Split government and matters of accountability

Some have hypothesized that the US voters like a split government with one party controlling the executive and another the legislative. The idea is that this slows down change and restricts government and that is what people want. Maybe. A split government also brings accountability to each party.

With a split government, both parties have investment in the outcomes of governance. A party in the minority in both elected branches can pretend it has nothing to do with results. In recent times a party monopoly was noted by assertions of “fascism” and dictatorship. It was asserted that there was a lack of oversight of the government; that criminal actions by high officials were overlooked; that votes were rigged; and conspiracies rampant. These allegations could only hold on to what little they had by dint of “speaking truth to power” and such claims. They loose even that credibility when the image of powerlessness evaporates.

In the 2006 US elections, government corruption was cited as one of the big issues in voting. This ‘culture of corruption’ was a mantra of the party that gained control of the legislative branch in that election. A promise was to correct for a lack of oversight of the administrative branch. You’d think that the existence of a number of bipartisan commissions and investigations (9/11. intelligence, Plame, DeLay, Abramoff, etc) and the convictions of perpetrators would be enough to create a bit of skepticism of this point of view. The election supporting an impeached judge as an important committee chair and scandal ridden congressmen gives lie to the idea that corruption was high in the priorities of voters as well.

Now that there is a split government, both parties can be held to account for their behavior. Obstruction and blocking tactics will have more significant consequences. Many point to the Gingrich vs Clinton budget blockade as an example of this. It remains to be seen if the blocking of nominees as judges or ambassadors – a new game of the previous minority only party – remains as an active tactic.

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