A ten-parter by David Brin
(or return to Part 1 on Gerrymandering)
V … Five more ways that gerrymandering feeds a vicious cycle of radicalization.
Last time we covered five ways that this dismal, cynical and calculated betrayal of franchise has undermined the American peoples’ ability to exercise their right, power and duty to vote meaningfully for representatives to their state and national legislatures.
Here are five more!
==Sixth. As part of a trend going back decades, millions of Americans have taken to registering "independent." This has a flavor of declaring neutral openmindedness, but on a practical level, millions of voters have simply opted-out of voting in primaries. Hence, even if a district was gerrymandered to include a clear majority who will lean conservative-GOP in the general election, it is a much smaller group that will vote in the election that really matters -- the primary -- to choose the dominant party’s candidate.
Yes, many of those "independents" are conservative is a very general sense. Still their opinions would serve democracy well in a gerrymandered Republican district and they might help to choose a very different style of conservative to represent them. Likewise in a district that has been rigged to have a single party OF that district, that happens to be the Democrats.
==Seventh. Americans are proud of the ways in which their approach differs from the "parliamentary system" that prevails in most other democratic countries, around the world. Parliaments emphasize a jockeying for power among doctrinally-determined parties, which expect strict discipline among their delegates or deputies, in hewing to the party agenda. For much of our history, in contrast, Americans have felt that truly representative democracy should put higher priority on the individual talents and personalities – and even eccentricities – of individual delegates who are accountable first and foremost to their constituents and only secondarily to party affiliation.
This tradition still seems to hold true in the US Senate. Even in the supposedly solid-Republican south, there are many Remocratic senators, because many extraordinary individual candidates have stepped forward and persuaded millions of Republican voters to cross over, making an exception to party loyalty.
Ironically, this is no longer true in the House of Repressentatives, which demographically should bring delegates much closer to the people. True, the worst aspect of representative (vs. Parliamentary) democracy is still with us. Pork barrel graft has - if anything - grown far worse. But that is an exception. In all other ways, gerrymandering has made our Congress far more European in style and structure. It essentially ensures that the party, not the voter, chooses each district’s representative.
==Eighth. Gerrymandering also (naturally) eliminates any chance for the mounting of effective campaigns by any third party candidate, since those candidates will have to attract a lot more votes to defeat the incumbent than in a truly competitive district. This may seem a minor point, since third parties are already perceived at hopeless to most Americans. But isn’t this a self-fulfilling situation and yet another reason for the big parties to gerrymander?
Think. If a third party were ever to begin its rise to challenge the Big Two, would it not be in the very offices that have been gerrymandered away? State Assembly or US Congress seats? Shall we call it a good thing that this can NEVER happen? I am not one to call the Democrats and Republicans "Tweedledee and Tweedledum". They are very different. But would not even more difference be refreshing, sometimes?
==Ninth. It might be argued that gerrymandering reduces the reaction of our system to mercurial public mood swings. Some would even call this a good thing. And it’s true, the Founders worried about mob-like surges of passion – one reason for the life tenure of judges and the long terms of senators, so they might calmly ride out flashes of passion and respond to the peoples’ more considered will.
On the other hand, the House of Representatives was designed to be mercurial and responsive! Hence to short re-election cycle of just two years. Shouldn’t at least one of the houses of Congress reflect the public’s sovereign right to rapidly change their mind? With the Senate and Court there to damp out bad passion, does this mean we have NO rapid recourse, if the public suddenly wakes up to a pack of scoundrels in charge?
As things stand, the House has become the very opposite of its purpose... a stodgy bastion of party conformity, unresponsive to changes in public will. This is not what the founders intended. It is not what the people want.
==Tenth. Finally, the attraction of almost perfect job security has lured a new kind of candidate into politics, during recent years. Look around at the US Congressional Representatives in districts near you. Some are surely skilled politicians of the old school. Whatever their party, they can be relied on to press the flesh, answer mail, address local concerns and be there when major events occur. They may even rise above partisanship, if shown a blatant need and national will. Because it’s their job. Some even do it well, with professional skill and pride.
But I’ll wager you also know one who is -- well -- how else to describe it? A rich punk who literally bought the position, either for diversion or as a launching pad for a try at higher office. Yes, this has always happened. Only now, it’s easier and more convenient than ever! You have only to sweep into the primary of a safe district -- one with a retiring, or suddenly vulnerable, incumbent -- bearing heaps of cash and a pile of radical promises for local activists. Then it’s done.
The general election? A shoe-in? Re-election? No sweat. Opportunities for endless continuing graft? Well, we needn’t go there right now. But worries about the Constitutionally-mandated rhythm of bi-annual accountability? Ha.
Suffice it to say that I hope you don’t have a nearby example of one of these guys, "representing" your district or one next door. But alas, I fear many of you know exactly what I’m talking about.
What does it add up to?
All ten of these trends feed into the radicalization effect that Robert Hormats referred to. And not just in Republican districts. I perceive less radicalization among Democrats, true. But it’s a very real phenomenon on that side, as well. Certainly all of the unreasonable shots taken in our "culture war" have not been fired by just one side. (See: http://www.davidbrin.com/realculturewar1.html)
The upshot? Richard Nixon once said "to win the party's nomination, you have to run to the right (left if you're a Democrat), but to win the presidency, you have to run (or govern) toward the middle." Only now this political truth no longer applies for legislators (who provide most of the feed stock of candidates who run, later, for higher office.) The "run-radical/govern-centrist" contradiction has finally been settled…
…in favor of permanent, year-round radicalism. And it is the majority of Americans who must watch in helpless dismay as indignant zealots uncompromisingly pose and rant – self-righteous "representatives" who seem congenitally unable to apply the basic American genius at pragmatic compromise, in order to solve the nation’s myriad problems.
We have come by a long path in order to see that gerrymandering is far more than just a simple game of tit-for-tat, in which a little cheating by Texas Republicans cancels out a similar gambit by California Democrats. We are assured that the overall effects roughly balance. But that is a flat-out lie. The effects most certainly do not cancel out.
They add together. They build, leverage and multiply against each other. Taken together, they show a dismal picture of one major section of our democracy -- the election of representatives to Congress and other legislatures -- portion that has become warped beyond recognition, justice, or usefulness.
As citizens, we simply have to do something about it.
==Continue to Part 6
or return to the beginning of the series