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May 01, 2012

History and the Likelihood of a Re-Aligning Election

In the comments to this post, I asked the assembled villainry for practical alternatives to political compromise (that ne plus ultra of dirty words). Elise responded with this comment:

I caught a very small piece of a TV program talking to Jerry Brown (yes, Governor Moonbeam) in the last day or two and he, of all people, has the best answer to what we need (other than either a bloody revolution or a (hopefully peaceful) secession/split): a definitive election, one that firmly and unmistakably ushers one side or the other into power in the both the Executive and the Legislative branches.

I would also add that such an electoral sweep has to hold for a number of subsequent elections both so long-term initiatives can come to fruition and so the Supreme Court can be re-made in the image of whichever side achieves this electoral victory. Given the Senate seats up in November, it is mathematically possible for either the Democrats or the Republicans to achieve a veto-proof majority in the Senate.

The question I want to address is, "How likely is this to happen?", by which I mean, how likely is it that conservatives will control all three branches of government long enough to make a substantial dent in an 80 year trend of steadily increasing federal scope creep? Back in 2009, shortly after we lost the 2008 election, I looked at this very question from a different perspective. Back then, disappointed conservatives were blaming Bush for what - in the light of history - was an entirely predictable turnover of power. Indeed, when looked at in light of the historical recod, it would have been downright odd if Obama had not won that election:

...I decided to take a look at the history of Presidential power sharing over the last century or so:

Our own history can provide valuable perspective on our present difficulties. Over the last half century or so, Republicans have controlled the White House by a 3-2 margin. But more importantly, over the last half century there has been only one case in which the same party held the White House three terms in a row. Why are conservatives feeding the frankly hysterical notion that a typical and not unexpected turnover of power justifies the abandonment of our principles?

power_sharing.jpg

Jim Lindgren has an interesting post up in which he points out that while there's nothing new about the urge to blame the ruling party when the balance of power shifts, election data provides a much more plausible explanation: a phenomenon he calls The Lightening Rod effect.

In the summer of 2006, when some legal scholars feared that President Bush and the Republicans were so powerful that Bush had a king-like status, Steve Calabresi and I published a comment in the Yale Law Journal that pointed out that the existing political science literature had understated the degree to which there typically was a backlash against the party of the president. We showed that the usual erosion of support extended, not just to seats in the House and Senate, but to the states.

When one adds all gubernatorial races to the analysis, as we do in Figures 1 and 2, backlash against the President’s party in state races during a President’s term is actually stronger overall than the coattail effect in the presidential election year. To be more specific, we find that four years after a party wins a presidential election, it holds on average three fewer statehouses than it had before it won the presidential election. Perversely, winning the presidency seems to lead very shortly to losing power in the states. Since 1932 there have been eight changes of party control of the White House (1933, 1953, 1961, 1969, 1977, 1981, 1993, and 2001). In every instance but one, the party that seized the White House held more governorships in the year before it took office than in the subsequent year it lost the presidential election. The only exception is that in 1980, Republicans held four fewer governorships than they held in 1992, immediately before the Republicans were voted out of the White House. Similarly, of the eleven Presidents since 1933, every one except two, Kennedy and Reagan, left office with fewer governorships than his party had before he took office, and Kennedy served less than three years. Figure 1 shows this pattern.

Dem_govs.jpg

During the Clinton administration, Clinton was criticized for losing so many seats in Congress and losing so many governorships. Yet that was more or less par for the course. And Calabresi and I were not at all surprised to see large Republican losses in the 2006 election (the normal losses had been avoided in 2002 by 9/11, much as the normal losses were avoided in 1962 by the Cuban missile crisis).

Now the process seems to be repeating today. President Obama's drop in popularity may be slightly larger than for most Democratic presidents early in their terms, but the process is a normal one. Further, while the contests for state governorships may be decided by local issues, the atmosphere is one in which the Democrats will be blamed for the perceived faults of Obama, yet this process is entirely normal.

...

I believe his study shows something I've long suspected: that the popular support for Republicans or Democrats is counterbalanced by a healthy suspicion of handing either party too much power. When one party has held sway for too long, we instinctively try to "balance" the equation by voting in a counterweight from the other party. This is an intelligent hedge against what we all know of human nature: that unchecked power corrupts.

The consolation for the out-of-power party is that in time, the pendulum will swing back their way. I don't believe the vast majority of Americans are either intellectually consistent or rabidly ideological. Both parties encompass a wide spectrum of political beliefs, and moreover I think that the center of mass in the middle - the political uncommitted or swing votes - provides a natural adjustment to changing political conditions.

I've argued many times that ideological purists are unelectable under normal conditions. Our founding documents were less the result of intellectual uniformity than rational compromise: the ability to negotiate agreements under which neither party got everything they wanted but both parties got something they wanted.

Two points from this post bear repeating:

1. [from my research] ...over the last half century there has been only one case in which the same party held the White House three terms in a row.

2. [from Lindgren's study] Perversely, winning the presidency seems to lead very shortly to losing power in the states. Since 1932 there have been eight changes of party control of the White House (1933, 1953, 1961, 1969, 1977, 1981, 1993, and 2001). In every instance but one, the party that seized the White House held more governorships in the year before it took office than in the subsequent year it lost the presidential election. The only exception is that in 1980, Republicans held four fewer governorships than they held in 1992, immediately before the Republicans were voted out of the White House.

Now let's look at how many times a single party has controlled all three branches of government over the past 65 years:

Contrary to popular belief, most of the time (in modern political history) Congress and the President are at odds; that is, most of the time the same political party does not control the White House, the Senate, and the House of Representatives. Only 13 times (26 years) since 1945 have both branches of Congress and the Presidency been controlled by the same party; the Democrats have held this advantage more often than Republicans (11 to 2).

At the same time, Congress has usually been controlled by the same party. The “odd man out” has literally been the President.

So while a sweep of the White House and Congress can happen, it is the exception rather than the norm and perhaps more importantly, that unusual state of affairs (with the exception of the 1960s, which gave us LBJ's Great Society and the War on Poverty) usually doesn't last long. There's a great visual guide at the link.

