As some of you know, I am writing a book which will hit shelves next autumn. My co-author is named Alex Berezow, he is a Ph.D. in microbiology and edits the science arm of Real Clear Politics called Real Clear Science.
You can imagine that working together on a book means you have to have a lot in common; yet we are more complementary than similar. I am socially libertarian and fiscally conservative where he is socially more conservative and fiscally more liberal. It works. Two people who say the same things are basically creating an echo chamber but two people who don’t agree often find another viewpoint either hones thoughts and reaffirms a position or shows a person where they are wrong.
Alex, it’s time to do some homing.
His latest piece in USA Today is on election reform. He has a few ideas that will end gridlock and constant campaigning. Or not.
Suggestion 1. National Primary Day. This basically sounds okay except the ebb and flow of a campaign, like a baseball game, shouldn’t necessarily be rushed. Developments occur over the course of a campaign and the nomination process tests the mettle of candidates, similar to what will happen as president? How is it different from the campaign itself? In the case of the nomination process, it is friends and fellow party members trashing you, not so much the opposition. This is a maybe solution. Having a nomination over in one day doesn’t seem that great but maybe tradition is injecting some bias.
Suggestion 2. A Top Two Primary. Get rid of party primaries, he recommends. This will eliminate third party candidates and fringe ones too. I am not sure of the logic. We have gridlock because there are only two major parties so if the goal is to have less polar voting, third party candidates are a good thing.
It may work in his home state of Washington but only one party in California favors that; Democrats. Why? In an open primary like he suggests, in an overwhelmingly Democrat state like California, not only will Democrats get to choose their own candidate, they will get to choose the Republican one running against them. Think that sort of engineering won’t happen, dear reader? A top two primary eliminates the Naive Party from contention so you need to read some political history and get a clue. I mean that in the nicest possible way.
Suggestion 3. Eliminate the Electoral College. The Electoral College has always confused people. We don’t vote directly for president, we vote for a president and the delegates to the Electoral College actually vote him in. It makes a difference on occasion. In the election of 2000 Al Gore got more popular votes than George W. Bush but fewer electoral college votes. Why did the brilliant Founding Fathers, these genius men, come up with such an odd mechanism? The tyranny of the majority was the concern of the small states, that is also why each state gets two Senators. If a president is required to get electoral votes rather than gross votes, the candidate has to visit every state and appeal to its people. Each state has value and therefore the residents of each state, and their needs, have importance. In a popular vote, candidates don’t need to bother to campaign outside the top 5 states. And they won’t, which means we will have less participation, not more.
Getting rid of the electoral college is akin to stating Senators should be based on population; it ruins the chances for fair representation among smaller states. Tyranny of the majority, unless you want California and New York picking every president for the rest of our history.
Suggestion 4. End gerrymandering. Gerrymandering, based on the legacy of redrawing Massachusetts state senate election districts by governor Elbridge Gerry in 1812, sounds bad. Districts are drawn to keep a group together, sometimes to protect an incumbent.
California gets a lot of things wrong, but on this issue (along with Iowa), it is leading the nation. In 2010, voters approved Proposition 20, which wrestled control of congressional districting away from Sacramento and placed it in the hands of an unelected commission.
Sounds awesome, right? California has 53 seats in the House of Representatives. 19 are currently held by Republicans, 36%. Under the new maps drawn up by the California Citizens Redistricting Commission Republicans will be able to hold 12 unless the candidates switch to Democrat – that’s 22% of the Congressional seats, despite Republicans being 31% of California’s voters. How long will people bother to vote when it is a Soviet-style waste of time? It isn’t better for Democrats to have no election choices either, unless they happen to work for the government or a union.
The new districts also diminished the strength of Latino voters, who tend to be a little more in play for both parties than other minorities, and will force more of them to be Democrats. And blacks are hurt most of all, since even voting 100% as a bloc gives them basically no representation from California.
Result: white Democrats would have a 2/3rds majority in every part of state government, which means it would be one party rule and elections themselves would be pointless.
End to gerrymandering sounds like a terrific idea, except sometimes it is necessary, to prevent minorities from being run into the ground politically. A redistricting commission is a fine idea in a moderate state where political parties have reasonably equal representation. Yet in many cases artificial fairness is a pretense for doing the wrong thing. In 1861, a commission that had to determine whether to free slaves would have come up with an answer similar to what the commission in California has done. The minority, and America, would have lost in that case just like democracy loses when there is one party control.
Sorry Alex, California got this one wrong too, just like they did with electing Gray Davis, banning cigarettes and regulating deregulation of energy.