Let me expand a bit on my earlier comments about redistricting reform.
For most of the time I've been actively interested in politics I've been at best skeptical about a lot of what you might call good government reformism. Part of that is just temperamental. To the extent there's substance behind it, I've always felt that there's a strain of 'goo-goo' reform which puts procedural cleanliness over substantive good results for ordinary citizens -- effective provision of services, real representation of different interests in society, and so forth.
Hovering behind these ideas is a recognition that there were strong anti-democratic tendencies in the original Progressive movement, though they did not define the entirety of it. And most important, I think if you look back over the history of the US, our most effective reforms have not come in complex regulatory regimes but in systems which effectively balance different powers and interests against each other. And that still makes me less than a total optimist about the potential of effective campaign finance reform.
All that said, though, sometimes the ship of state just gets too overrun with barnacles and the whole thing has to be scraped clean. And we're clearly at one of those points. One needn't indulge utopian fantasies about abolishing government corruption or dealing a death blow to the power of monied interests in politics. All that is necessary is a recognition that reform is a cyclical process needed to keep the government healthy and functioning. And we're overdue for real reform.
Gerrymandering has been around, literally, since the country began. But I'm persuaded by the argument that computers and data technologies have substantially increased the ability of those in power to shape districts to perpetuate their power.
The real proof though is the sclerotic House of Representatives. Set aside the fact that it's now controlled by a corrupt Republican machine. The House is designed to be the part of the federal government most responsive to the changing views of the public. But it's pretty clear that that role has now been taken over by the senate. I think there's probably a decent argument that more seats are in play in the senate in most cycles these days than in the House -- not just in percentage terms but in absolute terms too. And that's just crazy. The power of money in politics is more tied up with that of non-competitive districts than we might think.
Already this morning I've had a reader write in to tell me that the problem isn't gerrymandering but the increasing trend toward geo-communal self-segregation. Liberals move where there are lots of liberals; conservatives do the same, etc. I don't doubt that's part of it. But I don't think that explains it all either. And if it is a big part of the equation, perhaps we need to rejigger the redistricting calculus a bit to inject some more play into the system.
Tell me what you think.