All of this raises the highly entertaining possibility (be quiet, spd) that the best thing for conservatives would be to cede the White House to the Democrats for the next decade. Release the hounds, as they say...


Posted by Cassandra at May 1, 2012 09:03 PM

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A small point: Only 13 times (26 years) since 1945 have both branches of Congress and the Presidency been controlled by the same party; the Democrats have held this advantage more often than Republicans (11 to 2).

26 years out of 67, now (or 13 times out of 33), is a significant minority of the time. The exception is the rate at which the Republicans get this break/curse.

Conservatives--as opposed to Republicans--need to not blow this one. The watershed--or Elise's realignment--election in 2010 wasn't a Republican election; it was a Tea Party election. But also as Elise has suggested, the realignment has to be confirmed by a series of reelections, or there wasn't a realignment, just some momentary angst.

What's interesting to me is what happens to national politics when there's a new significant political party born and staying around. The Federalists, the Democrats, the Republicans--the Tea Partiers?

Eric Hines

Posted by: E Hines at May 1, 2012 10:46 PM

compromise (that ne plus ultra of dirty words)

As someone who, at least intellectually, understands that in the real world things only get done through cooperation and compromise: I wonder if the objection to it these days isn't due to backlash.

That is, it isn't compromise, per se, that's the problem, but that Republicans have been so damn poor at it. The thrust of compromise is that you get something, but I get something too.

Today it seems as if "compromise" works like this:

Me: I have a nice, delicious cake with lots of yummy icing.

You: Give me your cake.

Me: No.

You: Come on, don't be so stubborn. People have to compromise: Give me half your cake.

Me: But what do I get?

You: You get half a cake!

Me: OK, we'll compromise. Here's half.

You: That was tasty... Give my your cake.

Me: What?!

You: Look, I've got no cake and you still have half. That's not fair! You should compromise. Give me just half of what's left.

Me: That's because you ate it already. That's not my fault.

You: Oh I see how it is. You're just a stubborn obstructionist, An-Extremist-Unwilling-To-Compromise.

Me: FINE. Here's half of what's left.

You: My goodness, I forgot how delicious that cake had been. Now, give me your cake!

Me: *blink* *blink*

You: All right, fine. You can keep half of it. See, I'm willing to compromise too.

If conservatives are going to change their mind about "compromise", Republicans are going to have to do a better job of selling us on what we are gaining out of the deal, not on being able to keep a fraction of what we already have.

But back on the topic of how to effect a sea-change politically, go talk to the NRA and the various gun-rights groups. If you told any of them in the early 90s that the majority of states would be "shall issue", almost all the rest were "may issue", and that 4 times as many states require no license to carry *at all*, that "Castle Doctrine" laws are now more the rule than exception and that the SCOTUS has now said *twice* that the 2A was an individual and not collective right and that the federal gov't may not ban guns outright *and* that that applies to the states as well, well, they'd call you a liar.

And yet it all happened.

They started small, put pressure on local and state politicians. Got state law changed. When the Wild West didn't happen and the streets didn't run red with blood it made it easier for the next state to change it's laws. And when the Wild West, again, failed to happen and gutters weren't clogged with the bodies of people who stole someone's parking space, it made it easier for the next state. And on and on.

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at May 1, 2012 10:54 PM

If conservatives are going to change their mind about "compromise", Republicans are going to have to do a better job of selling us on what we are gaining out of the deal, not on being able to keep a fraction of what we already have.

I agree, Yu-Ain. I think part of the backlash is due to a realistic appraisal of the direction we're headed in (and the conclusion that the country won't turn on a dime). But I also believe that we overemphasize our losses and ignore our victories. Eric's earlier comment on abortion illustrates this nicely: if your starting position is that only getting 100% of what you want becomes the definition of victory, you will ignore any outcome that doesn't fit your definition and you'll think the other side got 100% of what they wanted (which isn't actually the case).

The insight that got me on the last link is that only one time - in the 1960s - did one party control both Congress and the White House for any length of time (i.e., for long enough to do what Elise referred to: turn the ship of state around).

What contributed to that? Arguably, the shock of JFK's assassination coupled with the Vietnam War. 1961-1969 is the ONLY time one party controlled both the Executive and Legislative branches for 8 years.

The other interesting insight is how rarely Rethugs have controlled the house. The last few years represent an anomaly in an historical pattern stretched out over almost 70 years. Before that you have 44 years of unbroken Democratic control of the House.

Posted by: Cassandra at May 2, 2012 08:01 AM

They started small, put pressure on local and state politicians. Got state law changed. When the Wild West didn't happen and the streets didn't run red with blood it made it easier for the next state to change it's laws. And when the Wild West, again, failed to happen and gutters weren't clogged with the bodies of people who stole someone's parking space, it made it easier for the next state. And on and on.

Yep. Incrementalism. It is also how we got where we are today. And yet most conservatives are calling for a violent yank of the steering wheel that is extremely unlikely to result in lasting change (if there even *is* such a thing).

The reason for my "be quiet, spd" is that mr rdr argued many moons ago that local elections and Congress were the real prizes we should be fighting for. As much as I hate to admit it, I suspect he was right.

Posted by: Cassandra at May 2, 2012 08:07 AM

That is, it isn't compromise, per se, that's the problem, but that Republicans have been so damn poor at it. The thrust of compromise is that you get something, but I get something too.

Have they, though? Is this based on a full assessment of all the Democrat-sponsored legislation that *hasn't* been passed (vs. R-sponsored bills that *have* passed)? Because that's really the only valid measure I can think of.

I haven't done that research. Sounds like a monster of a job.

Posted by: Cassandra at May 2, 2012 08:12 AM

The problem with starting in 1945 is that it ignores the biggest counterexample: the years from 1933-1947 (also known as "The New Deal Congress"). That was the point at which you had a big, Elise-type ship of state series of elections. It's what put us on the course we are on now, and what gave us the Social Security system that we're now trying to figure out how to fix.

