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The Case For Split Government 

by Robert Herold


World peace" used to be such an incontrovertibly good thing that all Miss America contestants, even at the height of the Cold War, could safely say that they were in favor of it. Now, if the Bush vision of national security becomes our governing reality, they'll have to say, beaming, "As Miss America, I hope to help little children and work on behalf of the United States' world domination."


So concluded Hendrik Hertzberg, writing in The New Yorker, about the President's recently released National Security Strategy for the United States. This document begins with a critique of deterrence and ends with a prescription for both unilateral and preemptive military action anywhere and anytime that our benevolent government might determine the need. And it goes even further. It effectively assumes a Pax Americana -- a world brought to peace through American might.


While we can applaud the administration for rethinking a now outdated national security strategy based on deterrence, the certitude that flows through their ideas is frightening.


The Bush analysis appears as mid-term elections approach. Control of the Congress is up for grabs. Now, I'm not a fan of divided government, especially when it plays out in the Congress. Ever since the Founders invented separation of powers, scholars have attempted to put the best light on what, at best, was a patched-together arrangement. Why do we need to make governing even more problematic by dividing its functions, as the separation of powers does?


Well, we don't.


What the Founders accomplished back in 1787 was to cut a deal that brought on board the states, small and large. In any case, they gave us both a federal republic and the separation of powers, which produced the unanticipated form of factions fighting it out when the executive branch is controlled by one party and the Congress the other.


So, all things being equal, why not just vote the Republicans back into control of the Senate, allow them to retain control of the House and go about fixing responsibility on the GOP so that the next presidential election can be fought out cleanly?


It certainly can be argued that the Democrats have not provided compelling reasons to support the alternative. Democrats haven't even succeeded in making our terrible economy an issue, even though most Americans believe it to be a more important issue than Iraq.


Rob Norton believes he knows the reason. Writing for Fortune, he argues that the Democrats "don't have a clue" about how to fix the economy. To be fair, he moves to that criticism only after he has acknowledged that neither do the Bushees.


Anyway, where is the loyal opposition that should be giving us a reason to vote for their candidates? With their fingers in the political winds, that's where. So much for leadership when we need it.





Even so -- even if the Democrats haven't seized the day -- I suggest that a circumstantial case can be made for a continuation of divided government over the next two years.


Given the manifest bipartisan cluelessness, one is impelled to ask: What's to lose? There are, however, real reasons (countering ideologically pure court nominees, for one). But to make the necessary point, we needn't go beyond that amazing Bush national security paper, so revealing of a hermetically sealed certitude and which has fueled an explosion of arrogance.


All the President's Men summarily reject an ever-more complex world, so interconnected, so pregnant with ambiguity. They give no indication of a willingness to reflect beyond their analysis. Only Congress can set up a roadblock between their certitude and the actions it implies. Despite the outcome of the vote granting Bush the power to wage war on Iraq, Congress did provide some speed bumps in the debate, asking tough questions and moderating the proposal.


To no surprise, Bush loyalists are out and about discounting the role played by the Congress over these past weeks. The president got exactly what he wanted, they say. No, he did not.


The president wanted Gulf of Tonkin II; he didn't get it. Moreover, the committees, especially, served to restrain the Bush crowd's arrogance by holding the administration to account.


Not above a little deconstruction, loyalists also now claim that the president, all along, intended to go to Congress -- and the UN, too. No one who followed the debate closely can believe this. Bush bluntly asserted his authority to act alone -- without consultation, without allies, without the UN.


If you still believe that Bush was not intending to thumb his nose at the Congress and the UN all along, just open your copy of National Security Strategy for the United States. They are quite serious about going it alone. Now, do you really want to give this administration two years to work with a Congress dominated by foot soldiers who will only grease Bush's skids? Somebody needs at least to


fire the retro rockets during this headlong flight


into a violent future. And maintaining split government on Election Day is the only chance for that


to happen.





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