About two years or so into the Obama administration I posted something on Facebook about cutting the guy some slack for not being able to totally undo in two years the destructive results of forty years of Republican policies. The usual back and forth started.
People: 40 years? How do you figure?
Me: From Nixon in 1968 to the 2008 election, Republican administrations have predominated.
People: Hey, what about Carter and Clinton?
Me: That would be 12 years versus 28, and by everyone’s account Carter was ineffectual, and Clinton actually implemented many Conservative policy goals (welfare reform, Defense of Marriage Act, etc.) to win reelection.
People: Hey, the President doesn’t really affect things that much anyway!
Me: (gritting teeth at the irony of getting this counterargument from people who post comments about Obama ruining our entire way of life) That may be so, but…
And so on.
The thing is, I got to thinking: They have a point. The Federal government, at least in theory, is made up of three co-equal branches, so you’d have to consider the Legislative and Judicial branches along with the Executive. Never mind that, there are also state and local levels of government that have a big effect on our lives. And never mind that, you could question how responsible government in total is for the way things are versus- corporations, religious bodies, mass media and all the other major players in society.
This obviously becomes a very big question, or series of questions. But I became curious, and decided to focus things more narrowly on something I could do some measurement of:
To the extent that the Federal government has some effect on the way things are in the United States, which party has had a bigger overall effect on current conditions, good or bad, i.e. whose “fault” is it?
Keeping in mind our three branches, I decided to crunch some numbers. Starting with 1968 (not a bad point to pick, as it marks the start of the cultural transition from the 60s era, beginning of end of Vietnam, move to post-Civil Rights era, etc.), I gave each branch an equal weighting of 1/3, subdividing the Legislative branch 50/50 between the House and the Senate. For Executive and Legislative branches, I went with the most straightforward measurement- were the President, Speaker of the House, and Senate Majority leader Democratic or Republican? Judicial is certainly trickier, so I went with tenure of Chief Justice for simplicity, counting the eras of the Warren and Burger courts (1968-1986, in our time-frame here) as tilting more Democratic in influence, and the Rehnquist and Roberts courts (1986-2012, so far) as tilting more Republican. And the results are:
Rounding up and down to the nearest whole percentage, we get the following answer to my above question:
To the extent that the Federal government has some effect on the way things are in the United States, for the 1968-2012 era, the way things are is 52% the “fault” of the Republican Party and 48% the “fault” of the Democratic Party.
That is close enough to 50/50 that I have to conclude, in the interests of fairness, that each party is about equally responsible for the state things are in now, good or bad. So maybe it’s time to stop talking in the language of “fault” and “blame” about what “they” did, and accept that it was us. That being so, what can we do, together, to forge a new way forward?