Friday, October 11, 2013

No It's Not Redistricting

Over at Slate David Weigel had a piece a few days ago arguing that it was the partisan gerrymandering of congressional districts after the 2010 election that is causing all of the problems in Washington these days. Well actually that's not what he says, he says, "this is a straw man." But then goes on to argue, "The point isn't that gerrymandering gave us this Congress; it's that it was designed to keep this Congress and to protect (mostly) Republicans from harm if they screw up terribly." Which is a pretty similar claim.
Weigel makes a big mistake here though. He argues that the redrawing of lines after the 2010 census by Republican controlled governments in places like Pennsylvania and Ohio meant that those states would send a lot more Republicans to Congress than under the districts drawn after 2000 (when they also sent a bunch of Republicans to Congress.) And he's right to some degree. The GOP lost the popular vote for the House by around 1.5 million votes but still kept control. But where he goofs is assuming "gerrymandering" (a term he doesn't bother to define) is a process that creates supper conservative districts. 
The reality is gerrymandering, drawing congressional districts in shapes other than compact squares (there I defined it), involves choices. If you pack a bunch of Republicans in a district, as its congressman you don't have to worry about Democrats beating you. And yes your only real worry once you get elected is getting bounced out by a tea party challenger. But partisan gerrymandering designed to maximize a party's representation is done by making districts just safe enough, %55 as a typical win number is the magic number I've heard, then you cram all the Democrats into supper liberal urban districts. In short gerrymandering to maximize Republican seats will make those seats that much more unsafe. So you can have the GOP being crazy because of gerrymandered supper red seats, or the GOP with an electoral advantage because of gerrymandering. But you can't have both.
After all why does drawing "safe seats" cause people to shut down the government or risk breaching the debt ceiling? If Dave wants us to believe this he really needs to ties this together, not just point out how different the map is in one state or another after redistricting. Yes politicians can be paranoid about primary challenges, but for 230 members of Congress to all be cowering at all time is something more, something pathological. 
Furthermore their is nothing about being a Republican, even a Republican elected in 2010, that forces you do terrible things like take the economy hostage by refusing to raise the debt limit or shut down the government for reasons we have yet to learn. Yes the map in 2012 probably helped Republicans on the margin, but then again so did the natural advantage of running as an incumbent.
The irony here is that Dave's been arguing for days now that the "moderates" that the media is reporting will vote for a clean CR won't actually do so. So the idea that more "moderate" Republicans from "competitive" districts would solve our problem is refuted by Dave's own reporting.

The problem is that the GOP is dysfunctional, different districts might put them in the minority, but it won't change this.

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