Monday, November 21, 2005

Civic Engagement: Do Republican "bad times" and our best efforts make Democratic victories any more obtainable?

According to scholars Paul Pierson and Jacob Hacker, Democrats have an uphill battle to become the national majority party, even when, as now, there is broad discontent towards the Republican party on the part of the general populace.

I'm making this part the third addition to my blog series on civic engagement, because the analyses by Pierson and Hacker should be a guiding force for where some of our priorities should be as Democratic activists to overcome Republican power in the next several years.

Pierson is best known for his work Dismantling of the Welfare State? which suggests that despite the political onslaught against it in the 1980s, the modern social welfare state survived the era of Thatcherism and Reaganism, and Hacker for The Divided Welfare State which explores the reasons for America's ambivalence towards public benefits. Both books came in handy when I was writing a research paper last year comparing European health care systems to the U.S. system because they made a point of separating rhetoric from reality and taking a close look at the attributes of the governments studied.

Pierson and Hacker, who opined soon after George W. Bush's 2004 election that the president nevertheless lacked a mandate are now supplementing a response with why it will be difficult for Democrats to maintain a majority, and it's not merely our own fault.

For one, their analysis proves once again that there needs to be a legal movement in our party to repeal the arcane Electoral College based upon the 14th Amendment. Here's why:
Republicans enjoy a lead right out of the starting blocks thanks to the geographic structure of American elections. In the Senate, Republicans have a tremendous built-in edge because small states, which lean Republican, are so overrepresented. As a result, Democrats can win a majority of votes nationwide and still not gain control. In the last three Senate elections, as the political journalist Hendrik Hertzberg has pointed out, Democrats have actually received 2.4 million more votes than Republicans, yet the G.O.P. has won 11 more seats. The Senate's 55 Republicans represent 131 million people (assuming each senator represents half a state's population); its 44 Democrats represent 161 million.

We also need to fight Republican gerrymandering, as suggested by Pierson and Hacker's assertion that the House district layout is also slanted against a Democratic majority:
Surprisingly, the electoral battlefield is also quite tilted in the House. Congressional districts are roughly equal in population. But Republicans are helped by the fact that Democratic voters are more tightly packed together. In 2004, for example, Bush won 50.7 percent of the popular vote. But because he typically lost by large margins in Democratic districts and won by smaller margins in Republican districts, he came out ahead in nearly 59 percent of the nation's Congressional districts. By the same token, the Republicans could retain control of the House next year even if the majority of voters cast their ballots for Democratic candidates. Meanwhile, the G.O.P. has padded its lead by aggressively redrawing the Congressional map.

...And make real campaign-finance laws that address the fact that the huge Republican financial war chest is part of a vicious circle that allows the party of the rich, to legislate for the rich and in turn remain well-endowed by the rich:
Between 1974 and 2002, the amount spent by successful House challengers rose from $100,000 (in 2002 dollars) to $1.5 million. And money isn't equally distributed between the parties. Over the last decade, Republicans have cultivated close ties to deep-pocketed donors and special-interest groups. They have also developed a highly institutionalized system of intercandidate giving, in which party members and their PAC's donate to other Republicans to keep the majority in power.

And how do the Republicans keep members of their party in power in moderate districts?
After the leadership has assured itself that a controversial bill will pass, moderate Republicans are released to cast highly publicized votes of "conscience." This is one reason why so many big bills end up magically squeaking through with no votes to spare.

This strategy explains why my home district's Republican Congressman Mark Kirk, who largely votes with Bush but represents a district that went for Kerry 52%-48 voted against drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge a couple of weeks ago.

And though Democrats have been lambasted by everyone from their opponents, to the mainstream media to members of their own party for not having ideas, Republican ideas are much easier to take notice of judging by the size of their figurative podium:
All this calls into question the ubiquitous complaints that the Democrats' ineptitude is what mainly accounts for G.O.P. dominance. Democrats are right to be rethinking their strategies. But what they face isn't the old game of give-and-take. Instead, it's a game that Rick Santorum explained candidly in 2003: "This idea that somehow or other. . .everybody has a seat at the table all the time, it's just not the way this place operates. The majority means something. It means that you win."

This article is a good read, and I look forward to reading more in Pierson and Hacker's new book Off Center: The Republican Revolution and the Erosion of American Democracy.

1 comment:

william t nelson said...

We also need to fight Republican gerrymandering, as suggested by Pierson and Hacker's assertion that the House district layout is also slanted against a Democratic majority

That's why Arnold S's ballot proposition was a great idea.