Tag Archives: pandering

Gerrymandering Is A Two-Sided Sword….

There’s an old adage heard among real-estate developers and businesspeople: If you owe the bank several thousand dollars, you have a problem; if you owe the bank several million dollars, the bank has a problem. Guess which debtor is most likely to be successful in renegotiating the terms of the loan?

So–I hear you asking–what in the world does that have to do with our currently dysfunctional GOP, or with partisan redistricting, aka gerrymandering?

Among the Republicans in Congress, there are plenty of “true believers”–fanatics and zealots of various types. (Honesty compels me to note that there are also some nut jobs among the Democrats, although not as many.) The crazies in the GOP, however, are widely outnumbered by people who do actually know better, people who have managed to get elected by playing to the ignorance and bigotries and extremism of voters who probably do not represent the majority of their constituents, but who can be depended upon to turn out, volunteer and vote.

The problem is, once they have energized that “base,” it owns them. The voters who make up the GOP base–in both senses of that word–demand fidelity to their passions, and their Representatives know it. That base controls a significant number of districts.

When the national Republican Party engaged in a wholesale redistricting coup after the 2010 census, that effort was wildly successful. (I have referred to the book “Ratf**ked” before; it sets out chapter and verse of “Operation Redmap.”)

Too successful.

There were two consequences of that wholesale gerrymander. The first was intended: Republicans won many more seats than their vote totals would otherwise have garnered. The second consequence, however, was both unanticipated and extremely damaging. The people elected to Congress from those deep-red districts the mapmakers created don’t feel any allegiance to the leaders of their party, or to reasonable or productive policymaking. They are only interested in doing the bidding of the voters to whom they are beholden, and avoiding a primary battle that–thanks to the gerrymander–can only come from the right.

The political reporters babbling on cable news consistently express surprise at the inability of the Republican part to govern, to control the factions that range from Hard Right to “wow, that guy’s a Nazi.” The answer is the success of their 2011 gerrymander.

The sane among them have a problem–and a choice.

If they have any integrity, they can follow their consciences, risk being primaried and defeated, or quit. (Every day, it seems, a GOP Representative announces a decision not to run again, and it isn’t hard to see why.) If they don’t have any integrity, they accept that they are wholly owned by the most rabid members of their base, and they simply pander accordingly. (In Indiana, we have a delegation composed entirely of True Believers and panderers. If you live in the state, you can decide who’s who.)

Unfortunately, this country needs two rational parties populated with adults in order to function. So not only is the GOP broken, our whole government is broken.

Happy Valentine’s Day…

 

Why Voting for the Man, Not the Party, Doesn’t Work

A few years ago, after choosing between two particularly uninspiring candidates on election day, I told my husband that I would no longer vote for the lesser of two evils. Instead, I would vote for the candidate who was pandering to the least dangerous constituency.

It sounds snarky, but I would argue that it isn’t a bad rule to follow.

Take Mitt Romney, the likely GOP Presidential nominee. My guess is that beneath that wooden exterior, he’s probably a capable enough manager–and not nearly as asinine as he sounds on the campaign trail. The problem is, if he were to be elected, he would still be beholden to the Tea Party crazies and Good Ole Boy racists he is frantically trying to woo during the primaries. Etch-A-Sketch or no, the systemic realities of our political system would operate to prevent moderation or compromise or evidence-based decision-making.

Here in Indiana, we have two major-party candidates for Governor, both of whom are well to the right of center. Pence, of course, is entirely a creature of the extremist Christian Right–if he’s ever had a truly independent idea, he’s hidden it well. Gregg is a conservative Democrat from Southern Indiana. If Pence wins, he won’t skip a beat: his policies will be tailored to his base, which is fundamentalist Christian, exploitative capitalist, and allergic-to-taxes Tea Party. If Gregg wins, however, he will have to moderate his positions in order to satisfy the Democratic base, which is far more diverse and progressive than he is. (As my youngest son likes to say, your vote for Governor will depend upon whether you want to return to the 1960s or the 1690s.)

Of course, if Rupert the Libertarian wins, all bets are off.

Candidates are captured by their political parties in a number of ways; they are not unembedded political actors no matter how much they’d like us to think they are. In some ways, that’s comforting; we rarely know what we need to know about the candidates themselves, so there is some logic in casting your vote for the person who belongs to the party with the philosophy closest to your own. Party affiliation is one among many “markers” that allow us to shortcut the decision-making process.

On the other hand, when one party goes “off the rails”–when the only people who can get nominated are those prepared to grovel to the basest of the base–average voters are deprived of the benefit of sound policy debates between serious candidates.

When elections devolve into battles between the bumper stickers, when candidates endlessly parrot  focus-group tested pieties, it isn’t possible to vote for the “best candidate.” It isn’t even possible to figure out who that is.

