Wednesday, October 12, 2005

American Democracy ... more fragile than we think

A ten-parter by David Brin

Part VII. The Problem of Gerrymandering:
...."Solutions" that just won’t work.


Reprise: The deeper, most-cancerous effects of gerrymandering do not cancel out. They leverage and multiply against each other. Taken together, they show how one part of our democracy -- the election of representatives to Congress and other legislatures -- has become warped beyond almost all recognition, justice, or usefulness.

So? What can be done about it?

201817627023164272_JGM4K3RK_cWell, for starters, don’t come to me for pat answers, prescriptions or painless solutions. Citizenship was never easy, as the Athenians found, as soon as the guidance of Pericles began to falter.

In fact, I do know that some of the more obvious "solutions" just won’t work.

How about those proposals, bills and ballot propositions -- that we see raised occasionally, aimed at eliminating the gerrymandering curse by law? These offer to reform the system by handing over the job of drawing district boundaries to "impartial commissions."

"Efforts to end partisan mapmaking are under way in 14 states, pushed largely by those who contend that new technology allows the party in power to carefully tailor districts to favor as many of its candidates as possible," according to the Cleveland Plain-Dealer. Ohio and California are two of these states.

"The result: Competition occurs only in primaries, not general elections, leading to polarized legislatures and frustrated voters. While such arcane issues don’t always resonate with voters, the frustration over politics-as-usual can tip the balance in their favor, said political scientist Caroline Tolbert."

Isn’t that hopeful? Can’t we solve this problem one state at a time?
Don’t bet on it.

Look closer and you’ll see that each of these efforts has been pushed by the minority party within the state in question, campaigning to eliminate the majority’s unfair advantage. That’s fine, but few comment on the utter hypocrisy of, say, California Republicans decrying their state’s gerrymandering sins, while their Texas GOP brethren refine the practice to a high art.

Moreover, because this is always a gambit raised by the state’s minority party (sometimes assisted by a minority party governor), how often is it really going to work?

In sum, doing it one state at a time is utter hypocrisy.

In fact, as a citizen of a state that’s controlled by a party I (marginally) prefer, I sure plan to vote against a coming "fairness" referendum! It will churn my guts to do so. But... dang if I’ll drop my guns b’fore they drop thurs!

All right then, what about doing it in a fair and equitable manner?

One might, for example, envision arranging deals that would trade reciprocal reforms among several states at once. Suppose California were to hand over the drawing of district boundaries to an impartial commission... in exchange for an equal number of impartially redrawn districts in, say, Texas and Florida combined?

Boy, I would flat-out love to see that. I am all in favor. Somebody start a campaign and I’ll sign on.


If apolitical redistricting ever did take hold in a big way, there would ensue no end of bickering over how to constitute the "nonpartisan commissions" and what criteria they should use. Certainly some states will draw up rules that preserve the effects of gerrymandering as much as possible. My own favorite approach would help to prevent this in a simple way. One rule should be that the State Senate, Assembly and Congress districts should never overlap each other by more than, say, seventy percent. Make this the prime criterion, so that, no matter how one house is jiggered, it will mess up gerrymandering in the other two. This would also ensure that both voters and delegates are forced to look to different groups of neighbors, negotiating and (maybe) even listening to a broader set of voices.

Alas, while it may be fun to run mental experiments about how the law could be changed, to fix the gerrymandering mess, there comes a time to admit that it just won’t happen. Not soon, that is, and not in this republic.

Because in order to make such a deal, you will have to get it signed off first by the very people who set up gerrymandering in the first place! The Professional Political Caste. And even if it can be shown that a tradeoff will leave the NET number of Congressional seats per party alone... if you can show that no party will lose... even so, these professionals will be terrified, adamant and unwilling. Because this is not just about two parties jockeying for a little advantage. It never has been.

