My Side of the Fence

The danger isn't going too far. It's that we don't go far enough.

Politics, baby

Been a slow summer for posting.  I've been very busy at work and have been traveling quite a bit.  I wanted to write just a brief bit about local politics and then some about the demise of the Republican party.

First off, upon my return from Boston (what a great city), I went to a get together with some friends from college.  Some I had seen more recently than others but one of them came up and asked if I was running for office again!  I was a bit taken aback!  Folks, the Republican convention is still a year away let alone the election!  I've kicked this around in my own skull a bit but any decision to run for office would be a family decision.  That sounds tired but it is quite true: Is everyone still up for 3-ish nights away from home each week?  Everyone still up for the workload?  Everyone (and I mean everyone, people even attack your children) still up to occasionally be attacked by some anonymous coward on a blog or newspaper comment section?  It's a decision everyone has to participate in and I haven't the foggiest where we are on that.  Probably won't know until after the budget next year.

The Washington Post (the ambulance chaser of newspapers if there ever was one) is running daily features on how the Republican party is "tearing itself apart."  The libertarians are gunning for so and so and he, in return is hammering them on the Sunday circuit.  Honestly, I don't see this as the precursor to the dissolution of the party.  It's mainly an attempt for the Post to stay relevant and sell digital subscriptions.  

The Tea Party, the Paul crazies and all the rest represent the disaffected of the republican party and they are seeking to adjust the party's course by independent action.  The same thing happens in Manassas, it just doesn't end up on the evening news.  We have a socially/fiscally conservative block in Manassas that doesn't want to spend money on anything – they do not support government spending above the absolute bare necessity.  That group has elected to gather their own candidates and ram them through the republican convention in order to get the change they want.  Some fault them for that, I say good on 'em.  I don't agree with most of their priorities: it's not local governments job to shutter abortion clinics, for instance, but I don't think that block of voters evil or anything of the sort: it's their priority, I have different priorities.  They're using the system to get the changes they want.  Some day soon an Independent or Democrat will show up on a general election ballot in order to do the same thing.

Honestly, this dialog starts every couple of years in advance of the presidential political process starting.  This is how we figure things out in both parties, well in advance of adopting a "platform".  I'm not sure why parties adopt a formal platform at the convention anyway, the candidates do whatever they want after nomination.  I suppose it gives the political geeks and bloggers something to haggle about in the absence of actual news but it hardly seems to matter once the convention business is settled.  It isn't as though many of those delegates are going to change horses until the actual convention voting starts.  Sarah Palin supporters were never going to abandon her or support a democrat because of a plank in the parties platform and the platforms don't change much, if at all.  Both parties still screech about the same things these days as they did in days past.  The big difference is that in days past the politicians in Washington actually governed.  Nowadays they're far too busy tweeting pictures of themselves and working 3 days a week in Washington to be bothered.  Not that I'm bitter about the state of affairs in Washington…

My daughter asked me the other day what I thought was wrong with Washington.  That's a question that you would normally expect a quick answer to: "it's the lib-tards, democraps, republi-tards, Paul-crazies, etc, etc, etc, etc.  I think it a far more basic and serious problem: it's how we draw districts.  Think about it: how is it that Congress is less popular than urinal cakes but most of the members are re-elected?  It's because none of them have serious challengers and that's because, just like in Virginia, the districts are gerrymandered to hell.  I mean, I like Frank Wolf but that is a pretty neatly delineated district.  Nice pipe stem to the south to pick up Republican votes in Manassas!  What does Manassas have in common with Winchester or Front Royal?  zero, that's what.  If that district was drawn honestly it would get to just west of Manassas and stop.  The people in Front Royal and Winchester are fine folks.  I visit them with some regularity and I love those towns but PWC and its surrounds have completely different drivers.  Wouldn't you think that Woodbridge and Manassas are "communities of common interest"?  I'd certainly think that, especially if Manassas is pooled together with Winchester.  Redistricting is being left to the politicians and it is a mistake.  All districts should be drawn by non-partisan (if there is such a thing) groups, not by politicians and judges.  I don't mean to pick on Frank Wolf but it's just the district I'm most familiar with.  I'm sure that our state maps have about the same fantastical (non-brain eating) amoeba shapes as well and here they are:  link     Interesting stuff.

