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Two cheers for a fifty-fifty partisan split

By Bruce Walker
web posted November 1, 2004

George W. Bush and John KerryElection Day is tomorrow and there is one thing for which all Americans should be immensely grateful: the two party system is alive and well in every part of America. While I would prefer that Republicans win every race, and doubtless most politically engaged Democrats would prefer that Democrats win every race, the uncertainty of power is a great antidote to arrogance and corruption.

Most Americans, who look only at the most superficial levels of politics -- presidential, and perhaps gubernatorial and congressional races -- might labor under the illusion that the last fifty years have been years of a vigorous two party system in America. This emphatically has not been the case.

Big city governments have been overwhelmingly Democratic. Consider that when the superficially Republican Michael Bloomberg won the New York Mayoral contest in 2001, it was the first time in American history that a Republican had succeeded another Republican as mayor of New York (and that was after, of course, two terms under Mayor Rudy Giuliani.) Consider that Republicans against almost won the last two mayoral elections in Philadelphia.

Republicans continued to hold the majority of governorships and, after the California recall, hold the three biggest states. But the split is 28 Republicans to 22 Democrats. Republican governors in California, Maryland and Massachusetts must deal with Republicans state legislatures and Democrat governors in Michigan, Missouri and Pennsylvania must deal with Republican state legislatures.

States like Illinois, Indiana, New York, North Carolina, Georgia and Washington have almost evenly split legislatures or chambers that are tied. Term limits in this election cycle will cause massive turnover, and doubtless some surprises, in the control and the size of control of state legislative chambers all over the nation.

Republicans may bemoan ideologically moderate Republican governors in some states like New York, Rhode Island, Hawaii and California, but there is a flip side to that. Democrat gubernatorial victories in 2002, which still left them with a minority of governorships but which kept their party alive in certain regions, included a bevy of men and women who ran as moderates and who have tended to govern as moderates.

Oklahoma, Wyoming, Arizona, Kansas and Tennessee are conservative areas. Republicans control the legislatures of Wyoming, Kansas and Arizona and have very robust minorities in Oklahoma and Tennessee. As a consequence, the future leadership of the Democratic Party may well come from genuinely moderate and genuinely bipartisan and genuinely honorable Democratic governors in states and in regions that Democrats must win to regain the presidency.

As a conservative, I had the same high hopes when Jimmy Carter took office and when Bill Clinton took office that Zell Miller did: I hoped that someone not obsessed with power, not immersed in ideological jihads and not averse to programs that really and permanently solved social problems might become the leadership of the Democratic Party.

While conservatives like us voted for Gerald Ford and George H.W. Bush, we did so without great passion and we did not approach Inauguration Day with dread. Our America needed two respectful, decent, serious and pragmatic political parties who would operate as a natural check on the power of the other.

Nationally, Republicans are the majority party -- thank Heavens! -- and the unprecedented lock on congressional power which Democrats held until 1994 is gone, almost certainly, forever. The margins of Republican control are thin, but what this means is that both parties have a powerful interest in curbing corruption.

This has hardly ended Democratic hubris and criminality -- Jim McGreevey, Gray Davis, Gary Condit are big names, but there was a whole slew of Democratic state officials who have been indicted and convicted or involved in scandals in North Carolina, Kentucky, Louisiana and other states -- but the cost has been very high.

Gary Condit compelled Democrats not to gerrymander the California congressional districts and may well have cost them control of the House of Representatives. Jim McGreevey has forced Democrats to pour resources into not only New Jersey but also Pennsylvania in the presidential election and may well cost them a governorship after the election. And what would Democrats give not to have Arnold Schwarzenegger the most popular political figure in California, and maybe in America?

So two cheers for a two party system that is alive and kicking all across the nation. The best hope for democracy to work is for each political party to believe that it needs every advantage to have a chance to win. That means crooks are a liability; nasty people are a liability; and dopes are a liability that neither party can afford.

Bruce Walker is a senior writer with Enter Stage Right. He is also a frequent contributor to The Pragmatist and The Common Conservative.

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