The period of time that we see in the '60s is the Great Society period, when the New Deal reforms were furthered and expanded. This is where we got the Medicare and Medicaid issues that are bankrupting us.

In other words, all the problems we're struggling with now arose during

So actually, she's right. Such periods of time do come up -- perhaps once a generation, if we take a generation to be 40 years, so that we're looking back 80 years instead of 65. We'd be just about due for one.

Posted by: Grim at May 2, 2012 08:38 AM

As much as I hate to admit it, I suspect he was right.

Not that I enjoy disagreeing with you Dear Hostess (for I like to be agreeable), but spd did and does have the right (and possibly the Right) of that. The President's power, outside of directing the Armed Forces, pales in comparison to that of the Legislature. Truly, the POTUS is not weak or politically impotent, but given that Congress can override any veto or (with sufficient political will) strangle any initiative the President comes up with to include deployment of troops in armed conflict, that is where the real power lies. The SCOTUS is a close second, and more of a stealth power base. Congress can also (even with a minority of both houses, as seen in the last administration) keep the President's SCOTUS choices off the bench. If they have majority control, they could literally stall him out. There'd be a political price to pay, surely, but they could.

Given the choice between controlling Congress or the White House, I'll take the Capitol Dome every time. The problem is, I can only vote for my slice of Congress and the President (and really, only for my State's delegates for POTUS). I can't force Maryland or California to remove their collective heads from their fourth points of contact and vote how I'd like them to (which, as much as I disagree with them, still remains a feature, not a bug). I threw out some bogus quotes yesterday, but there's one (I hope I get it verbatim) I would like to share here that is real:
"Democracy is the worst form of government, save every other form ever tried." - Winston Churchill

Posted by: MikeD at May 2, 2012 08:46 AM

In some ways this reminds me of Reagan-Carter. All the way up to the night of the election, we were told how "close" this election was - I can remember polls during the election showing Carter ahead.

I was privileged to see Reagan on the eve of the election - if not his last campaign stop, the next-to-last. I stood 10 feet from him.

He stopped at the Mission Valley shopping Center - in San Diego - election eve.

Actually he was 2 hours late and an exasperated Donnie and Marie were trying to find ways to placate the crowd.

When he finally got there I was surprised at how tall he was and the color of his hair- a dark red?

But then one of his aides said something surprising and prophetic - "We think he is going to win tonight".

Of course the crowd roared.

In retrospect I think they had some access to some important exit polls.

As the election results were coming in I remember the shock in primarily the MSM - it was a political tsunami that nobody had foreseen.

I am hoping that history will repeat itself.

Posted by: Bill Brandt at May 2, 2012 08:48 AM

The problem with starting in 1945 is that it ignores the biggest counterexample: the years from 1933-1947 (also known as "The New Deal Congress"). That was the point at which you had a big, Elise-type ship of state series of elections. It's what put us on the course we are on now, and what gave us the Social Security system that we're now trying to figure out how to fix.

True, but it's also important to note the change in term limits that happened as a result of FDR's 4 terms in office. So post-1949, you have a constraint that *didn't exist* prior: a president can serve only 2 terms. Reagan/BushI was the only time we've had 3 back to back terms in the White House (and we didn't control Congress as the Dems did during the FDR or LBJ years).

So actually, she's right. Such periods of time do come up -- perhaps once a generation, if we take a generation to be 40 years, so that we're looking back 80 years instead of 65. We'd be just about due for one.

Is it technically possible Rethugs would control both the White House and Congress for long enough to turn back the tide? Sure, because the Dems have done that twice.

Has it ever happened before? No, not to us. That's the salient point here. Doesn't mean we couldn't do it - just that we haven't been able to yet. Maybe we need to figure out why.

Posted by: "Inconceeeeeeeeeivable!" at May 2, 2012 09:12 AM

Given the choice between controlling Congress or the White House, I'll take the Capitol Dome every time. The problem is, I can only vote for my slice of Congress and the President (and really, only for my State's delegates for POTUS). I can't force Maryland or California to remove their collective heads from their fourth points of contact and vote how I'd like them to (which, as much as I disagree with them, still remains a feature, not a bug).

This is where spd (and you) are right, I think. In the past it was the difficulty issue that caused me to focus on the Presidency but I was discounting the "lightning rod effect" evidence (though informally I had arrived at the same conclusion - that we like to split power between Congress and the Exec branch as a check - long before I could back it up with anything other than intuition).

Posted by: "Inconceeeeeeeeeivable!" at May 2, 2012 09:14 AM

Bill, that's an interesting story. I recall the night of the 2004 election vividly.

I was just sure Bush would win, but the pundits were weeping and wailing and gnashing their teeth about how incompetent Bush was and how he had blown it and the country was screwed :p

I also remember how Reagan was excoriated by many on the Right during his two terms. It's odd, now, to see the reverence with which he is almost universally regarded, since this was by no means the case while he was actually in office!

Posted by: Cass at May 2, 2012 09:17 AM

Cass - much of the right was furious at his compromising - but he often said that he'd rather have half a loaf than no loaf.

I remember the first term was by no means a honeymoon - his polls were down though at least the first 2-3 years.

Then I think of the million people turning out for his funeral - people long removed from his last term - and what a lasting impression he made on people.

If you want a great book on Reagan - the man - read 'Riding With Reagan" - by John Barletta -

Barletta was one of the few Secret Service men who could ride a horse and well - and that his how he came to know Reagan. They became lifelong friends.

I didn't realize - until reading this book - what an equestrian he was.

On Bush - I used to get a vicarious thrill with how he and Rove could drive the Left apoplectic!

Posted by: Bill Brandt at May 2, 2012 09:45 AM

Has it ever happened before? No, not to us.

Who's "us" in this case? Conservatives were divided between the Republican and Democratic parties in those days; the majorities depended on it.

If you look at the period from 1855 (when the Republican and Democratic parties became the two parties), it looks like long-term single-party control of Congress and the White House isn't very unusual at all. In terms of control lasting more than 4 years, Grant had it; the Republicans controlled both houses of Congress and the White House across three Presidencies from 1897-1911 (and both houses of Congress two years before they won the Presidency); Woodrow Wilson had four years of Democratic control; and then Republicans again from 1921-1931.

