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06 October 2013


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William R. Cumming

Agree with the Balz analysis and PL's conclusion


Yes, well much of the dysfunctionality of the current voter districting system reflects the "echo chamber" effect. Folks aren't comfortable with alternative visions of reality & seek out their ideological kin. Politicians at the state level, seeking out a simple way to separate the sheep from the goats, are happy to comply.
In an earlier time (say, the generation that led up to the Treason of the Southern SlaveMasters), folks in Dixie couldn't get their minds around the idea that many valued the nation over the state, even to the point of undertaking a serious war to maintain the Union. They were wrong, or at least premature.
LBJ's civil rights efforts opened the door to a GOP take over in Dixie. This in turn led to the hijacking of an urban, industrial and modernizing party (remember TR?) by rural and retrograde folks, now hermetically sealed into the 80-odd districts, scattered across the country, under the sway of the Tea Party. Dixie has metastasized.
Given the GOP's historic aversion to democratic principles, there may be no solution short of a court-mandated and even overseen attempt to de-gerrymander the country as a whole. (That, or the random assignment of voting districts to folks in a state, regardless of where in the state they reside, an even more disconcerting scenario.)
It's not likely that the Tea Party will learn from its own mistakes -- as "the Lost Cause Regained" proved, hard beats soft in politics nearly every time.


We've created parties which thrive on regional polarization. We're pitting states and indeed whole swathes of the country against each other. As we saw in the 1850's that's a recipe for toxic gridlock.


This trend may lay the foundation for 'winner take all & scorch the earth for the rest' zero sum politics of the sort we can observe in the Middle East today - to the hilt, and with blood spilled 'lest they win'.

It's a dangerous development.

If true, this indeed spells death for the idea of a loyal opposition. It may just not be politically feasible any longer. And if Robert Parry on 'October surprise', then the loyal opposition started dying a long time ago.

The question is really about whether the union still exists in unity, let along it being on a road to perfection. If not, that indeed is a point over which US politicians think hard and serious about.


Where America is at now is government of the people, by the people - but not for the people - which is the really hard part, and the part that requires compromises for the common good and precisely that loyal opposition needed to make such compromises work.

Every unthinking partisan dolt can vote some other unthinking partisan dolt into office. It's just that partisan dolts usually suck at good governance, and, if they are Republicans, they may just pride themselves on having finally drowned government in the bathtub. Yay.

The unravelling of New Orleans when disaster struck was to me something very disturbing to behold. It showed many things, and one of them was the utter dementedness of Republican contempt for 'goo-goo Syndrome', the idea of providing good governance.

Anyone with two eyes to see could witness the inability of a gutted FEMA to provide aid in times of need - and the state that was supposed to fill in wasn't doing that either, because it wasn't in the budget.

Police and first responders just went home. Which indicated to me a general fragility of US state institutions under pressure. Internal cohesion and lack or institutional resilience may be America's weak spot.

The old Iraq vanished as a state in two weeks of looting. The USSR disappeared also with astonishing speed.

What I fear is that politicians in DC atm will just think about it in terms of continuity of government (and that would in times of crisis in light of executive emergency power be autocratic, at best), and not in terms of constitutional reform or constitutional reassessment.

Good luck.


Dear Colonel: You did note we are heading towards a constitutional crisis. This would underline that there is more driving it than just a small minority of tea party Republicans, and that it will return worse and worse until resolved.

Hmmm, Apparently I had over-credited the creators of the gerrymander-ing Republican effort who were riding a larger socio-spatial trend....

Somewhere I think the stagnation of the US economy for the general population for several decades, also plays a role in pushing voters towards more radical (left or right) solutions and political positions.



I think that America’s current politics is a reflection that our government has ceased to work for the people but is wholly owned and controlled by the wealthy and corporations; many residing outside of the USA.

We live in a bubble in the DC area. Only here, do federal workers get furloughed; but, five days into the stoppage, the House passes a bill to give them back pay for being stuck at home for the duration of their squabble. Here we tend to believe the propaganda from the media how wonderful everything is. Yet, reality keeps seeping in on how bad it is in the USA from our families outside of the cocoon and the weird events happening in DC; the Navy Yard shotgun shooter, Black Infiniti Mom, and self immolation on the Mall.

