(This essay - without the parenthetical paragraphs - was submitted to editorial columns and journals and newspapers all across the land. Not one even nibbled. Now you know why I seldom bother anymore, and generally go straight to blog. Alas.
Caste Warfare: Politicans Vs Citizens
The Other Struggle
Amid the scandal and fury provoked by Rep. Mark Foley's perverted emails - and purported cover-ups - there is something else afoot, a conspiracy of distraction that goes much deeper than shenanigens by GOP House leaders, or even the betrayal of their long-forgotten “Contract With America.”
Oh, it is fitting that partisan blame be cast -- and for electoral repercussions to ensue. I join millions in hoping for change. Let the era of hearings and subpoenas begin.
And yet, from another perspective, all of the arrogance displayed by the tainted House leadership is symptomatic of a far more dangerous disease, one that crosses party lines. A crime committed by the entire political caste.
Yes, I said “caste” -- a term we tend to associate with distant cultures and retro eras, long before America aimed for a (relatively) classless society. The word seems quaint, even exotic. And yet, I find it apropos. For most of history, guilds, oligarchies, castes and other advantaged groups often closed ranks - rivals joining forces - in order to protect their group privileges.
In this case, a “caste” of professional politicians, aiming to insulate themselves from the see-saw mood swings of mercurial voters, gradually cranked up the process called gerrymandering, until nearly all members of the House of Representatives can take their seats for granted. Is it any surprise, then, that the resulting sense of invulnerability can lead some of them down spirals of self-indulgence, knowing that only the most extreme and unlucky cases will be caught or punished?
You may call this old news. Few argue that state or national legislative seats are competitive anymore. Yet, why is public outrage muted to a mere simmer?
The most clever thing about gerrymandering is that it operates under a sly trick of apparent, superficial fairness -- a crude form of majoritarianism. Despite all of the deceit and ridiculously contorted boundaries, more than half of us do happen to live in districts represented by the party of our choice.
Therein lies the clever illusion that gerrymandering depends upon. We all claim to despise the practice -- but far more so when it's practiced by the other side. We tend to shrug in acceptance when “our” party controls our state, the mapping process, and the crime.
(I confess, I do this too. I sure don't want my state to end the practice till a solution is found nationally! Say, a tradeoff, in which both Texas and California stop at the same time. Or, better yet, banishing the practice altogether, which the Supreme Court should have done ages ago, as a grotesque violation of at least half a dozen Constitutional precepts. Alas, the odds of that happening are about as good as the Arctic staying icebound.)
(For a much more detailed analysis on gerrymandering, see: American Democracy: More Fragile than We Think)
So much for accepted wisdom about gerrymandering. If only that were the limit of the sickness. Unfortunately, it runs far deeper, driving a growing radicalization of the US House of Representatives, which is now packed with dogmatic extremists of both right and left, turning the word “deliberation” into a mockery.
(I still wait for some enterprising reporter to get famous with an expose of the patterns of appointments to US military academies that have been made by radical/extremist members of Congress – a process of pre-stocking the bottom layers of the United States Officer Corps that may have dire long range consequences for our nation and the world.)
Moreover, it goes much farther.
The chamber of our bicameral national legislature that was supposed to be most responsive to sudden shifts in public opinion has become the very opposite, insulated from any accountability to the fickle electorate, while it is the Senate that can still occasionally reflect the rough-and-tumble of shifting voter sentiment. This effect, so blatantly at-odds with the Founders’ intent, should have been more than enough to compel action from the Supreme Cort. And yet, I cannot see any sign that it has even been raised.
Yes, most Congresspersons have become used to a sense of invulnerability, even entitlement… which of course leads to graft, corruption… and possibly even more malignant cycles of blackmail, as lobbyists tape incriminating encounters to use as leverage that is more powerful than mere cash.
(No greater proof of false patriotism can be found than in the failure of men who find themselves in such a situation to step forward in roused conscience, turning on their masters and serving their country in the end. They are not men, and do not deserve the name.)
But what about exceptions like Mark Foley? Or my own erstwhile Congressman, Randy “Duke” Cunningham? Weren't they forced out of office, when their hands were caught, either in the cookie jar or… where they shouldn't have gone? Please. These examples prove the case with tragic effectiveness. Look at what it took for these men to become unsupportable. Things might have been very different if they ever felt that voters and media back home were scrutinizing them closely, in districts where citizen franchise actually made a difference.
Even now, will voters in their districts punish the party that fostered and promoted and protected Cunningham and Foley? Guaranteed safe super-majorities, the GOP can take those gerrymandered districts for granted, even in the wake of wretched scandals. Moreover, the same can be said of districts gerried to be safely Democratic, now and forever.
Don't misconstrue. I am not calling all politicians venial monsters. Many -- perhaps most -- are sincere public servants, who feel they must use the tools at hand, including gerrymandering, in order to limit ideological foes who (they feel) are much worse than they are.
And yet, all of these rationalizations have inexorably led to a terrible betrayal. One that can only be accurately described in terms that sound archaic -- caste warfare. A crime committed against the sovereign voters of America by a self-protecting guild.
We need to rebel. Carefully, calmly and evenly. Not against a foreign power or the hated “other party” across the aisle of a dismally artificial left-right culture war... but against a professional political class that contains many well-meaning public servants. Servants who have nevertheless done what no enemy could previously achieve.
Using subtle tricks, they have robbed us of the electoral choice that is our sovereign right and duty, driving us into an era of radicalism that we, the voters, would never have chosen on our own accord.