“When you have a system based on money, anticipating results which are antithetical to money’s interests is folly and delusion.”
I have always loathed the expression “We get the government we deserve.” I loathe it because it shifts the blame from the powerful who are largely responsible for the political and economic fixes we find ourselves in, onto the great mass of citizens paddling in the deep water trying to keep their nostrils above the churning surface. Like all clichés and truisms there is a measure of truth to the expression, and what follows, though hardly original, might be useful in helping us extricate ourselves from the brine in which we are all pickling.
The simplest thing I could do would be to copy Elizabeth Drew’s wonderful article from the September 26th issue of the New York Review of Books, because she has concisely and dramatically condensed a host of disparate issues and facts into a coherent design. Since we don’t cut and paste articles on Daily Kos, I will simply recommend her piece entitled “A Stranglehold on Our Politics,” and review some s details that leapt out at me. Let’s begin with democratic representation.
while Obama won 51.1 percent of the popular vote in 2012, as a result of the redistricting following 2010, the Republican House majority represents 47.5 percent as opposed to 48.8 percent for the Democrats, or a minority of the voters for the House in 2012.[emphasis mine] Take the example of the Ohio election: Obama won the state with 51 percent of the vote, but because of redistricting, its House delegation is 75 percent Republican and 25 percent Democratic.”There it is in a nutshell. The President’s 51% majority is not remotely translated into the Congress. The Republican majorities in Washington and Ohio[ and every Republican controlled statehouse] represent minorities of the people and yet have amassed the power to cripple the agenda of a President who most people feel (or felt) has struggled valiantly to safeguard our interests. (Disclaimer: I am highly critical of many of President Obamas policies on war, secrecy and the Imperial Presidency, but still retain faith in his intention towards serving the majority.)
How did this come to pass?
STATE ELECTIONS. A state government has the power to redraw congressional districts every ten years. By concentrating their attentions on that fact, Republicans have been able to redraw electoral districts in a highly partisan way, far more egregiously than it has happened before. This guarantees them safe electoral districts. It is something Democrats do as well, but they have failed to take State and off-Presidential elections as seriously as Republicans and have retained a modicum of fairness.
By winning State elections Republicans get to redistrict and they do so in a manner which guarantees their party as much advantage as possible. Democrats have not been as zealous. But more than political power has accrued to that Republican practice. One of Ms. Drew’s insightful observation is that the Republicans were so intent on foiling Democratic challenges that missed the fact that they were leaving themselves open to challenges on the right from within their own party. This oversight has forced their entire party into the nu-nu land of mouth breathers and virulent ideologues. So their success has been a double whammy. Safe seats means that out of 435 House seats, only 35 will be in play, making change extremely difficult. From numbers like these we derive stalemate.
It follows from this that a number of things could be accomplished with mass education and political action. One would be to turn redistricting over to bipartisan groups appointed by some combination of Governors and party chairs. This would serve several ends, but most importantly, it would drive political debate back towards the center represented by the true majority of voters.
As things stand at the moment, in a safe seat a candidate has no incentive to ameliorate or soften extreme positions. They can play to the most rabid candidates in their districts and make a big tent to include them. We can see where that has led us, and so can John Boehner who has lost control of his own party.
If candidates were forced to run in districts where representation of Democrats and Republicans was equal, they would have to play closer to the center to win the votes required for a majority. The result would be a softening of political rigidities and perhaps a return to some civility.
The second thing that could be done would be to mount strong campaigns to explain the candidates and issues and urge voters to take off-Presidential year elections seriously. We got Obama in the Presidential elections and lost the House in the off-years. Enough said.These victories have allowed Republicans and ALEC (the Koch brothers’ Legislative Exchange Council which tailors right-wing, anti-union, anti-abortion, anti-labor legislation) to push back abortion law, women’s rights, unions, civil rights, voting….the mourning cries of the disenfranchised are everywhere, but we apparently lack organization and the Republican moxie to say “no” and mean it.
Fighting to recover state control and end partisan redistricting are stop-gap measures but they are accessible to voter pressure. The real issue (which may not be), the cap-stone of the inverted pyramid from which all other malaise flows (save human nature) is that our elections are paid for privately and not by the taxpayers. Until we ban corporate contributions, until we shoulder the costs of paying for elections ourselves, until we demand our air-time as our free medium to air debates on every network, we will never elect the kind of candidates we need, free from corporate obligations (Democrat and Republican), who might actually serve the people.
Year after year, election after election the canard continues, and each year hopes die and money wins again and again and again and again. Each year the young are riled up, the elders (of whom I am one) dare to hope, and each year dreams and hopes collapse in a welter of bombs, broken promises, egregious cuts to the safety net ($40 billion from food stamps as I write). If we don’t organize. If we don’t say “Enough!”. If we don’t show up in numbers for off-year elections and remember the two basics---elections and money, I’m afraid our society will become a trope for that loathsome expression--- “We get the government we deserve.”