Think. An end to gerrymandering will:

* make most re-election campaigns competitive

* spread more vigorous accountability

* reduce opportunities for guaranteed patronage (and/or graft)

* empower the "enemy" ... or at least the "customers" (fickle voters)... to exercise their will, or whim, responding to any shift in the political winds.

Do you honestly expect the political caste to put up with something like that?

(There is one more reason for the right wing to support gerrymandering at all costs. The biggest reason - possibly - of all. At present, more than a hundred super-radical GOP congressmen exercise their traditional privilege of appointing one candidate from their district to each of the US Military Academies (e.g. West Point). There is strong anecdotal evidence that these new cadets are being appointed according to social, political and cultural litmus tests, including religious zealotry. This bottom-stocking of the US Officer Corps is symmetric with the ongoing purge of the apolitical and superbly professional flag officer ranks, either forcing retirements, re-assigning, or viciously harrassing any general or admiral who will not toe the line. Of these two trends, the bottom-stocking of zealots has received the least attention, and may do our constitutional civilization the most long-lasting harm.)

Once again, please, do not misconstrue what I am saying. Not all politicians are betraying monsters who do these things with deliberate malice. Many -- perhaps even most -- of them are deeply sincere public servants, who feel that they must use the tools at hand - including gerrymandering - in order to limit ideological foes who are much worse than they are.

(In many cases, actually, I quite agree.)

But this focus on foreground political knife fighting can distract even sincere public servants from ever facing the insidious effects of what they have wrought, year after year, decade after decade. Over time, they have done grievous damage to a system that was supposed to about citizen empowerment and the sovereignty of every individual American.

Again, we are human. Hence, we (including politicians) are all supreme rationalizers. Unless criticism and light and accountability shine, any of us is likely to drift toward the kind of behaviors that have been seen throughout history. For example, coming up with reasons to support our trade or guild against interference from the crass customers or ignorant public.

Or are you claiming that you never came up with a convoluted reason to take advantage, where it could be gotten, later explaining to yourself and others that was all for the common good?

No, we are defending the Enlightenment, boys and girls, during what we hope will be the last generation or two before it takes hold for good. Rationalization is the old way and accountability is the new.

If there is to be any hope, we must be the ones to take responsibility. There will be no help from the politicians. Not in this matter, where their utter self interest is at stake, independent of ideology or party.

This is one problem we are going to have to solve ourselves.

==Continue to Part 8

or return to Part 1 of this series

25 comments:

Tony Fisk said...

"One rule should be that the State Senate, Assembly and Congress districts should never overlap each other by more than, say, seventy percent."

Another possibility in this vein: each district in an assembly overlaps so that each area has two representatives: AB, BC, CA.

Too clunky? Oh well, this is all thought experiment because, as you say:

"..in order to make such a deal, you will have to get it signed off first by the very people who set up gerrymandering in the first place!...Do you honestly expect the political caste to put up with something like that?"

No, but I would like to give them the opportunity to try because, as you comment, the majority of this 'caste' mean well.

Plus, it would be generally instructive to watch how various folk dance with such proposals. Once that becomes clear, we can move on.

Actually, I'm beginning to see all 'middle men' as acting in their own self interest first (be they politicians or pretty faced software apps). How much this self interest overlaps with one's own is where one's vigilance has to concentrate.

"Or are you claiming that you never came up with a convoluted reason to take advantage, where it could be gotten, later explaining to yourself and others that was all for the common good?"

We do this every time we feel moved to step up on our soapboxes.

Awaiting Part viii with interest

Aside: I notice this week's New Scientist has a series of articles on the rise of 'fundamentalism'. (And there was a crack up opinion piece about 'March of the Penguins' in last week's edition)

Ben Tilly said...

I would suggest using a service like notlong to allow monster URLs to be shortened. I can understand your not taking the effort to make them into hyperlinks. But http://www.cleveland.com/reform/plaindealer/index.ssf?/base/ispol/1128855414165840.xml&coll=2&thispage=1 is so long that it won't fit into any convenient formatting.

