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Thursday, July 28, 2011

On the Futility of Divided Government at the Empire Level

Rick Perry, when he was the Republican governor of Texas running for re-election, said his primary opponent, Senator Kay Hutchison, was spending tax dollars too freely in Washington. He meant that she was too Washington. He claimed that she didn't get what he called, “Texas values.” Then, he added something really telling—something that went beyond his electoral contest: “Washington’s one-size-fits-all approaches simply don’t work. They want more control of your dollars and your life, and they want it now. We surrender that to them with peril.” His statement is worthy of our reflection even long after Perry's re-election campaign.

The frustrating matter during the summer of 2011 of whether (and how) the debt ceiling ought to be raised shows just how difficult it is to get all of the factions on board in passing a law. When both major parties must agree for a bill to become a law, “the opposition” is part of the government. No parliamentary system would mandate that a government (i.e., governing coalition) must get its opposition on board for laws to be enacted. This is true enough even on the level of EU and US states; for a diverse union of such states to require that almost every faction agree is foolhardy. In other words, “divided government” at the empire-level gives the inherent diversity too much leverage with which to block governmental action.

Why doesn’t a one-size-fits-all approach not work in the United States at the federal level?

First, an empire consisting of member states or republics is inherently diverse, given the scale of the countries themselves. Imperial-level legislation should take into account the different political entities that constitute or are members of the empire, even if the legislation applies directly to individuals (rather than to the member states). Otherwise, pressure from the real differences will build—potentially blowing the Union apart eventually.

Second, governments have ruling and opposition parties for a reason: getting all of them to agree for a bill to become a law is unrealistic given the extent of ideological distance from the far right to the far left. Compromise is difficult enough within a governing coalition. Even though having a “divided government” allows for better checks and balances, it is a recipe for nothing getting done. One size does not fit for all parties, which are themselves coalitions. Perhaps we like divided government because we are so scared about what a governing coalition might actually do. As a consequence, we suffer gridlock.

"American and European Federalism" is a short critique of Perry's book on federalism, Fed Up!