Then came the New Deal Congress, which gave the Democrats both from 1933-1947. Then, about thirteen years later, the Great Society movement in the 1960s.

So, really, you might argue that such control is more likely than not; we seem to be in a strange period where there hasn't been an episode of such control in forty years. The current period is the anomaly.

Posted by: Grim at May 2, 2012 09:49 AM

I also remember how Reagan was excoriated by many on the Right during his two terms. It's odd, now, to see the reverence with which he is almost universally regarded, since this was by no means the case while he was actually in office!

I've said before that I used to inhabit the sinestrosphere, and it was during the Reagan Administration. It is only after I had my conversion (a slow process of realizing that the world wasn't going to be a perfect place just because I wanted it to be) that I realized what a gem that man was. I believed (at the time with my sub two-decade experience) that he was dangerous, and pushing the Soviets towards a war they didn't want, that full and total nuclear disarmament would be would be wonderful and if only we'd do it first, they'd see our peaceful intentions and do likewise... you know... all the stupid fairy tales that leftis... uh... I mean children believe. Hell, I supported Jesse Jackson in 84. Ah well... everyone has stupid things they did in their youth that they're ashamed of. I'm lucky this is the worst mistake I made.

Posted by: MikeD at May 2, 2012 10:05 AM

I'll go with quality over quantity

I believe we are in a time that requires critical financial/social policy decisions as a country and a people. NPV analysis would say we need to change the administration now. Choosing to wait ten years would be the "rather be ruling in hell" choice.

Posted by: tomg51 at May 2, 2012 10:50 AM

I remember the night that Reagan was elected. I was a 17 yr old college freshman at what was then the most expensive private university in Oregon. Cable wasn't wired into every room and the only tv in the all female dorm was in the common room. I was in my third floor dorm room engaged in obliterating the Valley Girls across the quad in yet another round of stereo wars when I heard the most Gawd-awful wailing and crying echoing up the main stairwell and down the hall. I stepped out of my room to see what was going on and was met by at least a dozen girls in full-blown meltdown mode. I stopped one of them to ask what had happened -- figuring someone's mom had just died or something of that nature -- and was told that Reagan had won, that the world as we knew it was going to end and that all of them, having no hope for the future, had decided to quit school in protest.
I listened.
Then went back in my room and played a selection just for them.

Yeah, even at that tender young age I was *subtle*.
0>;~}

Posted by: DL Sly at May 2, 2012 10:57 AM

DL - I like your sense of humor!

Posted by: Bill Brandt at May 2, 2012 11:24 AM

Wow--go away for an hour or two to deal with priorities, and the conversation moves without me. Hmm....

I'm gonna jump in, anyway, and back up a bit. Yep. Incrementalism. It is also how we got where we are today. And yet most conservatives are calling for a violent yank of the steering wheel that is extremely unlikely to result in lasting change (if there even *is* such a thing).

This is what I wrote elsewhere on this item:

In DC, in politics, in any endeavor, we need to not hold out for everything all at once, or we’ll get nothing at all, and at once. Take what we can get today, and come back tomorrow to work for more.
This working, bit by bit, toward the goal is how the Progressives have gotten us into our present strait over these last 80 years, and it’s the only way out of our present strait to fiscal sanity and its associated economic growth and prosperity. It’s the only path away from government dependency and back to personal responsibility and individual freedom.

But this is compromise around how to achieve an end; it's not compromise regarding the end itself. If we compromise on the goal--on the principle--we lose the goal.

Mr Brandt said, much of the right was furious at [Reagan's] compromising - but he often said that he'd rather have half a loaf than no loaf.

But he held fast to bread. Tofu wasn't an acceptable outcome. There are appropriate places and venues for compromise. And there are places and venues where compromise is illegitimate.

Eric Hines

Posted by: E Hines at May 2, 2012 12:20 PM

What are you really talking about when you talk about compromise on the goal, though? The goal of what?

No one here that I know of has asked either liberals or conservatives to compromise on their ultimate goals. One compromises on a particular bill (a means to that end goal) but as far as I know there's really no way to force or effect a compromise on end goals. They're not really being contemplated.

Posted by: Cass at May 2, 2012 12:25 PM

If we compromise on the goal--on the principle--we lose the goal.

Again, who is asking (for instance) that anyone give up their goal?

I don't ask pro-lifers to give up on trying to reverse Roe v. Wade. I might even help them if they can convince me that the means they are using make sense. Nor do I ask extreme pro-choicers to give up on trying to get all restrictions on abortion outlawed.

I'll oppose them with every bone in my body because I think they're wrong, but I don't seriously expect them to fold up and go away.

I don't understand what we're talking about here - it seems to be perhaps a discussion about something I haven't seen anyone propose. Feel free to tell me if I'm missing something, though :)

Posted by: Cass at May 2, 2012 12:29 PM

I remember the night that Reagan was elected. ...
Then went back in my room and played a selection just for them.

I was a grad student at the time of Nixon's reelection. My department chair was a typical academic bleeding heart liberal, and I was a fascist pig newly commissioned USAF officer on an educational delay to get my MS.

When I came in the morning after the election, there was the good Prof, moaning loudly to all who would listen about the miserable fate of the world now that Nixon had defeated McGovern. I told him he ought to cheer up; it wasn't so bad. It looked like McGovern would carry Massachusetts.

Almost lost my assistantship....

Eric Hines

Posted by: E Hines at May 2, 2012 12:33 PM

No one here that I know of has asked either liberals or conservatives to compromise on their ultimate goals. One compromises on a particular bill (a means to that end goal) but as far as I know there's really no way to force or effect a compromise on end goals.

Exactly. One wants bigger government/more spending, another wants limited government/less spending. When the compromises all run in one direction--toward bigger government, as the compromises of the last 80 years have done, or toward limited government as the other side would like the next long trend of compromise to do, one side's goal is being lost through the trend of compromise.

