Wrote this a week or two ago, but never finished it. May as well post what I have while it’s relevant and finish it later…or perhaps even provoke some commenters into doing it for me.
…nah, that’ll never happen.
Was reading yesterday in Rolling Stone about the state of the Republican Party post-2008. It’s a lovely bit of schadenfreude, but I was tinged with a bit of sadness and frustration about the whole thing – and not because a bunch of guys who I think should dry up and blow away politically elicit any sympathy from me.
Briefly, in case you’ve been hiding under a rock, the GOP is in a grand clash right now between the ideologically pure segment (Cheney, Limbaugh, Sanford, Gingrich, Grover Norquist, et al.) and the old-time politicos (Lindsey Graham, Charlie Crist, Colin Powell, et al.) over the future direction of the party. The moderates, for what appear to be mostly practical reasons, want to back off on some of the more strident bits of ideology and try to appeal to the former “Reagan Democrats” (who may or may not be a fictional construct; more on that a different time). The purists want to keep dragging the party to the right, as they’ve done with the entire country since Reagan, and, earlier, Goldwater.
The sad part about this is that never has there been a better, more apt, more shining example of a need for electoral reform than this intra-party ideological struggle, and yet no one is looking at – sorry, but I have to use it – the elephant in the room. In any sane democratic system, this battle wouldn’t be fought out in the wonkish margins of the Times’ editorial pages (be it the NY or DC) – the two sides would simply break off, post different candidates, and decide at the ballot box. But because of the two-party system, that obvious solution can’t be done.
The U.S. electoral system is an artificial, undemocratic construct designed to concentrate power away from the people. The mechanism isn’t any sinister conspiracy; it’s pure and simple mathematics. When you go with single-seat, winner-take-all races, the math works against you having any more than two choices at a time. So all the important, devil-in-the-details decisions are made away from the public eye, inside the parties or inside associated think tanks, and the people get to choose between the two most bland, TV-friendly figureheads who champion them. The important minority voices within each are shouted down and weeded out before you get to choose; any competing alliances they could form with each other are scuttled before they can cause any meaningful change.
There are two basic solutions to this: change the math, or exploit it. Everyone else did the former; we did the latter. Most of the Congressional races now, for example, aren’t “races” in any sense; they’re more like the patsy, for-show elections that take place in authoritarian countries. A Democrat, for example, will win in my district in 2010. It’s been gerrymandered to take place. Any Republicans in my district will never, ever have any representation in the House. The system is broken enough that essentially special gerrymandering had to be introduced so that you could have any – any! – blacks or Latinos elected, much less any in proportion to their actual size in the population.
In the Presidental ballot, it’s even worse, thanks to the Electoral College. If you are a Democrat in Texas – and there are literally millions of them – it is likely that you will never in your lifetime cast a vote that matters for a President. Same thing if you are a Republican living in Massachusetts.
The thing is, changing the math is easy. Proportional representation is intuitive to anyone: 30% of the people should get you 30% of the representatives. If the legislature is split such that no one has an absolute majority – which makes sense, given that you’re trying to represent 300 million people! – then you can make the deals necessary to govern right there in the legislature itself, where it’s supposed to happen in a democracy. Gingrich might only get 25% of the people for his freaky little glee club, but that’s better than the 0% he’s going to get when his ideas get shelved by the moderates of the GOP (assuming that’s the way it actually goes).