Joe Citizen

It is not either one causing the other, or vice versa. It is a feedback process. Ideologues seek advantage through the redistricting process, then the process works on its own to reinforce the extremist tendencies.

The stronger factor seems to be the redistricting process though - given how the Democrats actually won the majority of votes cast in House races, but the GOP won more seats.


Obama's coalition resembles Lincolns and it's had the same toxic effect nationally. He bypassed much of the country, cutting them out of the discussion on the major issues of his presidency. That's exaggerated rural urban divides, and conflicts between competing regional identities. It's a recipe for toxic gridlock.

Creating truly national parties that submerge these conflicts would help. That means reviving the Republican party in New England. It means rebuilding the Democratic party in the South and in the West - and not by commanding the urban districts, but by reaching out the rural and suburban ones.

Medicine Man

I agree with Joe Citizen. There is a chicken and egg element to this phenomenon. To some extent the two parties collaborated with one another to gerrymander their districts for the purpose of incumbency protection. In the process of doing this they have become more beholden to the political fringes.

Richard Armstrong

One thinks that the victor who has won the right to accept or decline the surrender of the defeated at no later time is bound to accept said surrender in perpetuity.

Perhaps now is the time to allow the still obviously dissatisfied Confederate to go their own way.

Of course in the name of National Defense it would only make sense to continue to maintain, occupy and utilize the many US military installations in the newly freed Confederacy.

William R. Cumming

SCOTUS did rule one man one vote. But due to the Great Compromise giving all States two Senators and other factors some votes are worth more than others.


Identity may well explain the divergence on social issues. But corruption explains the current attitude of Republicans, who are following their wallets: "The current budget brinkmanship is just the latest development in a WELL-FINANCED, broad-based assault on the health law" by conservative think tanks and business groups.

Simply put, the rich and powerful are obsessed with themselves and could care less about others. Research confirms this: http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/10/05/rich-people-just-care-less/

nick b

Dan Balz is a real pro. I have enjoyed his insight for decades on Washington Week in Review, on Friday nights. He was on this past Friday, and discussed this topic briefly.

I think the recent emphasis that has been put on 'gerrymandering' as a problem is a canard, and can be attributed to successful Democratic campaign messaging. Say what you like, but elections to the House of Representatives have rarely been very competitive. Since 1964, between 85% and 98% of incumbent House members are reelected each cycle. There are not that many competitive house seats in any election year, and if you consider it, gerrymandering can actually lead to more moderate thinking. The few competitive house seats that exist are in 'purple' areas. Gerrymandering them to make them more 'red' or 'blue' means the office holder can't go hyper partisan, or they will have a tough time being reelected in the general election.
Nate Cohn at the New Republic has five quick paragraphs that explain this far better than I do:

I believe that the two main factors driving today's hyper partisan divisions are 1. the pervasive effect of large sums of money in elections, and 2. The information avalanche that keeps people more informed, yet segmented by opinion at the same time.

Solving issue 1 could easily be done by legislation (if anyone could ever agree again), but that seems unlikely at the present. Watch carefully the decision from SCOTUS this term that could overturn parts of Buckley v. Valeo which allow the government to set limits on political contributions. The Conservative wing of the SCOTUS could conceivably open the faucets for unlimited money from anyone. Perhaps things must get worse before they get better?

So far as combating the tsunami of information people are presented with each day and how it segments them by opinion is for minds greater than my own. I think it's human nature to look for information that informs our own prejudices. I'm not sure how this is overcome.


How much of this is a creation of 'political science' in changing the election process?

Mark Logan

A possible solution might be proportional representation. New Hampshire is experimenting with "multi-representative" districts already. California is messing around with "top two" districts, which makes it possible for a two Republicans or two democrats to have to run against each other in the general election, whick at least makes it more likely moderates will survive the primary's.


