Today, as we celebrate the birthday of our country, we might take a few moments to consider our polarized and paralyzed legislative process.
To take just one example, the odds are high that the GOP-controlled House will block immigration reform. Wonder why?
Jared Bernstein laid it out recently in the Washington Post:
First, “only 38 of the House’s 234 Republicans, or 16%, represent districts in which Latinos account for 20% or more of the population.” Second, “only 28 Republican-held districts are considered even remotely at risk of being contested by a Democratic challenger, according to the nonpartisan Cook Political Report.”
So for about 200 of the House’s Republicans, a primary challenge by conservatives angry over “amnesty” is probably a more realistic threat than defeat at the hands of angry Hispanic voters, or even angry Democrats.
This state of affairs is pernicious, but it is also difficult to change. Thanks to partisan redistricting and the precision of modern computer programs, voters no longer choose their representatives. Representatives choose their voters. And as I have previously noted–and Bernstein’s article amply documents-gerrymandering exacerbates political polarization and gridlock.
In competitive districts, nominees know they have to run to the middle to win in the fall. When the primary is, in effect, the general election, the battle takes place among the party faithful, who tend to be much more ideological. Republican incumbents will be challenged from the Right and Democratic incumbents from the Left. Even where those challenges fail, they are a powerful incentive for the incumbent to protect his flank. So we elect nominees beholden to the political extremes, who are unwilling or unable to compromise.
Since both parties gerrymander when they are in power, it has been virtually impossible to replace the current corrupt system with nonpartisan redistricting. We are stuck with the crazies for the foreseeable future.
Of course, so is the GOP.