"There is always a philosophy for lack of courage."—Albert Camus

Monday, February 21, 2005

Jacoby on Gerrymandering

Jeff Jacoby had a very nice insight in his Boston Globe column of yesterday:

"The deepest and unhealthiest divide in American politics is not the one that separates Republicans from Democrats or conservatives from liberals. It is the gulf between Insiders and Outsiders -- between the incumbents who treat public office as private property and the increasingly neutered electorate in whose name they claim to act."

Jacoby points out that much of what Congress does, takes the form of an "incumbent protection racket"—which I would add is only to be expected, as long as those in Congress wield such a huge amount of power over the citizenry and indeed the condition of the entire world. When neither conscience nor the other branches of government can sufficiently restrain Congress, the great power of that body will create a huge amount of inertia.

Jacoby strongly criticizes the nearly univesal practice of gerrymandering, and rightly, as an important means by which legislators protect their positions. He correctly praises California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger for launching "a full-scale attack on redistricting abuse in his state, demanding that the power to draw election maps be taken from the legislature and turned over to a committee of retired judges." As Jacoby notes, what is particularly interesting—and courageous—about Schwarzenegger's plan is "there is nothing partisan about it. It doesn't empower Rs at the expense of Ds, or Ds at the expense of Rs. It empowers voters at the expense of politicians." As a result, Jacoby says, sixteen of the current twenty Caifornia Republican congresspersons oppose the governor's plan.

Jacoby reports that similar reforms are underway in several other states, which is a good trend indeed. He writes,

"An end to gerrymandering would be an extraordinary shot in the arm for American democracy, once again making legislative races exciting and responsive. This is the very best kind of government reform—the kind that can unite conservatives and liberals, Republicans and Democrats. No, honest redistricting won't turn real-life politics into a ninth grade civics class. But it will make it a lot more interesting and democratic than the farce we're stuck with now."

That is true, and it is why those currently holding legislative power will fight to the death to retain the current system or at least water down the proposed reforms. After all, state legislators hope to become members of Congress themselves, down the road. Any progress toward reform in this matter could have some real consequences.

1 comment:

Jay D. Homnick said...

Jeff Jacoby's sister and brother-in-law are personal friends of mine, and he and I e-mail each other occasionally. He is truly committed to truth and justice in the American way and like Michael Medved he is comfortable telling his audience that he is an Orthodox Jew.

His position on gerrymandering is principled and thoughtful, and one would expect such decent individuals as Mr. Karnick to be in agreement. As the old Yiddish saying goes: "If you go on a straight road, you meet good people."

As for Schwarzenegger, he has earned newfound respect with this move, unless some cynic can convince me that he has an ulterior motive.