Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Why Republicans Are Trapped by Gerrymandering

Much of the Republican Party's power today is the result of legislative gerrymandering, the drawing of electoral districts in Rorschach test-like patterns to include majorities of reliably Republican voters.  (See http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2013-03-19/republicans-win-congress-as-democrats-get-most-votes.html.)  Thus, the Republicans now control the House of Representatives.  But their gerrymandering has also trapped them in a time warp, and they are paying the price.

After last fall's loss of the Presidential election, Republicans are trying to figure out what went wrong in a contest they could have won.  One of the key conclusions seems to be that a party of, by and for old white guys doesn't have much curb appeal for America's demographically changing populace.  Many leading Republican voices now call for diversification.  But that won't be easy, with their feet caught in the bear trap of their own gerrymandering.

Many Republicans politicians, particularly those inclined toward tea parties, are sworn to uphold and defend, even with their cold, dead hands if necessary, values that resonate primarily with old, white guys.  If they start humming Kumbaya with anyone who doesn't party with tea, they'll be run out of office by people wielding old, white pitchforks.  Let's be clear:  if you represent a gerrymandered Republican district, you had damn well better look, sound and act like a Republican gerrymanderer.  If you start to go wobbly, expect your constituents' footprints all over your caboose the next time you run for re-election.

The fact that many Republican politicians are beholden to a very narrow constituency now limits their options.  It's a major reason why compromise in Washington is so difficult.  Republican leaders in Congress have very little negotiating latitude, and can't engage in the swaps and accommodations that comprise political compromises.  The upcoming deadlines--expiration of the federal government's funding on March 27 and the expiration of the debt ceiling on May 19--will probably be "resolved" with short term kicks of the can down the road.  The Republicans appear to be taking more of the blame for federal dysfunction than the Democrats, and they may have limited their own ability to do anything about it.

Although Democrats have some problems with gerrymandered limits, they are much more tolerant of a diversity of views within their party.  As the American populace diversifies, the flexibility of the Democratic Party could become perhaps its greatest asset, even while Republicans trash talk from their gerrymandered districts.

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