 

Running Against a Tsunami

I know it’s easy to critique a campaign from the sidelines, but it’s really difficult to understand what Dick Lugar is thinking. I catch his television commercials from time to time, and as a past supporter and contributor, I get email blasts from his campaign daily.

It is increasingly painful and off-putting to watch.

The Dick Lugar I used to know and admire was a statesman. I didn’t always agree with him–even when I was still a Republican, he was sometimes too conservative for me–but I always respected him; he was reasoned and thoughtful, gracious to his opponents and informed in his positions. It’s true that, as the party moved right, Lugar moved with it, but never to the fringe. He never stooped to the sort of hateful rhetoric and flat-earth know-nothingness that has so diminished the Grand Old Party. He was never an ideologue.

Until now.

Lugar is being challenged by the worst elements of an increasingly irrational base. Mourdock, his primary opponent, is a bad joke. But as Jim Shella wrote in an earlier column on this race, Mourdock isn’t the point.  While there are certainly legitimate criticisms that can be leveled at him (or any other long-serving elected official), Lugar’s opposition is largely fueled by a veritable tsunami of anger and resentment and fear that has focused on him as a part of the hated status quo. 

And therein lies the challenge.

Shella was right: the Tea Party fanatics who want Dick Lugar gone don’t care who replaces him. They detest Lugar for the very characteristics that have generated consistent voter support over the years. That very obvious reality puts his campaign squarely between the proverbial rock and hard place–if he remains true to himself and his record, if he campaigns on that record with his head held high, he won’t win the votes of the ideologues most likely to vote in the primary. But if he tries to reinvent himself as a rabid True Believer, he betrays his own principles, diminishes an otherwise admirable legacy–and still may not get their votes.

Despite the risks, the campaign has chosen the latter strategy.

So we are treated to grainy commercials featuring the Senator using “good old boy” terminology he’s never previously employed. We get emails from his campaign demonizing the President of the United States, stooping to a level of disrespect that would have been inconceivable coming from the “real” Dick Lugar. We are assured that the Senator no longer supports measures, like the Dream Act, that he had previously–and admirably–championed. We get messages that are absolutely devoid of the nuance and civility characteristic of the statesman he used to be.

It is so pathetic, so inauthentic, it’s painful.

I don’t know whether this all-out pandering will allow Lugar to eke out one last term. He has a lot of money, and a deep reservoir of good will, and it may be enough–although if I were a wagering woman, I wouldn’t bet on it.

I know a number of Democrats who had earlier considered “crossing over” to vote for Lugar in the GOP primary. I was one of them. Had the campaign chosen a different course–had it mounted a full-throated defense of an impressive record–I think many of those crossover votes would materialize, although probably not enough to change the outcome. Fewer such votes will be cast for a man running away from his own most admirable traits.

The longer this primary contest goes on, the more I want to ask the Senator two questions: is winning another term, at age 80, so important that it is worth this unseemly (and unpersuasive) groveling? And if you win, if you return to Washington after this dispiriting display, which Dick Lugar will you be?

 

 

As the Newt Turns

It has been very painful watching the Republican Presidential field, for many reasons. First, of course, is the sheer amazement that this group of goofballs could be taken seriously as candidates for any political office, let alone the highest office in the land. But beyond that, there’s been the nagging question whether they are really as uninformed as they seem, or whether they are pandering to a base devoid of civic and scientific literacy. The question is: are they intellectually or morally vacuous?

The answer is pretty clear when you talk about Michelle Bachmann or Herman Cain. They’re delusional and none too bright. You can’t really blame them–their rise, such as it is, is entirely the fault of the people who actually support them.

But what can we say about the flavor of the day, Newt Gingrich?

Gingrich recently spoke to a Christian Right group in Iowa, and bemoaned what he characterized as an effort to make America a “secular” country. This is a man who taught history at the college level, a man who–however morally sleazy–is acknowledged to be highly intelligent. This is, in short, a man who clearly knows that he’s spouting utter nonsense.

The American constitution is a wholly secular document–not because the Founders were “anti-religion” (although many of them would certainly be considered anti-Christian by today’s religious zealots–Jefferson wrote a bible that excised all references to deity, and Adams felt that attributing divinity to Jesus was “an awful blasphemy” ), but because they believed that government and religion didn’t mix.

Whether one agrees or not with America’s decidedly secular foundation is not the point. The point is that any historian worth the name is aware of the facts of our founding, the attitudes of our Founders, and the decidedly non-religious nature of our legal system. Newt’s speech can only be understood as a breathtaking willingness to pander. Granted, no one who has watched him over the years could mistake him for a moral/ethical being, but even so, this degree of smarminess is breathtaking.

And I thought no one could out-pander Mitt…..