Rob Perkins said...

Trying to figure out how this kind of suggestion could be implemented in Washington State, where the State House of Representatives garners *two* reps from each Legislative District, and the State Senate receives *one* Senator from the same Legislative District.

I suppose offsetting the districts would be the way to do it, but even then, an LD is a tiny, tiny part of a Congressional District. There's little way to make a contiguous geographic area out of that while also offsetting the several LD's contained in the area.

Also, at least in CA, OR, WA, and a couple other places, we *could* bypass the Professional Caste, simply by floating an Initiative to the People, or an Amendment to the State Constitution.

(People in Oregon, I'm more than sure, is about to float such an amendment to counter the Oregon Supreme Court decision from this week, for example)

I don't know if TX has the same sort of thing.

Anonymous said...

Can any tell us if the David Brin's website is still up? I have not been able to log in there for months.

Sorry about the off topic question but David's email is unavailble to me.

Cheers.

Frank said...

@anonymous:
David Brin's Official Website is up and quite accessible to me. I'm not aware of any possibility to 'log in'.

Ben Tilly said...

I know that Katrina has been done to death. But Conservative Central Planning does a good job of explaining how completely the government managed to screw up, and managed to block private attempts at help.

Worth the read. If you want to be depressed.

David Brin said...

I have no trouble getting to see http://www.davidbrin.com/ and there are buttons there to "email brin".

My ISP does blanket-block many zones in Asia. I have been arguing with them about this but they have a lot of spam and virus issues.

If you choose a specific numbered IP address and email it to me at davidbrin@sbcglobal.net I can get them to unblock it.

Meanwhile....


To both laugh and cry see: http://www.stevebridges.com/performance.html#

And the bottom half of: http://www.hbo.com/billmaher/new_rules/index.html

(It's pretty funny.)

Over at the blog of Reason Magazine, Editor Nick Gillespie has posted a list of how much each two-term president increased spending going back forty years. Specifically, the list measures increases in discretionary spending over five successive budgets, adjusted for inflation.

Here are the numbers ...

LBJ: 25.2%
Nixon: -16.5%
Reagan: 11.9%
Clinton: -8.2%
Bush: 35.2%

...There are enduring disagreements between the moderate right and moderate left in this country over the ideal size and scope of the federal government. But the truth is that the country can do fine with relatively small government or relatively large government so long as things don't get too out of hand in either direction. What it can't withstand for very long is a radical and growing disjuncture between spending and revenue, money out and money in.

(Note the Clinton number: NEGATIVE 8.2%. How many Americans do you think could tell you that Clinton REDUCED discretionary Federal spending by 8.2% over the same period of time that Dubya INCREASED it by 35.2%? If you took a poll and asked people which of the two presidents would better be described as working to reduce the size of government, how many do you think would choose Clinton? You have to give the Republicans credit for doing a good job of branding.)

(Oh, by the way, please don't take shelter in quibbling over whether social security borrowing wipes out surpluses. These numbers are about stuff a president can control.)

---

James Cramer (of TheStreet.com) has piece in New York magazine that is harshly critical of Bush's fiscal policies. The focus of the article is on investment strategies to counter future inflation (the subhead is, "... how to stop worrying and save yourself from the president’s profligate spending and stubborn insistence on no new taxes"). Here is a bit:

It’s dawning on wall street that George W. Bush may be the first president since Lyndon B. Johnson who believes that we can have a guns-and-butter federal spending policy without creating a serious inflation spiral, if not outright government bankruptcy. At least LBJ, to his credit, believed that there were limits to profligacy and that taxes had to be raised. Not President Bush. He’s making Johnson look like a fiscal conservative, what with his insistence on waging a war in Iraq that’s costing $177 million a day and rebuilding New Orleans by taking on a monstrous load of federal debt.

