For a while, I gladly put politics aside -- except for an unusual way out to solve the Great Big Battle over Guns.
Alas, now I feel behooved to weigh in again, as liberals and conservatives commence another thrashing match... and both sides get it wrong.
The newest fury involves a proposal in GOP circles to take advantage of the fact that Republican legislatures and governors currently run several "blue states" that gave Barack Obama their re-election nod. These state GOP pols did manage to gerrymander their way into keeping power, despite getting fewer votes than democrats in statewide and assembly races.
Now, under a plan broached by RepWhen villains propose a really good idea... in vile ways...ublican Party chairman Reince Priebus, GOP governors and legislators would take matters beyond mere gerrymandering. They will act in a few chosen states to change state rules for distribution of Electoral College votes.
"Under the Priebus plan, electoral votes from battleground states such as Florida, Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia and others that now regularly back Democrats for president would be allocated not to the statewide winner but to the winners of individual congressional districts. Under the most commonly proposed district plan (the statewide winner gets two votes with the rest divided by congressional district) Obama would have secured the narrowest possible win: 270-268. Under more aggressive plans (including one that awards electoral votes by district and then gives the two statewide votes to the candidate who won the most districts), Romney would have won 280-258."
And now... seven Pennsylvania Republican state representatives introduced a bill to make this vote-rigging scheme a reality in their state.
As you might expect, this gambit raised mockery and ire from both the liberal and the moderate press. In "If you can't win elections, rig them," Rachel Maddow's response was especially biting and well worth watching. Her report is informative, funny, outraged, and correct as far as it goes...
... only it is also short-sightedly foolish and - at a deeper level - utterly wrong.
== a heinous context ==
First: Maddow rightfully points out that gerrymandering in Red States is the only reason why the GOP held onto their control over the US House of Representatives this round, despite one million more citizens voting for Democratic candidates. The Republican Party openly admits this. Maddow never mentions the term Gerrymandering, but I have long pushed for a new look at this fiendishly evil practice.
Note that gerrymandering is not only about partisan advantage. It has also worked to radicalize our politics and it functions as a job-preservation scheme for entrenched politicians in both parties. That is, it worked for both sides until California voters rose up to banish gerrymandering,
At first, I opposed the measure, because I hoped for a negotiated deal -- to balance California against an equalizing move toward fair districts in - say - Texas and Michigan. But I was foolish and my neighbors were wise. California's reforms -- duplicated in a few other blue states -- had astonishing outcomes that you really need to understand.
Worth noting: this voter uprising has not occurred in even one red state. (So much for the vaunted fairness and independence of rural folk.) We've already seen that, without this blatant cheat, the peoples' will would have wrested control of the US House from the GOP. Indeed, Republican lawmakers in Pennsylvania and Wisconsin are desperate not to let it end. For if the district maps are ever re-drawn by non partisan commissions, or even randomized, their party will go extinct in those states.
It is in this context that the Republican Party now hopes to pull another fast one, with their plan for proportional allocation of electors in three or more bluish states. At one level, Maddow and the liberals... and all decent people with any sense of fairness and patriotism... should be outraged by a scheme of truly desperate villainy...
== When villains push a good idea, in an awful way ==
...but at another level, Maddow and company are way off-base. Dullards who are almost 5% as dogmatic as their opponents (yes, that bad), they exhibit no sense of history, proportion or strategy.
Because the villains in this piece are actually putting forward a very good idea!
There is no question that the "reform" they propose would be a vast improvement over today's standard electoral tradition of winner-takes-all, for allocating presidential electors. In fact, I have been campaigning for this reform for decades, shouting in the wilderness! (See: The Electoral College: A Surprisingly Easy Fix.)
Indeed you should note a fact that I have not seen any media report - that proportional allocation of electors is already used by Nebraska and Maine.
Do democrats have any memory? Recall the 2000 election? When their candidate Al Gore won the popular vote, and yet lost the electoral college (in highly dubious ways)? Winner-takes-all makes those travesties far more likely to happen, distorting Electoral College results and skewing them away from the popular vote. Moreover, winner-takes-all contorts and twists the whole election campaign, forcing the candidates to focus on just six or seven crucial "battleground states" instead of aiming their appeals nationwide.
There are no justifications for winner-takes-all. And hence, by proposing to end it in favor of a proportional or district-based alternative, the Pennsylvania and Wisconsin GOP are not suggesting an evil thing.
No, what makes what they are proposing an evil thing is when they say "let's only do it here!" Only in those few blue-tipping states where the GOP can impose its gerrymandered will. Only where it would reduce the totals of Democratic candidates. But heaven forbid we also do it in Texas and Utah and Indiana and Kentucky! Just as every single red state is gerrymandered up the wazoo, every one of them will hold fast to winner-takes-all.
The thing Rachel Maddow should be mocking is not proportional distribution of electors, which is a good idea. What merits utter scorn is a blatant effort to say "one set of rules for us and a harder set for you." They are cheaters. Simple and plain.
Moreover, thanks to California and some other blue states, the GOP can no longer claim "everybody cheats." No, it is you guys. Top to bottom. Cheaters.
