gridlock. AP is reporting that Newt Gingrich is considering a run for President. The problem for Gingrich – it is not him, but divided government that invokes the nostalgia. if the Republicans do as well as some polls are indicating in November, voters will need to re-elect Barack Obama to keep that good – Democratic President, Republican Congress – gridlock feeling.

UPDATE: 15-Jul-10

Just noticed this WaPo Howard Kurtz column that strikes some similar notes:

The Gridlock Option

…what if Americans like obstructionists? By which I mean, what if the country, having sampled all-Democratic rule in Washington, would much prefer divided government?

It has, of course, happened before. Voters saddled Ronald Reagan with a Democratic Senate in his last two years in office. Bill Clinton seemed to overreach in his first two years and the voters rewarded him with a Republican Congress for the last six. George W. Bush was six years into his term when the voters gave Democrats control of both chambers.

That’s why the Obama rhetoric about giving back the keys may fall flat: A Republican Congress wouldn’t be running things. It would be more in the role of backseat driver. GOP lawmakers could schedule hearings, issue subpoenas, keep bills off the floor — but would have a hard time passing anything over a presidential veto.

That could be a formula for gridlock — but if enough voters are angry at big government, they might prefer a government that doesn’t do much. Or it could force both parties to compromise, as when Clinton and the Gingrich Congress agreed on welfare reform and a balanced budget.”

Smart guy that Kurtz.

Cross-posted from “Divided We Stand United We Fall