For the longest time, because Bush is a Republican, we on Wall Street simply didn’t believe that he could be a reckless spender. We knew only two paradigms: You either spent less and cut taxes or you spent more and raised taxes. Both courses at least presumed some sacrifice at some time. Not Bush’s plan. He’s gone on both the biggest spending binge and the lowest taxation course in U.S. history, which, alas, will produce gigantic liabilities down the road. Of course, he’ll be back on the ranch by the time his successor will have to deal with his inflation and currency debasement. Our only hope that financial disaster won’t strike sooner lies with the Chinese, who actually fund our deficit by buying our Treasuries—$242 billion worth, or 12 percent of all foreign holdings. If the Chinese decide to be good communists and stop buying our bonds, the Feds will have to raise rates to attract new investors and the reaper will be at our doorstep with interest rates more akin to those of South than North America. Right now, it’s not a problem. But in a year or two or maybe less, I perceive that the government will throw a bond auction and nobody will show, including the Chinese, until rates shoot up dramatically.

What if that happens? What if our fiscally clueless president really does keep spending at a rate that far exceeds what our government can take in at these low tax rates? What happens if the president’s acolytes and the Pollyannas in Treasury keep believing that we can grow our way, fairy-tale-like, out of this jam? You can bet that when you cash out your nest egg of nice U.S.-based mutual funds and solid common stocks, your dollars will fit nicely into a wheelbarrow designed specifically to cart worthless currency to the bank.

Or you can take matters into your own hands and build a portfolio around these five imminent-Bush-disaster stocks. Be the first on your block to immunize yourself against what may turn out to be the most financially reckless president in history with these anti-inflation equities designed to profit from our president’s unbelievably foolish Panglossian profligacy. ...


* Alas, the quote from the WSJ stops there. Does anybody have that list of “five imminent-Bush-disaster stocks” they can post-share with us here?

---

Anonymous said...

When Bush was re^H^Helected in 2004, I decided it was time to go with the national mood and invest in greed, delusion, and stupidity.

I bought a hundred shares each in a dozen or so fast food, gambling (casinos and technology), and liquor companies.

Most of these have done quite well. I sold most at a 10% return (after brokerage fees and short-term cap gains) within the year.

Two of the gambling tech companies took a dump after troubles with foreign governments. (They probably could have gotten away with bribing lottery officials in our fair land, what with the availability of people like Ralph Reed and Abrahmoff to help launder the money.)

Now, I think, people are beginning to catch on that we've been living a lie, and my investment strategies are changing.

I bought a bunch of personal care product stocks, foreign and domestic. (Now matter how bad things get, I doubt most americans will go back to diapers and feminine hygiene thingums made from old feed sacks.)

I'm going to look into medical supply companies (Avian flu!).

I bought stock in companies that make mobile and manufactured homes. Climate change induced weather disasters? Bring 'em on!

I bought stock in one fuel cell manufacturer. They were at $5.00 after a dive from $100 a few years back. The stock has been amazingly volatile; at several points I could have sold out at a 10% net gain, but I'm counting on this one paying off when peak oil hits.

And just recently I bought stock in a major railroad, and a company that makes railroad cars. If diesel continues to be expensive, companies will start to use rail for long-haul shipping.

Stefan

Finn de Siecle said...

@Rob Perkins:
Trying to figure out how this kind of suggestion could be implemented in Washington State, where the State House of Representatives garners *two* reps from each Legislative District, and the State Senate receives *one* Senator from the same Legislative District.

I suppose offsetting the districts would be the way to do it, but even then, an LD is a tiny, tiny part of a Congressional District. There's little way to make a contiguous geographic area out of that while also offsetting the several LD's contained in the area.


Ditto for N.J.: 13 congressional districts, 40 legislative districts. That disparity ensures a less-than-70-percent overlap of LDs to CDs (since any LD could only contain 32.5% of a given CD), but it might require very tricky redistricting to prevent 70 percent overlap of CDs to LDs.