It's largely inescapable. No one need explicitly say "you must surrender your principle." One side just needs to control the trend of compromise. This doesn't make compromise unacceptable, but it does make compromise dangerous, and each side has to accept compromise within the context, not just of that side's goal, but also in the context of the trend of the latest series of compromises.

Eric Hines

Posted by: E Hines at May 2, 2012 12:50 PM

The problem you have here is that conservatives don't actually oppose growth of the government for causes they support (witness Reagan's increases in defense spending).

That grew government. And liberals lost that battle, as they lost 8 years worth of battles with Bush over the GWOT. People never do like to acknowledge these conservative "wins" when counting the wins and losses, but I can guarantee you that liberals count them.

And they would tell you (when comparing the current size of the federal gubmint to what their goals are) that they have been on the losing end of the compromise deal. I've seen them make this exact argument.

The fact is that the party with the most votes usually wins, and that's a feature (not a bug). Compromise is mostly driven by the realization that you neither party has the votes it needs to get the whole loaf.

If you have the votes, you really don't have to compromise. That's why all this talk of not compromising strikes me as unrealistic: we can talk about what would happen if wishes were horses, but wishes aren't horses.

Posted by: Cass at May 2, 2012 01:00 PM

And they would tell you (when comparing the current size of the federal gubmint to what their goals are) that they have been on the losing end of the compromise deal.

Yes, I'm sure they do: You: All right, fine. You can keep half of it. See, I'm willing to compromise too.

When allowing the other side to retain a portion of what they already own is the definition of compromise, not getting everything would be considered a loss.

Have they, though? Is this based on a full assessment of all the Democrat-sponsored legislation that *hasn't* been passed (vs. R-sponsored bills that *have* passed)? Because that's really the only valid measure I can think of.

Well, what I'm looking at are things like NCLB, The prescription drug benefit, and the last Debt Ceiling compromise. What, exactly did the Fiscal Hawks get in return for those? The first two were as much about reaching across the aisle and giving those "tokens of trust" in the hopes of reciprocation.

Those turned out well.

The last, we already owned a balanced budget so what did we gain by not keeping it? Sure, an immediate fiscal crisis was averted, but given that we didn't fix the problem, it's still going to happen, only now it'll be worse. Just not seeing keeping half our cake as a gain.

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at May 2, 2012 04:17 PM

what I'm looking at are things like NCLB, The prescription drug benefit, and the last Debt Ceiling compromise. What, exactly did the Fiscal Hawks get in return for those? The first two were as much about reaching across the aisle and giving those "tokens of trust" in the hopes of reciprocation.

I have to disagree here. NCLB and the prescription drug bill are things Bush ran on. So what did we get for them? We got our guy in the White House, because lots of moderates and Dems who might not have pulled the lever for an "R", did.

And the President got to say he had delivered on two major campaign promises. The purpose wasn't to reach across the aisle. The purpose was:

1. Get elected.
2. (Ostensibly) do something Bush - though not you - thought needed to be done.
3. Prevent a worse bill from passing, which is almost certainly what would have happened had Gore been elected.

These were Republican bills and we need to own that.

Don't have time to refresh my memory on the debt ceiling debate, but my recollection is that Obama proposed NO cuts and we negotiated SOME tax cuts. But I'd have to check the facts.

Posted by: Cass at May 2, 2012 04:40 PM

The last, we already owned a balanced budget so what did we gain by not keeping it?

How did we own it? We didn't have the votes to balance the budget or keep tax increases off the table. We bought them by agreeing not to cut entitlements.

I think that was stupid. We should have agreed to raise taxes modestly in return for modest cuts to entitlements because we have outstanding debt that needs to be paid down. But no one asked me and that's not the deal that was made.

Sure, an immediate fiscal crisis was averted, but given that we didn't fix the problem, it's still going to happen, only now it'll be worse. Just not seeing keeping half our cake as a gain.

You're ignoring two things:

1. The public blamed Republicans. They weren't in our corner.
2. There was never a realistic expectation (IOW, we didn't have the votes) that we would "fix the problem".

Giving up something you were never going to have anyway is an illusory sacrifice. I guess I don't see how you can ignore that they were just as keen on avoiding cuts to entitlements as we were to avoid new taxes.

Posted by: Cass at May 2, 2012 04:51 PM

Don't have time to refresh my memory on the debt ceiling debate, but my recollection is that Obama proposed NO cuts and we negotiated SOME tax cuts. But I'd have to check the facts.

OK, I just read this and have NO idea what the heck I was thinking. Multi-tasking is not my friend :p

Pls disregard.

Posted by: Cass at May 2, 2012 04:52 PM

...the last Debt Ceiling compromise. What, exactly did the Fiscal Hawks get in return..., for example.

We had a compromise on spending and taxing late in this negotiation when President Obama blew it up with a literal last minute demand for an additional $1 trillion in tax increases.

When a deal was finally struck despite Obama's Chicago compromise, we get Congressman Mike Doyle (D, PA) calling the Republicans terrorists, and Vice President Joe Biden agreeing with him. Doyle further complained This small group of terrorists have made it impossible to spend any money as though it's a Progressive's God-given right to spend OPM.

We also got Congressman Emanuel Cleaver (D, MO) complaining Democrats got nothing in this deal, and if we did, someone please show it to me. Never mind that it isn't about which party gets more or less than the other. It's about whether the nation wins or loses, and what's good for the United States isn't a mindless zero-sum game.

Compromise is a two-way street. How is it possible to compromise--ignoring my concerns about the trends of serial compromises--with such as these?

Even were a compromise struck, how is it possible to trust such as these to keep their side of the bargain?

The latest House budget spends a trifling less than the $1.047 trillion that was "agreed" in that debt ceiling discussion, and the hew and cry from the Progressives over the Republicans having welched on that deal was huge because the latter viewed the limit as an upper bound on spending and the former viewed it as a hard number or a lower bound. How is it possible to deal with those who don't even agree on the terms of reference?

Often grid-lock is preferable to compromise. Or, as the Progressives did with Obamacare, Dodd-Frank, and a series of cynically unconstitutional "recess" appointments while the Senate still was in session, they just rammed things through--in the case of Obamacare after having deliberately excluded the Republicans from the discussions.

