The question of whether divided party control of the American national government is an advantage or disadvantage has long been debated. Many Americans agree with Woodrow Wilson’s philosophy, “You cannot compound a successful government out of antagonisms.” In other words, a legislative and executive branch controlled by the same political party have a stronger tie and connection and encounters fewer stumbling blocks as they move forward with national policies and issues. There is a sense that divided party control contributes to counter productive law making.
How does Congress behave when the president is a member of the opposite party? Many would agree that their role becomes more of a “watch dog,” scrutinizing every decision and action coming from the Oval Office.
Mayhew poses five questions that probe the issue of divided party control of government. First, he questions whether what government legislates might be more “defective” coming from divided party control, even if as many laws are enacted as with unified party control. Is such legislation as clean and effective as it could be?
A second question involves the coherence of statues. Are statues as coherent coming from divided party control? Mayhew points out, however, that coherence is often in the eye of the beholder. Historically, democracy has continued even with various decentralized policies. Ultimately, some ideological coherence as well as budgetary coherence is necessary.
Mayhew’s third question addresses whether the “tug of war” between a president and congress from divided parties actually undermines law implementation, agency functioning, and program administration. The fact that there has been more micro-management in government is not necessarily a result of divided party control, but rather a public distrust of government like that of Watergate.
Whether divided party control interferes with foreign policy is the fourth question raised by Mayhew. Historically, the foreign policy record does not appear to have been markedly affected whether there was divided or unified party control.
Mayhew’s fifth and final question is whether divided party control negatively impacts the lower socio-economic population. One can argue that unified control is necessary to get the policies and programs to the non-rich. History, again, however, demonstrates this is not always the case. Expanded unemployment insurance, law-energy assistance, Pell grants, etc. are all examples of programs resulting during divided party control.
In conclusion, determining whether divided party control is detrimental to an nation’s government is not easily proven. Our government and people naturally waver and public opinion can change as quickly as the weather. There is a checks and balance system built into our government that can become antagonist by virtue of its design. The United States has continued to prosper under the two-party system and does not let the parties ultimately do the governing.