In Praise of Divided Government:

As conservative blogger Ed Morrissey explains in this post, Democratic control of Congress has led President Bush to start cracking down on federal spending and blocking congressional proposals that spend too much. This is in sharp contrast to his approach when the Republicans still controlled Congress and Bush happily presided over an almost unprecedented explosion of federal spending. As Morrissey notes, congressional Republicans have also changed their tune, opposing new Democratic spending initiatives even though they were quite happy to spend huge amounts of money when they themselves were in the majority.

In a series of posts last September (see here and here), I predicted that the cause of limited government would be better off if the Democrats took control of at least the House of Representatives. I reasoned that Bush would be more likely to oppose new government programs passed by the Democrats than those advanced by his own Party. The Democrats, for their part, would be unlikely to enact new government-expanding initiatives advocated by Bush, such as the major expansions of federal spending and regulation that he pushed through Congress in his first term.

So far, this prediction has held true. Bush and the congressional Republicans have prevented the Democrats from passing most of their government-expanding agenda. The Democrats, in turn, have taken away from Bush the option of pursuing a big government agenda of his own (as he did in the first term with his prescription drug and education bills). Historically, divided government has been a boon for limited government, and the past year has been no exception.

There has been one other major benefit of divided government over the past year: it forced Bush to shift to a more effective strategy in Iraq. Ironically, it is a strategy (increasing troop levels; pushing for Sunni-Shiite political compromise) that many Democrats had rightly advocated in 2004-2005 but abandoned by the 2006 election. Had the Republicans held on to control of Congress in 2006, it is highly unlikely that Bush would have changed course on Iraq as radically as he did. In my pre-2006 election posts, I correctly predicted that the Democrats would not be able to force a withdrawal from Iraq and speculated that they might provide some "adult supervision" over the administrations' mishandling of Iraq's reconstruction. I did not anticipate, however, that Bush would change his failed policy as much as he actually did.

The current situation is far from ideal. I would much prefer a principled commitment to limited government over restraint induced by gridlock. On Iraq, a great many lives might have been saved had the Bush Administration pursued a reasonably competent strategy to begin with. And the successes of the "surge" might still turn out to be too little too late. Nonetheless, in both foreign and domestic policy, divided government has left us much better off than we were a year ago. If George W. Bush manages to avoid going down in history as a complete failure, he will have reason to be thankful for the "Texas whooping" he suffered in November 2006.