And, probably because N.J. is a middle-of-the-road state politically, districting hasn't been a major partisan problem: The congressional delegation has been 7-6 Republican and is currently 7-6 Democratic; and both houses of the state Legislature have changed hands in the past decade and will doubtless do so again in the next.

But as DB pointed out, partisan imbalance isn't the only problem with gerrymanding; the other big problem is that it's a job-security system that creates castes.

So I think any solution to gerrymandering should include term limits (the most forgotten plank in the original Contract With America). Granted, it would require a constitutional amendment, but who wouldn't support one ... other than the incumbents who'd have to vote for it in Congress first. (Ay, there's the rub.)

Steve said...

I have to admit I am conflicted about term limits. One the one hand, term limits would kick the bad politicos out after a while. On the other, it insures that we don't ever have elder statesmen who have been there when something comes up and who don't have to re-invent the wheel. Additionally, if government service was "clean" the inducements for the talented to run for office would be low. This means that the "pool" from which politicians would be drawn would be small, possibly leading to less able lawmakers as all the able and willing ones are term-limited out.

[tongue near cheek]How about compulsary legislative service? Congress is chosen at random from the entire electorate (talk about representational democracy!). They are given a professional, non-partisan staff, and have to serve out one term, and then go back to their real life.[tongue back to normal]

How about term limits with a professional, non-partisan staff? That way you get the good side of professionalism without the entrenchment. Of course, this is outside the bounds of reality too.

I think that the key for the gerrymandering issue is finding a solution that is in the party-in-charge's selfish best interest in the short-term that fixes it in the long-term. Otherwise, gerrymandering fixes with either never happen, or we will be stuck with tit-for-tat redistricting. Ah, but what that is, I don't know yet. Perhaps in the next installment? :)

Rob Perkins said...

@David,

Could you post a link to the entry in the Reason blog? I can't find the numbers you saw. Instead, I found different numbers, here:

http://www.aei.org/publications/pubID.20675/pub_detail.asp

...compiled by a cohort of Gillespie's, which appear to tell the same story, but doesn't appear to swoon about Clinton quite as much as you did.

The surplus *didn't exist*, based on my own reading of Treasury data:

http://www.publicdebt.treas.gov/opd/opdpdodt.htm

Use of the Social Security and Medicare trust funds, at 0% interest to the funds, as is done today, and as was absolutely done under Clinton all during the years of the "surplus" is just as much under the control of a President as is floating bonds and Treasury notes.

Therefore, no surplus, except under a narrow definition which supposes that a trust fund is not a trust fund, and we can spend that money on public education and defense.

David Brin said...

Rob, you are doing PRECISELY what I predicted you would do. The sight of those discretionary spending figures was just too hard to look at, so you veered back into quibbling over definitions of "surplus"... (knowing full well that our children coulda standed to payfur Clinton's version of deficit spending, easy.

No way they can pay fur W's..

Stefan, which fuel cell company is that? One of the ones developing teeny cells for laptops? Email me when you think your chosen company is a buy!

FINALLY: I will only skim-cite this editorial on Bush's tax-cut mania: Tax Cuts Are Not the Priority

It's not every day that Senator Charles Grassley, Republican of Iowa and chairman of the Finance Committee, blasts the White House. But it happened last Thursday, and we hope that the administration got the message. The occasion was a committee hearing on using the tax code to rebuild after a disaster. Mr. Grassley accused the White House of trying to kill his measure to pay for health care for those poor and uninsured Katrina victims who are not eligible for Medicaid, such as childless adults and pregnant women with incomes modestly above the normal - very low - cutoff. "The White House is working against me behind the scenes, and I resent that, considering how I have worked for the White House in the past several years," Mr. Grassley said. Coming from a heartland Republican whose support will be pivotal for passing the additional tax cuts the administration craves, the comment was especially loaded. We hope that Mr. Grassley exercises his influence - and not just to rush much-needed medical care to Katrina victims.