The unravelling of New Orleans when disaster struck was to me something very disturbing to behold. It showed many things, and one of them was the utter dementedness of Republican contempt for 'goo-goo Syndrome', the idea of providing good governance. - confusedponderer

If my earlier post made it, this one might be redundant. Windows crashed and came back to the Mac...lol

Cheap shots like that are part of the problem, you did not hold the Orleans Parish democrats responsible for not executing their emergency plan. Plenty of blame on that disaster, but you focused only on liberal excuse for all of government problems. Will you also blame Republican Governor Snyder for the bankruptcy of Detroit?


"I think the recent emphasis that has been put on 'gerrymandering' as a problem is a canard"

Absolutely agreed.


The US is a Federal Republic, surely you know the Constitution better than to that. Proportional representation is in the House, just like its been for 200+ years. (Except for all those illegal immigrants being counted for representation - something the founders didn't foresee or intend.)


Given the court's unwillingness to functionally restrict gerrymandering, it becomes essential for a party to hold the governorship in a given state, following the Census.

The House Tea Party caucus would be notable, but not decisive, in other Congresses. They are not tempered by other Republicans, they are allowed to set the agenda, and under current House rules, they can determine if legislation advances or succeeds.

This Congress has been less productive than any other Congress since the Civil War. They have found the time to vote to rescind the ACA 42 times. In this, they are very similar to congressional Republicans who opposed the creation of Social Security.


It is critical that we re-establish a sense of common national good and civil discourse. Party politics and particularly the out of district financing of congressional races and the polarizing impact of the party primary process constantly pulls the parties to the edges of the political spectrum. This is reflected in the rise of independents leaving the party process altogether. It may be that a new party forms in the vacuum. Alternately we may see leadership emerge from a govornors office in the next presidential race as opposed to Washington politicians increasingly detached from the real world. Gerrymandering limits choices but ultimately the public at large may choose to throw the incumbent bums out. There must be leadership that pulls the center of this country together or else we may lose it altogether.


What's a "productive" Congress?
More laws written by lobbyists and 25 year old staffers who want to grow up to be lobbyists?
The most productive Congress is in recess.


determining congressional districts has been beleaguered by partisan power plays since the three-fifths compromise of the 1787 constitutional convention and is enshrined as part of the "to the victors goes the spoils" of political party warfare

from Redistricing The Nation website


"Who is responsible for drawing district boundaries?

Though the process varies from state to state, redistricting is usually a partisan endeavor. In most cases, a state’s district lines--for both state legislative and congressional districts--are redrawn by the state legislature, and the majority party controls the process. Some states require bi-partisan or non-partisan commissions to oversee the line-drawing. However, the state governor and majority party leaders often control who is appointed to these commissions. At the local level, city council presidents and/or council members usually oversee the redistricting process.

Some states are moving toward involving citizens in the redistricting process and creating truly independent redistricting commissions. In 2008, California voters passed Proposition 11, a referendum establishing an independent redistricting commission made up of citizens. This commission will draw state legislative districts--though not congressional districts--for the 2012 elections. In Illinois, a state representative has proposed legislation to open the redistricting process up to public submissions."

it would probably take a constitutional amendment to alter our traditional process

Bill H

California's "top two" open primary doesn't do much to defeat incumbency. In the first Senatorial primary using that system Diane Feinstein got over 90% of the vote on a slate which included something like 20 candidates.


What ‘Confederate' are you talking about? The US Citizens in the State of Florida, perhaps? That would include a few million retirees from other States. The same would be true of Texas and North Carolina. Don't forget the fine Yankee state of Michigan, where the current Governor and have the Congressional delegation are modern republicans who are part and partial of the current D.C. paralysis.

Perhaps I should be asking which 'victor' you are talking about, since all those from the war between the states are dead and said states that tried to seceed were readmitted to the union.

nick b

"Will you also blame Republican Governor Snyder for the bankruptcy of Detroit?"

Jose, Gov. Snyder did bring the City of Detroit into bankruptcy. This is factual. In his own words: "Enough was enough".

I make no comment on the merits of his decision or it's inevitability. Using the word 'blame' is subjective to one's viewpoint on the issue.

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