How is it possible, I ask again, to compromise with such as these?

Eric Hines

Posted by: E Hines at May 2, 2012 05:18 PM

So when Dems say mean things, that wipes out whatever we got in return?

Are you maintaining that the Republicans wouldn't have gone down in flames if the ceiling hadn't been raised? That it wouldn't have affected our chances of keeping the House, taking the Senate, or taking the White House?

Or are you arguing that Democrats would have voted for these things despite getting nothing in return?

The agreement calls for cuts of more than $900 billion over ten years in spending from programs, agencies and day-to-day spending. It would include security-related and non-security-related cuts.

According to the Congressional Budget Office, "discretionary" spending would be decreased by $21 billion in 2012 and $42 billion in 2013.

The agreement creates a 12-person House and Senate special committee to identify further spending cuts. The committee must complete its work by Thanksgiving - November 23 - and Congress must hold an up or down vote on the committee recommendations by December 23.

The committee could overhaul the tax code or find savings in benefit programs like Medicaid, Medicare or Social Security. Congress could not modify the committee's recommendation.

Should the special committee deadlock or should Congress reject the committee's recommendations, then automatic across the board spending cuts of at least $1.2 trillion would go into effect.

The agreement requires that the House of Representatives and the Senate vote on a Balanced Budget Amendment to the Constitution, although its passage is not guaranteed.

The deal also includes changes to Pell Grants and student loan programs. Pell Grants will receive a $17 billion increase for low-income college students, which will be financed by the elimination of subsidized student loans for most graduate students.

NO immediate revenue additions or tax increases.

************

I'm really mystified here. Is all of this, "nothing in return"? It's not what I would have liked, but did we have the votes to secure what I would have liked (or you would have liked)?

Again, we seem to be arguing a hypothetical not sourced in reality. What practical outcome should there have been that didn't happen (that we could have brought about by refusing to negotiate)?

Posted by: Cass at May 2, 2012 05:30 PM

Some factual corrections--or I'm missing the boat.

The agreement calls for cuts of more than $900 billion over ten years in spending from programs....

No, it calls for $900 billion in reductions of spending increases.

automatic across the board spending cuts of at least $1.2 trillion would go into effect.

No, a $1.2 trillion reduction in spending increases would go into effect.

NO immediate revenue additions or tax increases.

Until the Obama tax increases go into effect in January, which seems pretty immediate to me. They're Obama's and the Progressives' increases because their temporary nature was the Progressives' demand to allow the decreases at all.

For all that, though you're arguing over details. So when Dems say mean things....
Are you maintaining that the Republicans wouldn't have gone down in flames....

Let's step back and see what we've gotten from the trend of 80 years of serial compromise.

We've gained a government that arrogates to itself what will be permitted to be a religion and what will be that religion's permitted practices.

We've gained a government that insists that charity is an instrument of government and not a moral responsibility of individuals and their local community.

We've gained a government that insists it should determine what is permissible speech.

We've gained a government that reaches inside a state to dictate to that state how it will spend its citizens' tax money within that state.

We've gained a government that reaches inside all states individually to control each state's internal commerce.

We've gained a government that dictates to a man what he will be allowed to produce, how much of it he will be allowed to produce, and what price (or range of prices) he will be permitted to charge for it--even if his production was intended solely for personal consumption, much less solely for sale within his state.

We've gained a government that insists that a man's private thoughts are regulable by government under the Commerce Clause.

We've gained a government that has damaged private property rights to the point that a man's house can be taken from him and given to a private enterprise for that private enterprise's individual benefit--and to enable that government to take even more taxes from the citizenry.

We've gained a government that views the Constitution as not binding on anything because it's so old and irrelevant and so routinely ignores it in the government's diktats.

There's more, but this gain is sufficient for the illustration.

Eric Hines

Posted by: E Hines at May 2, 2012 05:58 PM

No, it's not because if you ain't got the votes to change things, you ain't got the votes to change things.

You keep eliding past that. Also, most of the things you complain about are court decisions not subject to negotiation or compromise (and also reflecting not having the votes to pack the court b/c the rest of America doesn't agree with you).

I get it - you don't like that. Neither do I. But it's reality and we have to deal with it.

Conflating congressional compromise with court decisions not subject to political negotiation won't wash.

Complaining about the Constitution being ignored while insisting it should be harder for We the People to change it than for 9 unelected judges to do so, won't wash. Can't play if you can't get on the ball court, so to speak, and 3/4 of the states is a pretty high bar: a LOT higher than mustering 5 votes on a 9 person court.

Or as one of my husband's old COs was fond of saying, "That dog won't hunt".

Unless and until conservatives manage to persuade enough of their fellow Americans to vote the way we want them to vote, none of this matters. That's the bottom line. No one compromises when they have the votes, and we don't.

And I've yet to see one serious proposal for getting there, or getting past that fundamental problem.

Look, I'm not trying to irritate you. I feel the same frustration, but my feelings don't really affect the outcome, nor the reality on the ground. I could rant all day about things that piss me off, but that (like the Occutards) will never accomplish anything.

You don't like compromise but you don't have any serious alternative strategy (except perhaps, "shut the govt. down - who cares if the rest of the country supports that, or will blame Republicans and make it even harder for us to fight back the Dems)"?

You've illustrated that you feel bad about reality. What you have not illustrated is what to do about it that will produce the results you desire.

Posted by: Cass at May 2, 2012 06:11 PM

Strange, my ears have been burning all day.

Vote Lilliputian.

Posted by: spd rdr at May 2, 2012 06:27 PM

I won't go into the fact that the courts are a branch of the government and that it was government that I was talking about at the end of my last comment.

Nor the fact that the judges are drawn from the population, and lately rammed down our collective throats, or blocked altogether because they're not ideologically pure enough.

Or that judges can be impeached, too, and that violating their oaths of office is an impeachable offense.

I will suggest that while I don't like compromises, I've never said they were always inappropriate. I am concerned about the trend of compromises--which you keep eliding. You seem to think that compromise--any compromise--is acceptable, just as long as we can get some agreement. Is that an accurate surmise? What is your strategy?

