Today is our nation’s birthday, and birthdays are a time to take stock.
If the 4th is a day to focus on America and its government “of the people,” it may also be a day for considering the sources of our various dysfunctions.
Like gerrymandering. (Yes, I know I talk about that a lot. But it’s more important than most of us realize.)
While I was on vacation, I read a book with a title that cannot be fully shared: “Ratf***cked” tells how operatives of the Republican party raised money, gathered experts and manipulated the redistricting process across the nation after the last census–totally outsmarting Democrats. (Democrats emerge from this story as disorganized and feckless, at best.)
The book is worth reading; it was written by a political reporter who interviewed most of the central “players” and followed the process in the most gerrymandered states (including Indiana). The obvious moral of the story is that in politics, attention to process matters hugely–and that the disinterest of most citizens in our democratic processes enables the sorts of chicanery that the book documents.
But there is a rosier side to this story, at least for those of us who are into irony, and it falls under the heading of be careful what you wish for.
The Congressional representatives elected from the large numbers of “safe forever” seats have made it impossible for their enablers to govern. They have no party loyalty; they are not team players in the appropriate sense of that term. They know that the only threat to their continued electoral success comes from their right flank back home–not from the party, not from the Speaker, not even from the party’s big donors.
If you don’t believe me, ask John Boehner. Or Paul Ryan. Or closer to home, Brian Bosma. Those oh-so-safe districts created by mapmaking whiz kids have given each of them a group of wholly intransigent lunatics to deal with, officeholders accountable to no one but the most rabid members of the party base in their home districts. Those zealots have made it nearly impossible to pursue the party’s legislative goals.
The success of the GOP’s “ratf**cking” (otherwise known as redistricting) is why most political observers do not think the Democrats can retake the House in 2016, even if they win the Presidency resoundingly. As one of the effort’s technicians put it, it would take a Democratic sweep of 5 or 6 points to reclaim the House, and victories of that scope are highly unlikely.
Of course, the party operative making that observation didn’t anticipate Donald Trump…
Happy birthday, America! Maybe your citizens can get you a reformed redistricting system for your next one…