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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Rebutting the ‘Divided Government’ Case for McCain

George Will’s column, “McCain’s Closing Argument,” appearing today in WaPo and zillions of other newspapers, urges the GOP nominee to make the old ‘virtues of bipartisan government’ argument as his trump card. It’s a clever strategy, and would be more effective if Will had not gone public with it and instead coached McCain to roll it out in the final presidential debate, catching Senator Obama off guard.
McCain will make the argument. He has to, although not only in the debates. He may roll it out even sooner, hoping to get a meme going. The danger for Democrats is that it is an argument that has some appeal for moderates. Will knows Obama will now have a response ready, which will include a couple of key points.
One counter-argument is that there are not two, but three branches of government, including the judiciary, which was conveniently not mentioned by Will. In fact, the ‘virtues of divided government’ argument is misleading for that reason. The only way we could ever have an evenly divided government is for the Supreme Court to have an even number of members, instead of nine.
After eight years of Republican judicial appointments, the U.S. Supreme Court and federal judgeships are already drifting too far to the right. Four or eight more years of GOP domination of the judiciary could be disastrous for women, unions, working people, consumers, the environment and civil liberties.
But it’s not just the judiciary. Eight years of Republican control has also transformed all of the federal departments and agencies into rubber stamps for the worst policies of corporate management, serving the super-wealthy and privileged at the expense of working people. Senator Obama can respond to good effect “What would America look like after 16 years of Republican control of the executive and judicial branches of government?”, with the current meltdown as exhibit “A.”
As the nation’s most widely-read columnist, Will’s real goal in promoting the ‘virtues of divided government’ argument is to generate buzz among the electorate in living rooms and at water-coolers across the nation. No doubt the buzz is already rolling. Democratic candidates, campaigns and ad-makers should be ready with the rebuttal.

2 comments on “Rebutting the ‘Divided Government’ Case for McCain

  1. aml on

    listing the above litany sounds defensive. an effective response is to make the reason for democratic control of the legislative and executive branches an attack on the republicans.
    specifically i would say that the ‘divided government’ argument makes some sense when everything is mostly ok and there’s a national consensus on the country’s direction. but we don’t have that today. instead we have big challenges and two parties with totally different views of the world. one wants to confront them head on, unleashing the america’s ingenuity and finding practical solutions to our many many problems. the other wants to bury its head in the sand, recycle failed policies, turn its back on science, and take social policy back in to the middle ages. now is not the time for division but unity in moving forward

  2. Jon on

    It’s a clever strategy, and would be more effective if Will had not gone public with it and instead coached McCain to roll it out in the final presidential debate, catching Senator Obama off guard.
    How much influence do you think Will has over the McCain campaign? It could be that he needs to demonstrate that this meme will click to convince them to pursue it over other options …
    In any case, calanced against the “surprise” factor is the chance to do some message testing — and (if it clicks) to get an extra several weeks of building the buzz. I can see arguments both ways. One big unknown is how much the Obama campaign would have prepared for this potential argument in any case … as you point out, it seems like a no-brainer for McCain to make.


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