And as I alluded to above, it's the atmosphere in the Senate that determines the judgeships.

If you think Elise's realigning elections, confirmed by a series of subsequent elections, isn't an alternative, then what's yours?

Finally, I don't know why you think you're irritating me--you're not.

Eric Hines

Posted by: E Hines at May 2, 2012 06:28 PM

First, I'm not eliding past the direction we're headed in not getting the job done. I conceded at the outset that I was also concerned.

Second, I've already said that incrementalism is the ONLY way barring a tectonic shift in the electorate that is not only historically unprecedented (at least in our direction!) but extremely unlikely given our cultural mores and [lack of] values/discipline.

What this post is about is the suggestion that we need to win more seats in Congress. That won't be easy or fast. In the meantime, I've already agreed with Yu-Ain's suggestion of the NRA model for local, incremental change. And it will be a sloooooooooooooooooooooooooooow process.

You seem to think that compromise--any compromise--is acceptable, just as long as we can get some agreement. Is that an accurate surmise? What is your strategy?

Where did I say anything remotely resembling that?

I said that if you don't like compromise, you need to have enough votes that it's not needed. Sudden tectonic shifts in popular opinion almost never last, so I favor a slow, incremental approach and I think it will take several generations.

We may or may not have that much time, but if we don't and the federal govt. goes belly up, our case will be made for us. Kind of hard to argue that government is the answer when government has just defaulted on its obligations and can't pay the light bill :p

At that point, we're all going to be polishing our guns, bitter revanchist snake handling clingers that we are.

Posted by: Cass at May 2, 2012 06:38 PM

Strange, my ears have been burning all day.

Well that's one thing I can cross off my list, then... :p

Posted by: A Womyn's Work is Never Done at May 2, 2012 06:42 PM

"local elections and Congress were the real prizes we should be fighting for" -- I remember a superliberal friend making exactly that point after the shocking losses of the 1994 elections. She thought liberals had become complacent about shoving things down the country's throat via Congress.

We can't really ever lose sight of the importance of either national or local elections.

Posted by: Texan99 at May 2, 2012 07:07 PM

Cass,

Sounds like you and I have been yelling most vociferously at each other in our agreement.

Again.

Except that I think part of our incrementalism needs to include work toward a watershed series of elections. That we've had a harder time than the Progressives at achieving that I think lies more at our communication skills than the country's mores or lack of them.

Eric Hines

Posted by: E Hines at May 2, 2012 07:19 PM

"local elections and Congress were the real prizes"

*recoils in horror at the thought*

"Strange, my ears have been burning all day."

Mine too...

*Whips out a world map plus Michelin's Guide to the Top Restaurants, rings up AF One commander, fondles US Treasury Express card, and smiles while planning the next Campaig... er Mission of State*

Posted by: Obama-Won Canhopie at May 2, 2012 08:03 PM

Interestingly, Wikipedia thinks that 1994 may have been a realigning election. Even though the Presidency didn't turn over (then, obviously, or in 1996), Congress did - and so did Statehouses:

Republicans won majorities in both the House and the Senate, taking control of both chambers for the first time since 1954. [snip]

The GOP gained seats in 43 of 46 state houses. These gains continued into the next decade, so that by 2002 the GOP held the majority of state legislative seats for the first time in fifty years.

I don't know what this means. Given the 2008 election results only 14 years later, it might mean nothing. Given the 2010 election results, it might mean 2008 was a hiccup and we're still consolidating the realignment of 1994. Or it might all mean nothing at all. (One thing I think it does mean is that there is a definite downside to limiting Presidents to two terms. Part of the 1994 election's impact was in forcing Clinton to (ahem) compromise for fear of not being re-elected in 1996.)

I think a re-aligning election, followed by a series of elections confirming that re-alignment, is what we need to resolve the current stand-off. I don't have much hope that we're going to get one in either direction any time soon. It's not just that the Left and Right have mutually exclusive goals on a number of issues; it's that most of the people in the middle want mutually exclusive things. They (we) want to live in a country that is vibrant, prosperous, excellent at job creation, with a lot of personal autonomy. They (we) also want to live in a country where nothing bad ever befalls us without the government being right there to help us out.

It often seems to me that politicians on both sides (with the apparent exception of Paul Ryan) are busy telling those in the middle that, sure, they can have both. (And, even more cruel, that our children can have both.) So why should voters choose? We can pick the party that takes care of us in one election then, when problems arise, take the "let's create jobs" party in the next.

In the current situation, I understand that we have to take what we can get. But I also believe that in the long run that just means we're going to get more of what we've already got. It may, in fact, be impossible to reverse course back to a smaller, less controlling Federal government.

Posted by: Elise at May 3, 2012 09:52 AM

It often seems to me that politicians on both sides (with the apparent exception of Paul Ryan) are busy telling those in the middle that, sure, they can have both. (And, even more cruel, that our children can have both.) So why should voters choose?

The really scary thing is that they do that because it works so well.

Posted by: Cass at May 3, 2012 11:42 AM

It's so hard to thread a course between "If I'm really unlucky, my children and I will starve while dying of smallpox" and "Even if I make no personal effort, the government will ensure that I own a house and get a Ph. D. in whatever fulfills me plus a job that pays nicely without my actually having to produce anything that anyone would buy with his own money." A lot of people, unfortunately, react to a safety net by scarcely bothering to hold onto the trapeze. If that weren't true, we could afford to build the biggest, widest, softest safety nets you could possibly imagine, and prevent anyone from ever being in want, anywhere.

Posted by: Texan99 at May 3, 2012 05:10 PM

I believe a substantial cause for the GOP's losses in 2006+ stemmed much less from such a subconscious concern over party imperialism than from the fact that the GOP had defacto unilaterally voided almost every element of the Contract With America that got them into power in the first place.

People forget, now, 20 years on, that that was a significant reason for the somewhat radical change in legislative power that occurred.

