Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Gerrymandering and Standoff Politics

Speaker of the House John Boehner claims that his caucus is protecting the American people from the Affordable Care Act.  Speaker Boehner claims that the House is just expressing the will of the American people.  Pundits all proclaim that this standoff is politics as usual.  On the Sunday show circuit, Speaker Boehner says all that is needed to break the impasse is a phone call from the President to negotiate.  The big difference between this fight and past fights is the way in which a third party has used gerrymandered districts to control a major political party.  The Tea Party now has control of a part of the GOP’s brain, and will not relinquish its control unless it achieves its objectives, no matter the cost to the country or to democracy.
It is certainly true that the Affordable Care Act has been a lightning rod of partisan positioning for years.  It is also certainly true that the Congress has used the power of the purse to enact or frustrate policy on a wide range of issues, specifically through budget riders. 

But the current fight was not a last minute sticking point, but a calculated and strategic ambush of the federal treasury.  Earlier this month, journalists reported on the planning that went into the shutdown fight.  For months, Ed Meese helped coordinate a strategic plan to use a shutdown of the entire federal government to sabotage “Obamacare” by starving it of funding. 

The Tea Party movement to sabotage the Affordable Care Act is not starving for funding at all.  According to the Times Article, hundreds of millions of dollars in donations are funding the long term fight.  The New York Times reported “The largest recipient of Freedom Partners cash — about $115 million — was the Center to Protect Patient Rights, according to the groups’ latest tax filings. Run by a political consultant with ties to the Kochs and listing an Arizona post office box for its address, the center appears to be little more than a clearinghouse for donations to still more groups, including American Commitment and the 60 Plus Association, both ardent foes of the health care law.” 

Add on top of this big pile of organized money, a small third party with strong convictions and you have a truly strange sight in American politics: the parliamentary tyrant.  Tea Party Patriots believe that shutting down the government and even ignoring the debt ceiling are not economically damaging.  Yet they see that their opponents value these objectives and must defend them.  The Tea Party’s opponents here are everyone else: both the GOP and Democrats.  It is a three-way standoff.

Which brings us to how the Tea Party uses gerrymandering to get their candidates’ influence increased within their host party, the GOP.  As gerrymandered districts increased in the wake of the 2010 census, this increased the number of districts where a primary threat was more significant than a general election challenger.

In the 2012 elections, American voters in House Races cast 59,967,096 votes for Democratic Candidates and 58,523,501 votes for those from the GOP, a vote margin of more than 1.4 million in favor of Democratic candidates.  After the smoke cleared, the people’s house had 234 GOP Reps to 201 Democratic Reps.  At the end of the day, more Americans voted to elect Democratic Congressman than voted for GOP, but more GOP got elected anyway.  Most, but not all, of that difference is the intended result of GOP gerrymandering, packing Democratic voters into bizarre districts.

So to put this in context, consider the 12th Congressional District in North Carolina.  It is 120 miles long and barely 20 miles wide.  It looks like a snake, rather than a salamander.  The 12th District’s current boundaries were drawn by the GOP majority in North Carolina.  In the 12th District in 2012, President Obama won the hearts and minds of 78.5 % of the voters casting ballots.  Only a challenge from the left of 12th Congressional District could conceivably defeat the incumbent.   The same is true in the 1st and 4th Districts, although the 12th is demonstrably the worst gerrymandered district in the United States.  As for the rest of the North Carolina Congressional Districts, a primary challenge from the right is the real threat, with the exception of District 7, held by Democratic Congressman Mike McIntyre against the odds.  The gerrymandering in North Carolina has now made the primaries more important than the general elections in determining who represents any person.  David Price won his District 4 seat by 14 points in 2010 and by 48 points in 2012.  Now the too-comfortable margin for Rep. Price has become the comfortable margin for new GOP reps.

And so, to protect a majority of GOP House seats, the GOP has killed representative democracy’s chances of governing from the middle.   Only the fringes are left for contention in their bizarre maps.  At present, the fringes who are making primary challenges are the Tea Party. Thus we have created a legislative tyranny of a minority faction who believe that they must root out GOP members who are willing to compromise.  
Princeton’s favorite dirigible has opined that President Obama must have skipped class on the day they taught separation of powers in Constitutional Law. In addition, Dr. Will compared the Affordable Care Act to the Fugitive Slave Act.  I would respond that Dr. Will skipped the lecture on the pitfalls of argumentum reducto ad absurbem.


Saturday, October 5, 2013

Gerrymandering and Hostages

In the popular press, the current government shutdown is being treated as a hostage crisis or an act of civil disobedience.  For Fox News enthusiasts, brave patriots such as Senator Ted Cruz are correcting executive branch abuses.  For another segment of the public, the Tea Party is holding the federal government hostage because they despise the federal government and wish to shut it down for good.  Most of the public views both Congressional leaders as childish and pedantic.  Few want to admit what it really shows.

American politics is broken.

One of the things which broke it, is the Gerrymander.

The source of Gerrymander as a noun, dates from a political cartoon published in Boston in 1812.  Elbridge Gerry , then Governor of Massachusetts, had signed a bill into law which favored the Democratic-Republicans over the Federalists.  One of the districts was sinuous, like a mythical salamander.  The cartoonist superimposed the drawing of a mythical salamander over the District and dubbed it the Gerrymander, placing full credit and blame on this outrage on Governor Gerry.

Gerrymander is now used as a noun or a verb.  The word is used to describe the use of redistricting to give political advantage to one political party by concentrating political opponents into a district.  Thus, we call it gerrymandering whenever one political party uses redistricting to increase their political advantage.  In a two party system this is particularly effective, especially when combined with single member districts and closed primary elections.

In 2012, American voters cast 1.3 million more votes for Democratic candidates in the House of Representatives than for Republicans, yet Republicans increased their control of the House.  As many as 21 net Republican seats in the House of Representatives are reflective of an advantage in Republican gerrymandering following the 2010 census. 

The United States has been infected with gerrymandering abuse for 200 years.   Both parties have done it.  Everyone agrees it is wrong. The 2010 census gave House Republicans a gerryamandered advantage which will persist until 2020.  This insulates those seats from any response to political pressure from independents in closed primary states, as only a primary challenge from the right can unseat a gerrymandered representative. 

Now it has killed our political process and has taken our government hostage.