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Divided government and gridlock in the United States

The video explores the concept of divided government in the United States, where one party controls the White House and another controls Congress. It discusses the potential for extreme partisanship and gridlock, but also highlights views that such division can lead to significant legislative achievements.

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  • piceratops ultimate style avatar for user Matthew Chen
    What are some examples of major legislation being passed under a unified government?
    (9 votes)
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    • aqualine ultimate style avatar for user famousguy786
      There are countless such examples->
      1. The New Deal programs (like the Social Security Act, the National Industrial Recovery Act, etc) under Franklin Delano Roosevelt got passed because his party; i.e.-the Democratic Party; controlled both chambers of Congress throughout his 12 year-long presidency. This factor contributes to him being one of the most consequential presidents.
      2. Theodore Roosevelt, another consequential president, could enact his signature policies like the Hepburn Act, which increased the regulatory power of the Interstate Commerce Commission, and the Pure Food and Drug Act because his presidency coincided with a period of unified Republican control.
      3. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 reached the desk of President LB Johnson, a Democrat, due to unified Democratic control of Congress.
      4. More recent examples of significant legislative activity during unified government include the passage of the Affordable Care Act under President Obama and the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act under President Trump.

      So to summarize, a president's agenda may succeed or fail depending upon the support it gets in Congress.
      During divided government, fewer bills and policies are passed because the White House and the Congress act as a check to each other.
      However, under unified government, presidents find it easier to enact signature policies without much delay or compromise in Congress and the only thing which could stop bills favored by the president to be passed in unified government will be strong division and dissent in the ruling party.
      (7 votes)
  • male robot hal style avatar for user Bram
    Here's a controversial opinion: all of McConnell's examples are examples of moving from a more left-leaning status quo to a more right-leaning compromise.
    Each time the Democrats caved and gave up part what they had and Republicans compromised and gained part of what they wanted.
    In my humble opinion, those are not "good" compromises where one party constantly loses some and the other party constantly wins some, regardless of what you think is good policy.
    (8 votes)
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  • female robot amelia style avatar for user galbraithc26
    I personally feel like McConnell’s logic here is somewhat flawed. His argument that major legislation is passed under divided government excludes some of the largest periods of government action like the Great Society under Lyndon Johnson and the New Deal. Both of these happened under United governments and were much larger than anything that McConnell listed. Another thing I cannot help but notice is that the compromises that McConnell lists are more right leaning and in line with his own beliefs than they are moderate. What do you think, other commenters?
    (2 votes)
    Default Khan Academy avatar avatar for user

Video transcript

- [Instructor] We have this diagram here, party divisions of the United States Congress. And what this helps us visualize is which parties controlled the various houses of Congress as well as which party was in control of the White House. So for example, during Lyndon Johnson's administration, he was a Democrat, that's why this colored in in blue, and then we see in this light blue color, the Senate leaned towards the Democrats, and the House in this dark blue color leaned towards the Democrats as well. But then when you get to Richard Nixon, you have one party, the Republicans, controlling the White House, while the other party, the Democrats, controlled Congress. And so this situation right over here is known as a divided, divided government. And as we look down this diagram, we see that it is not that unusual. Gerald Ford had a divided government. Ronald Reagan had a somewhat divided government where the House significantly leaned towards the Democrats, although the Senate started to lean a little bit towards the Republicans. But then if we go further down in time, we see more and more divided governments. So if we go all the way down to at least the present when this video was created, we see that George H. W. Bush faced a divided government. He was a Republican. You had the House and the Senate lean towards the Democrats. Bill Clinton, at the beginning it wasn't divided, but most of his administration, he had a divided government. George W. Bush had a divided government near the end of his administration. And Obama dealt with a divided government during the second 1/2 of his first term, and his second term. One question is why does it matter if you have a divided government like we had, let's say, in this time period right over here? Well, one negative of it that some people will often cite is that you might have some form of extreme partisanship. And partisanship is just a word that says that the various political actors will think more about their party and their political ideology than maybe what is in their best interest for the people. Or they would try do things in order to get political points as opposed to just good governance. And one byproduct of partisanship would be a phenomenon known as gridlock. You might've heard the word gridlock before when it comes to traffic. Gridlock is when there's just so much traffic that nothing is moving, that people just can't get around. And it essentially means the same thing in a political context. If you have a divided government, and one party isn't allowing, if everything that the Congress passes the president vetoes, or if everything that the president wants to do the Congress doesn't wanna work along with him, well, then nothing might happen, and you might get to a gridlock situation. And for a lot of people, that's a significant negative. But there are some viewpoints that maybe a divided government isn't as bad as it sometimes looks. Some people would argue that you don't want the government always doing exactly what they want when you have a non-divided government. In fact, if you have a divided government, they'll only do things that really, really, really, really matter where there is more of a broad consensus. There's also this view from Mitch McConnell, who's the current leader of the US Senate, that it's actually easier to get things done during a divided government. This is a part of an article from the New York Times written in 2011. It says, "Divided government is the perfect time "to do big things, the perfect time," Mr. McConnell said in a recent session with New York Times reporters and editors. He cited three fairly recent examples of major legislative bargains that were struck with one party in the White House and another running things on Capitol Hill, the 1983 overhaul of Social Security negotiated between President Ronald Reagan and Speaker Tip O'Neill. Ronald Reagan was, of course, Republican, and Speaker of the House, Tip O'Neill, was a Democrat. Sweeping 1986 tax law changes. Once again, under Ronald Reagan. And the welfare reform package of 1996 negotiated between President Bill Clinton and Congressional Republicans. Clinton, of course, was a Democrat. "None of those things in my view "would have occurred in unified government," Mr. McConnell said, referring to control of Congress and the White House by one party. "The differences are always big, "but if you can bridge the differences, "then you can survive." The beauty of divided government, very few people say that, the beauty (laughs) of divided government, in the eyes of Mr. McConnell is that it provides both parties with near bulletproof political cover since neither can attack the other after legislation is passed, while it also gives both parties the ability to take political credit. So I'll leave you there. I want you to think about it. Do you agree with Senator McConnell that divided government can actually be a good thing? Or do you think this notion of divided government and partisanship does lead to gridlock, and for the most part it is a bad thing? And then we could also think about our system of government, because our system of government definitely allows for things like gridlock to occur, while many other systems like a parliamentary system, you always have the majority or a ruling coalition party also in charge of the executive, so you're not likely to have this type of gridlock. So think about it. Which system do you like? And is a divided government a good or a bad thing?