The GOP had whined that the Dems did this and that, and they didn't have the power in Congress to stop them. So they got the power to stop them.... and went on doing "this and that" themselves.

The first off the CoA chopping block was self-imposed term limits. But it was hardly the last such.

Spending continued to increase, the deficits grew larger, entitlements continued to get added, the SS Ponzi scheme wasn't fixed (and that, I believe, was the last straw for most) and so on and so on.

It marked that the GOP were nothing but a bunch of lying two-faced charlatans just like the Dems were.

N'kay, BYEEEEEEeeeeee!!

Posted by: IGotBupkis, Legally Defined Cyberbully in All 57 States at May 3, 2012 10:50 PM

>>> One thing I think it does mean is that there is a definite downside to limiting Presidents to two terms. Part of the 1994 election's impact was in forcing Clinton to (ahem) compromise for fear of not being re-elected in 1996.

In what universe is what you describe qualify as a "downside"?

The one where principles matter less than political power?

The one where extremes of action are punished by loss of political power?

Which universe, elise?

Posted by: IGotBupkis, Legally Defined Cyberbully in All 57 States at May 4, 2012 04:46 PM

>>> Have they, though? Is this based on a full assessment of all the Democrat-sponsored legislation that *hasn't* been passed (vs. R-sponsored bills that *have* passed)? Because that's really the only valid measure I can think of.

Ummmm, the endless stalling on fixing Social Security? The endless expansion of entitlements? The endless expansion of special rules for special groups? The passage of laws outside of the legislative process, by various procedural tricks? The obstruction of confirmation of judge positions, etc., by a minority of Democrats? The fact that Democrats often continue to hold key committee positions enabling them to obstruct legislation despite having a minority on some given position?


... The fact that we're over 100% more in the hole now than we were 3.5 years ago?

I think the GOP compromises far, far too much. The endless growth of The State, as well as the failure to even get CLOSE to any action on the Social Security Ponzi Scheme, despite having a majority for the most part of 2000-2004, says all that need be said. The GOP didn't break cloture, for fear that the Dems would do the same to them when the situations were reversed.... and of course "give me your cake".... they did it anyway

Posted by: IGotBupkis, Legally Defined Cyberbully in All 57 States at May 4, 2012 04:56 PM

I know it's several days late, but...

Bush did run on NCLB and Prescription drugs, but it was part of his "I'll play nice with the Dems" approach. I'll grant you it did get him elected, so I'll concede the point there, but it didn't exactly engender a reciprocation from the other side. Bush's main accomplishments were the WoT and tax cuts. I think President Gore would have likely done the same with the WoT (It had bi-partisan support until it became politically convenient for the Dems to be otherwise and I doubt they would canabalize their own). So that leaves Tax cuts. Whether that is "worth-it" is a different discussion, but it is there. This goes somewhat with my observation that the Rs aren't terribly good at selling the "I get" portion of the compromise.

As for the debt ceiling. I claim that we "owned" a balanced budget because that is a consequence of hitting the debt ceiling. If you can't borrow more, you have to live within your income. No law has to be passed, no votes are needed. Spending = Revenue + Debt. When Debt = 0 Spending = Revenue. Second, as Eric pointed out, when you are spending 1X, spending 1.1X isn't a "cut" just because you aren't spending 1.2X.

This is my example of when compromise isn't bad, I just think Rs suck at it. We "sold" a balanced budget for increased spending. Blech.

Me, I'd have said, "I'll give you Clinton's tax rates, if I get Clinton's budget" No one at the time was claiming that Clinton's tax rates would be the destruction of corporate America, and no one at the time was claiming that Clinton's budget was disasterously underfunded with the poor relegated to eating dog food.

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at May 7, 2012 02:21 PM

I have a problem with the way your framing this, Yu-Ain:

Bush did run on NCLB and Prescription drugs, but it was part of his "I'll play nice with the Dems" approach. I'll grant you it did get him elected, so I'll concede the point there, but it didn't exactly engender a reciprocation from the other side.

What is your evidence for the "it was part of playing nice with Dems"? I recall Bush openly advocated the prescription drug bill and NCLB on their own merits, not as part of some scheme to get Democrats to like him.

Kennedy did back both bills, but was unhappy with the way the prescription drug bill came out (IOW, he felt like the Dems "lost"). Gore wanted a far larger bill and it's not as though there weren't LOTS of Congressional Rethugs who also favored the bill.

Bush didn't run as a hard right Republican (which is probably why he did as well as he did in 2000 and 2004). Bush DID try to reform Social Security and as you recall, his own party refused to support him.

Thomas Sowell wrote a very good op-ed on the cowardice of Congressional Rethugs during Bush's second term.

KJ and I have argued about this too, but I am often puzzled to hear people arguing as though Bush ran as some sort of "real" conservative. He didn't - he ran as a "compassionate", centrist Republican. And he was far more successful in getting his bills passed than Clinton or Obama (even after one of the ugliest elections evah).

Posted by: Batmobile!!! at May 7, 2012 02:54 PM

Sorry for the typos and misspellings. Not firing on all cylinders today:

"you're", not "your".

Posted by: Batmobile!!! at May 7, 2012 02:55 PM

It was exactly that "compassionate conservative" and his "I've successfully worked together with the Dems in Texas" selling point that leads me to believe that that is what they were. It, as you say, was a way for him to keep his campaign promise to reach across the aisle. It was a good-faith effort to heal the rifts after the Clinton impeachment.

Kennedy did back both bills, but was unhappy with the way the prescription drug bill came out (IOW, he felt like the Dems "lost").

And thus my larger point. Congress didn't have to pass a law to keep the (then) current prescription drug laws. We already owned it. No action had to be taken to obtain it. We already had the cake. Kennedy wanted all of it. He got half, in return we got to keep half. joy :-|

Bush DID try to reform Social Security and as you recall, his own party refused to support him.

A grand shame that.

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at May 7, 2012 03:39 PM

And I guess that's what has me perturbed about "compromise". We keep giving up the status quo (that which we already "own") for more and bigger gov't, but I just don't see a whole lot of "get" in return.

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at May 7, 2012 04:02 PM

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