A ten-parter by David Brin
(http://www.davidbrin.com/politics.html October 2005)
VI. The Dismal Big Picture:
... just how hopeless is it to reclaim constituency democracy?
Reprise from last time: 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.
The deeper, most-cancerous effects certainly do not cancel out. They add together. They build and 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? Is it hopeless? Or are we ready to take on a real challenge... one that all of the prestigious "electoral reform commissions" have timidly avoided? Shalll we start coming up with suggested ways and means for citizens of the United States to start to fighting back?
Not against a foreign power or the hated "other party," across the aisle of an artificial left-right political axis... but against a professional political caste that contains many well-meaning and sincere public servants. Servants who have nevertheless done what no enemy could previously achieve!
Using subtle tricks to rob us of the electoral choice that is our sovereign right and duty.
Before talking about solutions -- starting with those that won’t work -- let me first clarify one important point.
The disenfranchisement process is uneven.
One of the weirdest things about of gerrymandering is how specific it has been. It applies to the politically unscrupulous re-drawing of district boundaries for the election of legislators, especially US Representatives and delegates to state assemblies. This specialized application may be one reason why the decay went so far and for so long, before attracting serious notice.
There are many flaws in other portions of American democracy. We’ve talked about the rise in corruption and vote-fraud, during some recent campaigns. Another worrisome trend is the decline of the Fourth Estate, as journalism increasingly becomes a whore-profession, beholden to a narrow range of special interests. And who can deny that Presidential elections are bizarrely warped by the archaic and deliberately abused Electoral College? (See: http://www.davidbrin.com/electoral.html) All of these problems merit the scrutiny of citizens, and soon, lest our citizenship simply cease to matter anymore.
And yet, there is good news. Depending on the office and the type of constituency, your vote still counts for something, here and there. For example, in most municipal and local elections are dynamic and a citizen’s franchise can be fractionally pretty potent.
And there is another bright spot, when it comes to offices that are elected statewide. In fact, governorships and US Senate seats may be among the few places where American democracy still truly shines.
Yes, the arrangement of 50 states is, in itself, an absurd hodge-podge, allocating vastly more political power to residents of Wyoming and the Dakotas than to, say New Yorkers. You might even call it "the original gerrymandering." Still, we can play that hand, as we have for generations. And at least nobody can sneakily change the boundaries without notice or discussion.
Indeed, a comparison of two chambers of the US Congress may illustrate how much difference gerrymandering has made. Just observe how radicalized the House of Representatives has become, compared to the Senate, which remains to some extent what it was always meant to be -- a quirky chamber filled with "characters" who often feel free to break with party discipline and vote as individuals.
(Senators do not have to face re-election as often; has that contributed to this sense of collegial calm? Or is part of it the fact that states are large enough to focus the attention of at least a few real journalists and investigators, who aim truth at the worst slime molds who come in with millions to buy themselves some status? Oh, who knows? Let’s get back on-topic.)
We’ve seen how one major effect of gerrymandering has been to empower radical elements in both parties. Within safe districts, even the very worst indignation junky can start with a militant power base, leverage it with cash, seize a Congressional seat and then do whatever he likes (short of blatant scandal) until Judgement Day. No amount of pork, graft, incompetence, or outright maniacal looniness will ever suffice to budge him.
==Next time: "solutions" that just won’t work.
Or return to Part 1 of this series