This is a huge question for me, and I've wavered on the subject. Usually, I prefer divided government, but that doesn't mean I need to support McCain. I've seen McCain put way too much effort into pleasing Democrats and flouting his own party, and I can picture Obama standing up to the Democratic Congress and being his own man. What, really, will he owe them? McCain, by contrast, will need them. And we've seen that he wants to be loved by them.
Sometimes, I think that letting the Democrats control everything for 2 years would work out just fine. Let one party take responsibility for everything. When they can't whine and finger-point, what will they actually step up and do? It will be interesting to know. And it will do the Republicans good to retool and define themselves, with an eye toward the 2010 election. I'd like to see this clarification after so many years of obfuscation.
So, that's how my thinking about 2-party rule has supported my decision to vote for Obama.
Now, let's see what Judis and Levy say. Judis notes various examples of successful presidencies under united government and bad presidencies with divided government, and says the evidence proves that "divided government is a curse, not a blessing, and should be avoided, if at all possible." He elaborates:
[In "The Politics Presidents Make" Stephen] Skowronek, a Yale political scientist, distinguishes two kinds of circumstances that have led to crippled government. In the first, a president from an opposing party, but who nevertheless represents the wave of the political future, confronts a congress wedded to the past and determined to frustrate him. You could put Nixon (who was the harbinger of an emerging Republican majority) and Clinton (who was the harbinger of an emerging Democratic majority) in this group. Both these presidencies degenerated into chaos in their second terms.Levy says:
Then, there are presidents who, in Skowronek’s words, are “affiliated with a set of established commitments that have in the course of events been called into question as failed or irrelevant responses to the problems of the day.” Skowroneck numbers among these James Buchanan, Herbert Hoover and Jimmy Carter. These presidents don’t necessarily have to contend with a Congressional opposition in power, but like Hoover and Carter in their last two years, with a nascent and growing opposition in Congress that constitutes a functional majority in opposition to what they want to do. These presidencies have also proved disastrous.
A John McCain presidency would clearly fall in the latter group, and McCain, unlike Hoover and Carter, would have to face clear and unequivocal majorities in Congress united against him. Rather than promising success, that kind of divided government would promise chaos and failure.
The simple fact is that Republicans never controlled the House during Reagan's eight years....But he's still not promoting McCain:
The last six years of Clinton's presidency, 1995 to 2001, is the other era of divided government that gets held up as exemplary. Judis dismisses it as catastrophic on the basis of the Clinton impeachment. But that misses the wonderful weirdness of the late '90s. The chaos of impeachment coexisted alongside bipartisan legislative accomplishments... Again, I think a good president was made better through divided government....
The obvious prediction is that Obama will have at least two years of one-party government. That may be, temporarily, for the best--the Bush-era Republican Party, like the Nixon-era Republican Party, needs some time in the wilderness to unlearn some very bad habits. ... [I]n the unlikely event that a healthier, reformed Republican Party is ready by 2010 and able to grab back control of the House, so much the better for American politics--and maybe so much the better for Obama's presidency. And in the meantime, I'm certainly rooting for smart and decent Hill Republicans (admittedly a minority) to hold onto their seats to lead the rebuilding toward another era of soundly divided government.I don't know if undivided government is always better, but I think it can have some benefits now, and it's not so obviously always bad that opposition to it works as an especially strong reason to support McCain in 2008.