For those of you that think I'm fulla stuff, I'd invite an alternative explanation.  See, these districts have two sides.  The first is pretty favorable:  when your entire district is drawn to lean republican or democrat by a couple of percentage points, you really don't have to run for office much past the first time.  You can spend the next 20 years in office and really never do anything to get re-elected except avoid tweeting r-rated pictures to strangers (although hiking the Appalachian trail has proven popular in South Carolina.  Voters there promote you for infidelity and half-truths).  The big danger to the office holder in these wildly gerrymandered districts is a challenge from the more extreme wing of your party and that'll come in the form of a primary challenge.  "Well, old so an' so voted for gun control in the wake of that shooting that resulted in 30 elementary school kids dying.  He's weak on gun control!"  And off to the races you go.  That tough vote might upset your little gravy train that you fought hard to establish that first election.  Why would you compromise?  You're in Congress or the State House!! 

Now, certainly there are legislators who make the hard votes and do the hard work but it's a dying breed.  Many sigh wistfully and wish for the "good old days" when Tip O'Neil and Ron Reagan would fight like dogs during the day and have a drink to iron it all out every now and then.  People are right to rue the loss of that kind of leadership but with the current (and ongoing) districting, you aren't going to get leaders like that again.  Our current leadership is a product of this process and it's safe to say that Boehner and McConnell, Reed and Pelosi are shadows of our former leadership.  As for the President, he didn't completely botch things in his first term but he is an awful leader.  He has managed to squander the most powerful bully pulpit since Reagan's first term and we're all poorer for it.  The slow motion train wreck called the Affordable Care Act is evidence enough.  That should have been a meet in the middle proposition all along.  Instead, we're left with something nobody really understands and, by extension, wants.  Really, they should all be locked in stocks and flogged but, aside from Mr. Obama, they'll be re-elected until they've calcified to the point that they can't actually move from their home districts.  Hard to beat someone like Pelosi from a gerrymandered San Francisco district……


  1. Andy, I hope you will continue to do beer summits or get togethers at Grounds Central Station — whether your family decision is to run again or not. You have always been encouraging of civic engagement. And thanks to you and the council for investing in the arts. A Gainesville author, Linda S. Johnston, is launching her new book, Hope Amid Hardship: Pioneer Voices from the Kansas Territory, on Aug. 17 at the Candy Factory. She could have chosen a Gainesville venue, but went with one in the city's arts and tourism district. Earnie Porta's Tour of Prince William – Tour of the Towns tomorrow is bringing in 40% participants from outside PWC for a pit stop at the Manassas Museum (mile 83 on the century bicycle ride) with its Echoes store full of books and artwork by local authors and artists.  Dancer Suzanne Farrell, in the documentary "Never Stand Still"  said that "In Europe, in early America, when towns were being settled, the first thing they built was the city hall for governance. Then they built a church for their souls.  And then they built a theatre for their hearts."

  2. I looked at Pelosi's 12th district in California.  It doesn't looked gerrymandered to me at all.  It is the compact tip of the San Francisco pennisula and water.  Compared to our own district, Nancy's is a perfect square.  Find another Dem to use as an example of gerrymandering.

  3. Andy, term limits would help solve this problem, not that either party will push to pass such a bill. I also think that another one of the issues that upsets voters is the hypocritical nature of congress. If the Affordable Health Care Act is such a good thing, why did congress vote to exempt themselves and their staffers from the Act just before they went on vacation? Shame on all of them.  

  4. Andy,
    I think your analysis is exactly correct.  Only 17% of Americans are happy with Congress (which means even their moms are starting to waiver), yet almost none of them are worried about losing in the general election next year.  Moreover, legislators' odds of losing in their primaries go up considerably if they are nice to the other Party.  Gridlock is, therefore, a very smart political survival strategy.
    As for gerrymandered Democratic districts, look to Illinois, Massachusetts, Maryland or Minnesota.  Both Parties do it equally well.

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