At the hearing, Treasury Secretary John Snow and Jack Kemp, the former congressman and vice-presidential nominee, both promoted "enterprise zones" to rebuild devastated areas. These are places where the government offers sizable write-offs, presumably to lure big companies and encourage small business. The trouble is that most research on existing zones - including evidence submitted at the hearing by the Congressional Research Service - shows that they generally reward wealthy investors and businesses with a tax windfall for investments they would have made anyway, while failing to have much of an effect on growth and employment. Moreover, write offs are of no help to businesses that are so strapped that they have no tax liability. Think of most of the enterprises in Katrina-ravaged areas. (for more => http://www.nytimes.com/2005/10/10/opinion/10mon1.html?pagewanted=print)


The monstrous departure from tradition - demanding tax gifts WHILE demanding no-bid government contracts from the cronies they bought high office, WHILE committing us to a war that (for the first time in US history) elites won’t help pay for, WHILE reducing our military readiness AND civil defense readiness to nil... These “propertarians” want the government and people to assume all risks and losses and research costs and liabilities while handing over all rents and profits...

Let's cut through the crap. No possible motive can add it all together except an agenda of returning to a blessed past when rights of inherited wealth included titles and untaxed estates, vast feifs and sinecures, servants, bonded-men, and lower orders who knew their place.

They can see why lefties oppose them, since far lefties want to institute a different style of regimentation.

But they can NOT grasp what we modernists object to. DOn’t we approve of markets? Then why should we object to them taking everything in sight, hand over fist. After all, isn’t it “their money”?

.

Anonymous said...

The fuel cell company I bought into is "Ballard" (BLDP). I chose them on a minimum of research, and have no idea of their future prospects. It was a "I want something in this sector" choice.

Indeed, their CEO departed today and the price is below where I bought it.

Sadly, the fuel-cell laptop notion is on hold. It would require business travelers to board planes with cartridges containing a non-trivial amount of methanol.

* * *

A Gov. panel recently suggested -- along with elmination of the Alternative Minimum Tax that is breathing down my neck -- limits on certain popular deductions: Mortagages and medical bills. It would set cut-offs on these that means high-priced houses wouldn't be as popular an investment.

Stefan

Steve said...

The real conservatives are finally crying "Uncle!"

Did you see George Will's article in Newsweek?

Excerpt:

Conservatives are not supposed to be cuddly, or even particularly nice. They are, however, supposed to be competent. And to know that scarcity—of money, virtue, wisdom, competence, everything—forces choices. Furthermore, they are supposed to have an unsentimental commitment to meritocracy and excellence. The fact that none of those responsible for the postwar planning, or lack thereof, in Iraq have been sacked suggests—no, shouts—that in Washington today there is no serious penalty for serious failure. Hence the multiplication of failures.

If it weren't for the culture war, I think people could see that we have the worst President in history in office now.

Palliard said...

Changing the subject and getting back to your article, I've been thinking on your statement earlier in the piece about "state boundaries being the original gerrymandering" and "we can only get rid of gerrymandering with the consent of the very people who benefit"... and there are a lot of parallels to be drawn between our present circumstance and those present in the early-to-mid 1800s.

State boundaries weren't quite the original gerrymandering (the term having been invented in 1812, if I'm not mistaken, to reflect the same process that still bears the name), but they were fixed in a way to preserve the two parties' balance of power at the federal level as new states were admitted, creating "safe seats" for one party or the other.

At that time, the national debate going on was between the urban/industrial/secular part of the country, and the rural/agrarian/religious part of the country. (Eerily familiar.)

And it occurs to me that then, as your propose now, safe political seats meant that candidates didn't have to run towards the middle of the debate. The national conversation became increasingly rancorous as the most extreme ideologues came to power and the public eye, to the point that armed skirmishes were fought to keep Kansas from falling to one party or the other.