== Will the be a solution? ==
In the sort term, there are palliative measures to try. In 2014 the whole nation's attention should go to elections in half a dozen states. The people in those states must rise up, seize back their rights. End gerrymandering. And not just Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and other electoral tipping points.
It must happen in New York and the rest of Blue America! The Democrats' totals improved after neutral redistricting in California, which showed that giving up this immature and vile cheat need not hurt them in their bastions. Then, once it becomes a truly red vs blue distinction - with only one party standing up for gerrymandering - take the matter to the people.
And take it to Court.
We can hope that by then President Obama will have a couple of more Supreme Court appointments. If so, then these travesties will end, at long last. As they should, when decent and genuinely constitution-loving justices face the plain fact that gerrymandering is a crime, a direct violation of our civil rights. Indeed, it is nothing less than clear and knowing treason.
When that day comes, the radicals (at both partisan extremes) will lose and we may restore a republic run by pragmatic, moderate women and men, capable of reason and science and negotiating with one another.
== Other Political Matters ==
Aaaaaaaand they're off! The 2016 race for presidential nominations has begun. Folks are calling Florida's Marco Rubio a front runner with a lot of plusses -- bright, handsome, articulate and popular in pivotal Florida... and hispanic. The last part is a biggie, as Bill O'Reilly and others finally admit "we have a major demography problem."
Oh, but let's not be dazzled. Rubio is still a 21st Century Republican, which is a very different species from Goldwater or Buckley. Thus even over so simple a matter as how old the Earth is, he says the words "I'm not a scientist" as if they mean "science is arcane and irrelevant." This is the country on Earth that has by far the highest level of adult science literacy -- yes, the United States of America -- where the highest fraction of adults know basic things... like the fact that the Earth is over four billion years old, a fact that Rubio called open to question. Eventually, we will wake up and start laughing at such dopes. And their "base." That is when the grownup Republicans might finally re-emerge.
Oh, but not for a while, yet. You have it from me here and now. Two words. Mike Huckabee.
Charming, humorous, self-effacing, smart, slippery, friendly, affably likable, and sincere. Blatantly sincere. Terrifyingly sincere. He sat this one out... the surest IQ test for any GOP politician. Do I need to remind you the list of whack-a-moles who Mitt Romney successively stomped, or who assassinated themselves with their own mouths, during the 2012 primaries? A field of morons that has now been swept aside for the real comers to have their turn in 2012, when the rhythms and odds will be harsh for any democrat?
Yes, watch Rubio, Martinez, Christie and others. Each of them much smarter than all of the 2012 aspirants. And let's hope they spend the next four years loosening Rupert Murdoch's grip on the GOP, veering it from the Cliffs of Insanity, back toward the conservatism of Goldwater and Buckley. It will make them harder to beat! But I am still rooting for them to succeed anyway. Because some of us do remember Nehemia Scudder. And Mike Huckabee can (I believe) charm his way right into the White House. At which point nobody (not even Rupert Murdoch) has the slightest idea what he would do.
As for the Old Guard? Read about how poleaxed and surprised Mitt Romney and especially his Wall Street supporters were, that he lost. The interviewer asks a very good question: "All the polls, all the models, all the betting markets said he was likely to lose. How did a group of people who, in their jobs, have to be willing to read and respond to disappointing data convince themselves to ignore every piece of data we had?" The implication is either that (1) these guys are nowhere near as smart as they think they are, or that (2) they truly believed that polls and voting patterns were irrelevant. That they had an ace in the hole.
Possibility #1 is truly scary, since these fellows run the economy... though we've seen ample evidence for it across a decade or more of incompetence. Still might #2 belong on the table? Given that several vital electoral swing states used electronic voting machines, made by GOP operatives, without the slightest ability to audit results?
Did some operative chicken out, or discover patriotism? (As I publicly called on "henchmen" to do?)
== Science weeps =
Tea Party senatorial candidates (and troglodytes) Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock were not anomalies, alas. It seems that every anti-science cultist in the U.S. House of Representatives GOP Caucus is eager to join the House Science Committee, packing it not only with Climate Change denialists, but men (entirely males) who proclaim the Earth to be six or nine thousand years old, who repeat bizarre theories about rape, who decry vaccination, who rail against genetic research and who denounce sciences as diverse as geology, ecology and meteorology. Do not blame the people. As we saw above, the total number of national votes for the two major parties' congressional candidates was not won by the GOP. Blame Gerrymandering. Then get mad and do something.
But there is movement elsewhere. That core institution of international capitalism, the World Bank, has issued a major report examining the likely economic outcomes (mostly disastrous) expected from Global Climate Change.
== So, is Obama actually as science-friendly as he sounds? ==
"If, in fact, you do make contact with Martians, please let me know right away," he said in the call. "I've got a lot of other things on my plate, but I suspect that that will go to the top of the list. Even if they're just microbes, it will be pretty exciting."
"What you've accomplished embodies the American spirit, and your passion and your commitment is making a difference," he said."'Curiosity' is going to be telling us things that we did not know before and laying the groundwork for an even more audacious undertaking in the future, and that's a human mission to the Red Planet."
-- President Barack Obama during a congratulatory telephone call to the NASA team behind the Mars "Curiosity" rover.
Well. That sounds tentatively science friendly. At least in comparison to...