Split Government is Best

When you look back through history, some of the best economic times occurred when the U.S. had a split government. Take a few recent examples: When Reagan was president with the Democrats controlling Congress; the economy vastly improved, primarily because the "blue dogs" voted with him on economic issues, but held back support on other issues.

Likewise, when President Clinton’s approach his first year resulted in a Congressional election backlash, giving Republicans control of Congress, not only did the economy greatly improve, but having fiscal conservatives in control of the spending purse resulted in the first surplus budget in decades and in the paying down of the national debt. (The backlash convinced Clinton to govern from the center.)

The opposite has also proven true. Take the brief period when the Republicans gained control of Congress under Bush; those Republicans started spending like liberals and they also let the regulatory barriers on Wall Street get a little too loose (along with help from the Democrats).

Likewise, when Carter and the Democrats controlled Congress in the late 1970s, they turned in the worst economic performance since the Great Depression when they enacted heavy-handed regulation and barriers that stifled economic creativity and growth.

The same holds true when FDR was President with his own party in control of Congress. The Great Depression wasn’t an accident; what would have been a bad recession was turned into the Great Depression by massive federal taxation and regulation, increased trade barriers, and huge reductions in economic liberty, thereby scaring off investor capital and risk taking.

Look now at Obama and the Democrats controlling Congress. We’re seeing massive tax and regulatory increases (coming to an economy near you in 2010-11), giving us intrusive governmental control of many aspects of our economy and various industries.

Likewise, we’re also seeing unprecedented radical legislation opposed by an overwhelming majority of Americans.

The same holds true with Wisconsin state government. When Gov. Doyle had a Republican-controlled Legislature, he governed from the middle and his first term was fairly benign (no progress, but not too much damage, either).

But now, with the combination of Doyle in the executive residence combined with Democrats in control of the Legislature, the state had a $6 billion deficit, combined with all kinds of new regulations and taxes to pay for additional spending; all passed late at night when the rest of us were sleeping. And the Democrats made unilateral legislative decisions in closed caucuses, unopen not only to the public but unopen to the opposing party as well. And a number of far left initiatives were narrowly defeated; things could have been much worse.

I have to give the Dems credit for cleverly using the massive deficit they created as an excuse for more unilateral spending "to fix the problem," both nationally and locally.

In contrast, consider how Tommy Thompson had to negotiate every piece of legislation when the Democrats controlled the Legislature, but things started going haywire when the Republicans secured a majority in the legislature in Tommy’s later years. (Of course, the fact that they hadn’t governed in decades meant a steep learning curve.)

When one party has absolute control, it appears that that party just can’t help itself. Instead of exercising proper restraint, they pillar and plunder the taxpayers’ financial house because they figure, "Hey, we’re only going to get one shot at this."

The lack of an offsetting party in control of the other branch of government leaves no counter balance or restraint. Politicians continue to demonstrate a lack of restraint when trusted with the key to the liquor cabinet; they’re addicted and they won’t stop until we cut them off.

Likewise, when one party controls, that party’s leaders want to pay back the people who helped put them into office, and those people are usually the most ideological of their party. Therefore, the most left or right ideology prevails, and one-sided legislation is passed into law resulting in a (quantitative) minority having forced their agenda on the majority.

In contrast, when Reagan was president with the Democrats in control of Congress, and when Clinton was President when the Republicans held the House and Senate, the presidents had to compromise to win votes to pass legislation, which meant they could not force a radical agenda on the rest of us.

By contrast, look at what is happening with one party now in control at both the federal and state levels of government; lots of ideology and lots of spending and new taxes to pay for it — and no restraint.

Too bad there’s not a party that can learn to control its members’ spending. The problem is that the most fervent of the party’s members are the ones who drive the agenda. It’s not usually the moderates or the middle crowd that gets candidates elected (at least not historically).

What we need is a candidate who can say no to his/her party’s biggest spenders and still retain party support.

The alternative is for the U.S. to continue this phenomenon of alternating back and forth every other election between one party in control and then the other. What if there was an alternative — what if swing voters voted not for the candidate, but for the opposite party, i.e. they split their vote? In other words, if one party has absolute control, they voted for the other party?

It seems to me that the best economic times this country has experienced have come when one party is in the executive residence and the other party is in control of the legislative branch, because that’s when no left or right hard-line ideology can get passed.

In fact, during those times, only issues that have the overwhelming support of the American public tend to get approved, and isn’t that how it should be?

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