Tag Archives: unintended consequences

Political Kudzu

Recently, as we drove through North and South Carolina on our way to the beach, we were struck by the relative absence of the Kudzu we usually see climbing over telephone poles and fences, and generally taking over large swathes of the landscape. My husband wondered if agricultural researchers have finally found something to control it.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the saga of kudzu, it was originally brought to the US south from Asia–thought to be a low-maintenance plant that could be used along highways–an attractive plant requiring less mowing and less expense. To say that things didn’t quite work out that way would be a considerable understatement; as Wikipedia notes, kudzu

 is a serious invasive plant in the United States. It has been spreading in the southern U.S. at the rate of 150,000 acres (61,000 ha) annually, “easily outpacing the use of herbicide spraying and mowing, as well increasing the costs of these controls by $6 million annually.”[1] Its introduction has produced devastating environmental consequences.[2] This has earned it the nickname, “The vine that ate the South.

Kudzu is the poster child for unintended consequences.

Kudzu makes me think of gerrymandering. No kidding.

The Republican Party, as everyone sentient knows, owes its majority in the House of Representatives to aggressive gerrymandering.(And yes, before commenters weigh in, I know that Democrats would engage in gerrymandering too, if they were in control of those statehouses.) But here’s the dilemma–by creating deep red districts safe from even the remotest Democratic threat, the GOP has created a party image that places recapture of the Presidency pretty much out of reach.

The problem is that these “safe” districts tend to elect the most extreme partisans–the crazies that embarrass the national party and turn off reasonable voters. If polls are to be believed, their antics have come to characterize the party in the popular imagination. For Democrats, they are the gift that keeps on giving–supplying fodder for campaign ads,  endless discussions by the television punditry and blog posts. Their presence–and lack of vulnerability–undercuts the efforts of the few adults left in the party to move the GOP at least slightly back toward the middle. As we have seen repeatedly (Farm Bill, immigration), Boehner cannot control them. Why should they listen to party leadership? They’re invulnerable.

These Representatives from the reddest of red districts can thwart responsible legislative efforts. They can bring Congress to a halt. Like Kudzu, they are incredibly destructive. But–also like kudzu–that destruction is indiscriminate. To the consternation of the grown-ups, they have become the Republican brand.

I don’t know whether agronomists have finally found a herbicide that controls kudzu. But unless the GOP figures out how to extricate itself from the unintended consequences of its own gerrymandering, even expanded voter suppression efforts won’t win it back the Presidency.