The Promise of Divided Government

Former Catoite Radley Balko argues that the Republican Party deserves to lose because it “has exiled its Goldwater-Reagan wing and given up all pretense of any allegiance to limited government.” He goes on to detail all the sordid ways in which the GOP has indeed betrayed its allegedly pro-free market, limited government beliefs and thus “forfeited its right to govern.”

I don’t disagree with any of Balko’s analysis, but I do take issue with his conclusion for one very simple (some would say banal) reason: The best way to limit the federal Leviathan is to have Congress and the presidency controlled by different parties. See, for example, the relevant parts of former Catoite Stephen Slivinski’s book, Buck Wild: How the Republicans Broke the Bank and Became the Party of Big Government.  Slivinski calculates that when one party controls the political branches, the growth of real per capita government spending is 3.4%. Under divided government, the rate is 1.5%. And it doesn’t much matter whether Democrats or Republicans are in sole charge: 3.3% government growth under Democrats vs. 3.6% under Republicans. The most libertarian combination seems to be a Democratic president with a Republican Congress, where the average rate of government growth is 0.4%.  (This is also the rarest alignment in modern times, so it may be less significant statistically.)

In short, yes the Bush administration, enabled by a corrupt (ideologically and otherwise) Republican Congress, has been the second coming of LBJ.  But rather than reward a party whose leaders in Congress have even lower approval ratings than President Bush with unified control of government, it might be better for limited government if the Dems gained in Congress (preferably without a filibuster-proof Senate because judges and international treaties are my pet issues) while losing the White House.  Which isn’t to say that this would necessarily be better than a President Obama with a Republican Congress, just that the chance of the GOP taking over even one house of Congress is only slightly greater than the chance that Bob Barr will be elected president.