The Thinker: Rich Galen


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Absolute Power Corrupts ...

Rich Galen

Tuesday May 12, 2020

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  • John Emerich Edward Dalberg Acton (known to centuries of college sophomores trying to spice up their term papers with a suitably piquant quote as Lord Acton) is famously cited as having written:
    "Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely."

  • The issue before us today is control of the U.S. Senate following the November 3 elections. For the purposes of this discussion suspend disbelief long enough to presume that Donald Trump will not be elected to a second term.

  • If so, he will follow Presidents John F. Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter and George H.W. Bush as Presidents who did not serve two successful terms in post-war America.

  • The current party breakdown in the U.S. Senate is 53 Republicans, 45 Democrats and 2 indepentds. Inasmuch as the independents caucus, and almost always vote. with the Democrats the working majority for the Senate GOP is 53-47.

  • If Joe Biden is elected President the seat counters are beginning to suspect he will bring along the three seat switch necessary for the Democrats to take control of the Upper Chamber.


    I understand that a three seat switch would procuce a tie at 50-50, but if Biden is elected President than whoever is his VP will be able to break ties as permitted in Article I, Section 3:
    "The Vice President of the United States shall be President of the Senate, but shall have no Vote, unless they be equally divided"

    According to the Secretary of the Senate a sitting VP has voted to break a tie 268 times in the history of the Republic. Mike Pence, so far, has cast 13 tie breakers. Joe Biden had none as VP.


  • Since World War II there have been 18 occasions when either the House, the Senate or the Presidency was controlled by a different party than the other two.

  • Ten times the Democrats have controlled all three levers of power. Only four times have the Republican held it all.

  • One of those times was the Presidential election of 2008 when Barack Obama dragged Democratic majorities in the House and Senate along with him. With majorities in both Chambers, the Democrats by razor thin margins, adopted the Affordable Care Act, better known as Obamacare.

  • Two years later, with Obamacare one of the major issues, the House flipped back to Republican control and Obama lost much of his legislative clout.

  • Donald Trump was inaugurated on January 20, 2017 to join the Republican majorities in the House and Senate. In the two years that Trump held all the reins, the GOP swore to "repeal and replace" Obamacare but did neither.

  • Two years of Trumpian absolute power was all America could take and in the election of 2018, the Democrats retook control of the House setting up the split government we have today.

  • I said, during the 2018 midterm election cycle, that I was rooting for the Democrats to take control of the House to break the monopoly of power held by the Republicans. I also said that had the Founding Fathers understood the choke hold on U.S. politics the two-party system would come to have on our political process they would have included some language that the House, the Senate, or the Presidency had to in control of a party different from the other two.

  • Coming up in just under six months will be the elections of 2020. If, as I suspect, Biden wins and if, as many political strategists are beginning to suggest, he brings the U.S. Senate with him we will find ourselves right back in Lord Acton's rhetorical clutches: Absolute power, corrupting absolutely.

  • In these hyper-political times when even COVIC-19 statistics are disputed along party lines, it is crucial for Republicans to maintain control of the U.S. Senate.

  • I am no particular fan of Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky). Nor do I think Nancy Pelosi (D-Ca) is the best possible person to lead the House.

  • I do think, on a macro political scale, that a triumvirate of Biden-Pelosi-McConnell is far preferable to any combination of Trump with Rs controlling the House and Senate, or Biden with Ds driving the legislative train.

  • The Founders made it hard to pass laws. The easy passage of legislation would be deadly to the long-term success of democracy in America.

  • They knew that power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.

  • On the Secret Decoder Ring page today: A link to for their COVID-19 stats, to a discussion of the Lord Acton quote, and to an interesting Wikipedia chart of which party has controlled which branch and chamber since the beginning.

    The Mullfoto is of my dad in World War II.

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