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Undivided Government Blues

This sage bit of analysis comes from Ilya Somin(h/t Glenn Reynolds) who foresees a vast expansion of government following a Barack Obama victory and significant Democratic gains in Congress — all in the context of an economic crisis:

I say this not so much to rally support for McCain (whose candidacy I think is nearly dead anyway), as to outline my fears about what is likely to happen over the next four years. I understand, of course, that none of this is a problem for those who want a major expansion of government power or are at least indifferent to it. But I do think it should be of concern to those libertarians or small government conservatives who welcome an Obama victory. It should also matter to moderates and liberals who recognize that massive expansions of government power in a time of crisis provide major opportunities for abuses of power and interest group power grabs at the expense of the general public – both of which happened on a large scale during the Great Depression.
Obviously, nothing is certain. It could be that Obama’s agenda will be derailed by a massive political blunder on his part or by some unexpected event. It could be that the Republicans will somehow come back strong in the 2010 midterm elections. It could be that the economy will recover very quickly, curtailing Obama’s window of opportunity. I’m not certain that a major expansion of government will actually occur if Obama wins. But I do think it’s a strong possibility – certainly a greater than even chance.

This raises a couple of points. First, Republicans running for Congress and Senate should start, if they haven’t already, making a divided government argument. Yes, I have long argued that John McCain should do this in hopes of boosting his chances. But let’s face it: the chance of some of these Republican Senatorial and House candidates surviving is higher than McCain’s and they should fend for themselves. The message is clear: every Republican in Congress is a check against the excesses of a runaway ultra-liberal Democratic President. If voters want moderation and restraint, filling up Congress with more votes for Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid likely isn’t the way to do it.

Second, Republicans will need to think hard about the proper role of an opposition party, one suffering severe losses. Do they oppose every measure and yield no ground? Or do they attempt to moderate the Democratic excesses (as we saw with the Boehner-Cantor faction in the Paulson bailout bill fight)?

Time will tell if this is a recap of 1992 — when a new President and a Democratic majority overstepped and received their comeuppance in the following Congressional election. But that occurred not simply because of the excesses of the majority, but because of Republicans’ principled and clever marshaling of an opposition message. That, it seems, will be the first order of business for the GOP if in fact they are heading for a November drubbing.



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