There is a light at the end of the tunnel. Though it’s been longer and more drawn-out than a John Kerry speech, this election season is finally coming to a close, meaning the presidential candidates are getting their last shots in before Tuesday. John McCain’s seemingly final point deals with “one party rule.” With a Democratic Congress a certainty, McCain tells us, how can we let a Democrat take control of the executive branch too?
At this point, such a tactic is unlikely to change the outcome of the race; McCain is shaping up to be the Craig Ehlo to Obama’s Michael Jordan. That doesn’t mean that the point being made should be ignored, however. The Arizona senator’s question, while shallow and partisan (as most stump speech sound bites are), is a politically relevant one.
The two conflicting ideas behind one party rule are as follows: on the one hand, a president whose party controls Congress can put ideas in place without worrying about gridlock. Theoretically, agendas are passed quickly and efficiently. On the other hand, when Congress and the presidency are in the hands of opposing parties, a check is put on the Commander-in-Chief. A president needs to compromise with the opposition, theoretically leading to more well thought-out legislation. To find out which of these arguments is more accurate, we need to take a look back into American history.
In 2005, the Wall Street Journal came out with a ranking of the presidents based on feedback from “an ideologically balanced group of 130 prominent professors of history, law, political science and economics.” When we compare this to the history of the Senate and House of Representatives, one thing leaps out: 16 of the top 18 presidents have had their own parties in control of Congress for all or most of their years in office.
This does not mean that one party rule automatically makes for a strong presidency. Historical bottom-dwellers like James Buchanan, Franklin Pierce, Warren G. Harding, Jimmy Carter, and (possibly) current President and future Dancing With the Stars contestant George W. Bush all had control of Congress for all or most of their respective presidencies. What it does point to is that those trying to enact a strong agenda normally need congressional support to do so. Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal, for instance, probably wouldn’t have worked if Republicans had controlled Congress. If Barack Obama is looking to execute real change, he’ll likely need the help of congressional Democrats in doing so.
This brings us back to John McCain’s criticism. Can we elect Obama if the Democrats also control Congress? Well, if you’re looking for a change in the direction the country is headed (and 85 percent of you say you are), then yes. This country has a bit of a system set up to protect even those not in power; one party rule in America will not lead to a blank check. There are those who think Obama and the Democrats are planning on turning the country into a decrepit, socialist hellhole like Sweden, but something tells me they’re not the ones McCain needs to reach out to.
What further undermines the one party rule argument here is the blatant partisanship. When Republicans controlled Congress from 2000 to 2006, they never asked voters to elect Democrats and balance out President Bush (though in 2006 it sure seemed like they were doing everything in their power to lose). Now, with 33 Republican House seats in jeopardy and Democratic senators dreaming of reaching the Magic 60, McCain starts espousing the need for a divided government. Obviously, one party rule is only a problem when it’s the other party doing the ruling.
Finally, the National Republican Senatorial Committee has also been running ads about one party rule, but taking it in quite the opposite direction — they’re assuming McCain will lose, and thus express the need to elect Republican senators to balance Washington out. McCain and the NRSC directly contradicting each other? It’s like Republicans are the new Democrats.
John McCain would be wise to come up with a new closing argument if he hopes to come close to winning this election. He says that a Democratic Congress is inevitable, and because of this a Republican president is needed to stop one party rule. Not only is this point superficially partisan and contradicted by members of his own party, but the history simply isn’t there to back it up. It’s probably best for Republicans to wait until this election’s over, regroup, and hope Obama, with his Democratic Congress, is more Jimmy Carter than FDR.