Sen. John McCain's rallying cry to his troops as the campaign comes to a close has been, "Elect Republicans or else." McCain is trying to instill fear in voters that if Democrats win the White House and gain seats in Congress, they will raise taxes, weaken the economy, and create all manner of political ills.
It's not a very persuasive battle cry, if you consider what Democrats are, in turn, saying about the current Republican occupant of the White House. One Democratic strategist told me recently that Democrats will spend the next two decades campaigning against Republican governance, believing President Bush has wrecked the economy, impaired the nation's military prowess, and crushed America's prestige as the world leader—some of which he accomplished while his party ran Congress and some of which he did while the two parties shared power.
Americans have shown a preference for divided government in recent elections. Bush's catastrophic governing style (his inexcusable choice to wage war in Iraq, his penchant for rampant overspending, and his claim that he would unite the nation, not divide it, while governing from the extreme right with little by way of concessions to moderates or liberals) may change that preference for quite some time.
In a CNN/Opinion Research Corp. survey released Sunday, 50 percent of likely voters questioned said if Obama wins the White House, Congress should be controlled by Democrats, with 48 percent saying it should be controlled by Republicans.
But if McCain wins the presidential election, 59 percent said Congress should be controlled by Democrats, with 39 percent saying it should be controlled by Republicans.
McCain's claim ignores the fact that the GOP controlled Congress during President Bush's first six years in office. If instead McCain had emphasized that divided government leads to greater fiscal restraint, his point might have been more persuasive. According to the CATO Institute:
The only two long periods of fiscal restraint were the Eisenhower administration and the Clinton administration, during both of which the opposition party controlled Congress. Conversely, the only long period of unusual fiscal expansion was the Kennedy/Johnson administration, which brought us both the Great Society and the Vietnam War with the support of the same party in Congress. The annual increase in real federal spending during the current Bush administration, by the way, has been 4.4 percent—not a happy state of affairs, given the war and a renewed majority of the president's party in both chambers of Congress.