“Gridlock is great,” wrote the late William Safire. “My motto is, ‘Don’t just do something. Stand there.’”
Well, maybe he wrote that. The quote is plastered across numerous websites with attribution to Safire, but I’ve yet to find one that cites any of his numerous books or columns as the source. It sounds like something he might have said. Close enough for government work (a phrase that originated either in the U.S. during World War II or Canada circa 1906, take your pick), right?
Safire died in 2009, at a time when American politics seemed to be proving him wrong.
Congress has been controlled by one party and the White House by another for eight of the last 12 years. But instead of gridlock, what we’ve mostly seen is a sort of mutual back-scratching process in which each party rages (with all the vigor and believability of professional wrestlers) at, then “reluctantly” supports, the other’s excesses.
George W. Bush and Barack Obama vetoed 12 bills each during their combined sixteen years as president — less than two-thirds as many as Bill Clinton in his eight years. The last president to veto fewer bills than either Bush or Obama was Warren G. Harding, who served for less than 2 1/2 years.
The betting public sets reasonably good odds on a return to “divided government” after this November’s midterm elections.
At PredictIt, in answer to the question “What will be the balance of power in Congress after the 2018 midterms?” shares in “Republican House, Republican Senate” and “Democratic House, Republican Senate” are each trading at 40 cents, with “Democratic House, Democratic Senate” at 28 cents and “Republican House, Democratic Senate” at 3 cents.
Prediction markets aren’t perfect, but they reflect the opinions of people who have money riding on being right, instead of just the opinions of people who happen to have opinions. A considerable percentage of people with skin in the game think that Republican President Donald Trump will face a partially or completely Democratic Congress, instead of a Congress dominated by his own party, starting next January.
Could real gridlock be on its way back into fashion? I’d like to think so. But I don’t.
Throughout Donald Trump’s career, he’s been anyone’s dog who’ll hunt — er, make deals — with him (ask the Democratic politicians he’s donated to over the years). If the Democrats do well in the midterms, he’ll probably just pronounce himself the most Democratic president in history, and act accordingly.
Thomas L. Knapp (Twitter: @thomaslknapp) is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism, thegarrisoncenter.org