Of course, the solution at the time was ultimately to have a war and declare a winner. I wonder if we're just doomed to do that again.

Anonymous said...

"If it weren't for the culture war, I think people could see that we have the worst President in history in office now."

Oh, I suspect everyone but the some of the people you can fool all the time already realize that.

Rob Perkins said...

You predicted it David, but you haven't named why.

I offered a link to numbers I did find, which "appear to tell the same story, but doesn't appear to swoon about Clinton..."

Where in that do you find an unwillingness to examine the data? Or are you offended that I didn't just take your word for it?

In conclusion, please keep the ad hominem assumptions out of my analysis. I do my best not to kneejerk when you quote indignant-junkie demagogues like Bill Maher.

Whether or not our kids coulda paidfur Clinton's deficit spending is kind of irrelevant; there is significant question about whether our kids coulda paidfur the debt racked up before him.

(...without significant tax increases, that is. Or just plain ol' hyperinflation, to which we're also not immune.)

You're going to have to acknowledge, too, that I'm not fond of what the President has done since 1 Oct 01, as regards the budget. We should have cancelled tax cuts to offset the additional defense spending. We *should* have a Congress antagonistic to the President's policies, rather than one which appears ready to implement all his ideas along with all their own.

(And you can't blame *me* for that; my vote went to a split ticket, for exactly that reason.)

And there are ongoing questions in my mind whether you mean some kind of shorthand when you say things like "under Clinton", which leads to the supposition that you think a President is all we need to change the tide.

We also need a Congress pliant to the ideas of responsibility. And we haven't had one of those in the last 150 years, *unless* the President was in the other party.

Rob Perkins said...

The worst President in office?

The *worst*?

Isn't anyone aware that significant numbers were saying that about Clinton only seven years ago?

And saying it about Lincoln, during the Civil War he shoved down certain factions' throats?

Steve said...

@ Rob -

"Worst" only in terms of actual effects. In fact, through all of Clinton's troubles his approval rating was much higher than Bush's. While some people certainly loathed him, the majority approved of his job and that administration can claim a number of real accomplishments. It is interesting to note that those who loathed him did so long before the reasons they now cite. I don't know why.

Whether or not Clinton actually ran a surplus as defined by normal people is immaterial - his administration and the Republican Congress were doing a better job of managing the country's finances and status in the world than Bush. I think the data speak for themselves on that. As good as possible, no. Better than now? Yes. Clinton could have been one of the great ones had it not been that he spent a good deal of time thinking with his smaller head.

Just to be fair, I think Nixon could have been one of the great ones as well - he accomplished a lot during his tenure. Scary son of a gun though....

I would contend even Warren Harding did less damage to the country than Bush, by any objective measure, and he was a terrible President.

Lincoln was an interesting case. He decided to keep the country together for a variety of reasons. There was a loss of legitimacy for a time of the "high ground" when states are forced into a Union they didn't want. But the absolute worst thing for the southern states would have been seccession. With no industrial base, the people in the north who were already exploiting them would have had no limits (as should have been there in the Constitution) and the northern states would have just bought them back. (Same thing can be said about Quebec secceding from Canada.) That said, I think the Civil War was avoidable, but I am unclear as to what the effect of that would have been.

Anyway, I tend to be conservative on some things, liberal on others, so I am no left-winger.

But, this is my opinion. Name a President who was worse than Bush 2 by objective measures. I predict we would be arguing about who is on the bottom of the barrel, not who is cream of the crop (to mix metaphors!).

Your point about Congress is extremely well taken, though. As bad as I perceive Bush to be, he doesn't write the laws, he only signs them. This is where the gerrymandering issue comes in.

Anyway, I contend that the so-called "culture war" has polarized people so that they vote on their one wedge issue and stand by their candidates no matter what impropriety they commit, because to do something else would result in their pet issue "losing." Its stupid, really. We need a way to start electing representatives, not issues.

David Brin said...

Rob I could defend my remark as NOT adhominem. I accused you of distraction and -to a small degree - you did seem to be doing that. STill I'll apologize because I was gruff at you... and you are being very brave playing devil's advocate in a place where a big consenseus is forming toward some genuine devils.

Do keep on applying citokate and keep us honest. But expect to need a thick skin and get sharp barbs. Because we're getting really ticked off. SOmeone oughta check Ike's grave in Gettysburg and tap it with magnets to supply power. This is not his GOP.

Anonymous said...

If you comb the record, you'll find a lot of presidents who did far worse things in office.

Andrew Jackson's virtual genocide against the Cherokee leaps to mind.

But for personal mediocrity, secretiveness, employment of deceit for political gain, shortsighted policy making, and shameless pandering to political allies, it is going to be hard to beat Bush.

Stefan

Rob Perkins said...

David, the irony in our interchange is that I don't disagree with you as regards the government's fiscal malfeasance. But just because Bush and his three Congresses so far have been far worse than Clinton at that doesn't make me like Clinton any better, even though I was quite fond of Clinton combined with his last three Congresses.

And while I can't deny a "Reagan Democrat" or "Utah Democrat" upbringing, and I may claim to understand the Bush Doctrine, as regards the nation building and Defense spending, enough to explain it, none of that doesn't mean I've supported the ideas. LP.org's little test puts me center-high on their scale: A libertarian-left-leaning centrist, "70" on personal issues, "60" on economic. And I definitely prefer states-rights constructionism, not this appalling and inept central planning model the GOP has begun to espouse domestically.

So don't mistake me for a conservative; the fact that I tend to knock over the more annoying crits of the President (and the swoon-pining of the last one) doesn't make me *his* friend, it makes me *yours*, by cutting through some of the nonsense.

(Not that Clinton can claim credit for causing the non-surplus, except *very* indirectly.)

And I'd still like a link to that Reason Magazine blog entry.

Michael said...

Term limits are not an answer to gerrymandering. I live in AZ, one state which enacted term limits for state officials, and it is not working to achieve significantly better participation (though there is some increase in first time office holders) nor in kicking out the dead wood (they just step from House to Senate and back). Even combined with Clean Elections such a solution hasn't reduced the sclerosis of our politics.

I don't think such answers are working, which generally means we need to change the question. Not, how do we reduce gerrymandering, or reduce its effects, but how do we make gerrymandering impossible or irrelevant?

One possible way to look at the whole issue of representation differently might be to stop relying on arbitrarily drawn boundaries at all. Instead of representing a place, and consquently the people inhabiting it, perhaps we need to look at ways to make politicians represent people directly? I'm sure there are many ways to go about that - multimember districts, single state districts, etc. - but perhaps the most intriguing to me is dispensing with any notion of place at all. Why should as many as 49% of the voters be unrepresented because their district's majority went a different way? Why not make representatives represent a minimum number of people instead of a district containing a minimum number of people?

Thus, if I wanted my representative in Congress to be David Brin, I could give him my vote. If some 500K U.S. citizens also did so, he would be elected to Congress - to represent us, not some plot of land.

More difficult to achieve? Perhaps. But an idea like this makes the problem of gerrymandering and its attendant evils irrelevant, which is what real reform should aim at achieving.

Tony Fisk said...

@michael:

Ah! But then who does that congress member claim to represent? How are the constituent's values and wishes communicated to their rep?
(ignoring the issue of how those wishes are currently communicated...)

Actually, a version of such a system currently exists in the Australian upper houses (senate). Senators represent much larger areas (states) than lower house reps. They also form the house of review, and are not as proactive in policy making.

Rob Perkins said...

Machine politics can defeat the intent of term limits. The fact that John Kerry or Bob Dole were nominated at all, in a field where other candidates might have been more appropriate at the time is kinda evidence of that.

Practically, I think voting the person rather than voting a person in the district would devolve to party-ticket voting.