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Gerrymander Or Die!

With all the good election news, the fact that the Republicans will take over the House, puts at damper on it. Pragmatically it means that Democrats will not be able to pass any meaningful bills for the next two years, starting in January. People can fantasize about “working together,” “finding common ground,” but does anyone really think that what is an even further to the Right group of House Republicans than before, is going to work with Democrats on anything good? I certainly do not.

And the primary goal of these people will be to damage President Biden first, and then the entire Democratic Party. They will take as their template the endless Benghazi hearings, which Kevin McCarthy admitted were only to damage Hillary Clinton’s popularity ratings. You can be sure that whichever MAGA fanatic gets to chair the House Judiciary Committee, will create nonstop hearings on all sorts of their enemies. They have no constraints and boundaries, and they will go after everybody, And Fox and CNN will cover all of it.

Now, this will all be sound and fury; it will be inane, and disgraceful, and appalling. But that’s what they will do, because they can’t do anything else. They can’t get any bills through, the Senate won’t take them up. They could certainly threaten not to raise the debt ceiling, but with a House margin of no more than 221-214, they are unlikely to be able to do it.

Some might try to make the best of this, by saying that it will be entertaining to watch Republicans fight each other, but I am not of that opinion. It will keep us from having the opportunity to to do great things, such as perhaps getting a Voting Rights Bill through; maybe even limiting the terms of Supreme Court Justices, or adding seats to the Court. We cannot do any of that, since we need control of both the House and Senate to pass meaningful bills. Things certainly could have been much worse, and we are glad that they are not. But losing the House is still a big disappointment.

That brings me to the most crucial reason, in fact the “outcome determinative” reason, why Democrats lost the House. It is gerrymandering. Yes, there were some mistakes made by the DCCC, and in certain states’ leadership. But the fact is that had it not been for Republicans’ nonstop gerrymandering of districts in every single state where they have the power to do it, Democrats would have won enough seats to keep control. How many more? I would say 15-20, but statistical experts could be more precise about it.

The thing which absolutely infuriates me, is that Democrats have essentially let the Republicans do this to them, by virtually giving up the right to gerrymander in states where they have the power to do so. This has gone on for twenty years or so. Democrats used to gerrymander, and I was glad that they did, since Republicans did. But then Democrats began to cede this power to redistrict, and leave it to nonpartisan commissions to do it. That might seem noble, or a statement about how things should be done, but in the real world, it simply gives the Republicans more House seats.

This is really simple. The goal of the Democrats should be to win as many seats as possible. Not by cheating or suppressing the vote, as Republicans do. That is a scruple that the Democrats can hold on to. But giving up their right to gerrymander, is about the stupidest and self-destructive thing I have ever seen in the realm of politics.

I don’t watch Alex Wagner’s show on MSNBC, but I turned it on Tuesday night because Gretchen Whitmer was advertised as a guest. She was was impressive, as always. But Wagner, who I am sure means well, asked her if she was going to call for every state with a Democratic governor to have their districts drawn by an independent commission. I wanted to ask her if she ever took any mathematics courses. Maybe she and other people who think this way, would realize that if Republicans gerrymander their states to squeeze every possible seat out of them, no matter how ludicrous or racially biased the districts are drawn; and Democrats leave it to neutral commissions, Republicans will essentially steal crucial House seats. This should be absolutely obvious. But far too many Democrats would rather hold onto an inappropriate sense of virtue, than actually try to help the American people by doing everything legal to win and hold power.

I was trying to think of analogies. I like analogies, but it is hard to come up with one that captures this pathetic situation. What if two people played high-stakes poker, head to head, and one of the players let their opponent look at his hand, and then throw three cards away and draw three more; while the “virtuous” player could not do that and had to play the cards he was originally dealt? What if a boxer whose opponent was hitting below the belt, and after the bell, just let him do it, without retaliating?

The reason that these analogies are not sufficient, is that the poker player or boxer or golfer is choosing to let his opponent have an unfair advantage. It’s his career and his money; so that he is the one who suffers from this misplaced honor. But in politics, the Democratic Party represents the hopes and livelihoods of tens of million of people, who are the ones who suffer as the result of Democrats thinking that not gerrymandering is the “right” way to do it, even while they are handing political power to the evil fascists who inhabit the Republican Party.

There is no excuse for this, and yet it continues. Let it go on, and Republicans will gain an impregnable hold of the House, as well as state legislatures. The only way the Democrats will ever win the House, is if there is a rare wave election as in 2018. In more ordinary periods, Republicans will just win the House through gerrymandering I saw Steve Kornacki of MSNBC, going over possible changes in the makeup of the House, a week ago, and he pointed to five districts which were clearly gerrymandered for Republicans and he said that these will be five more seats for Republicans at the outset; You simply cannot give up seats like this. but collectively, Democrats do, while Republicans gerrymander even more appallingly.

The Supreme Court, an arm of the Republican Party, ruled that states could essentially draw their districts any way they chose, giving free rein (it is not “free reign,” AOC and others who keep writing that), to Republicans to drastically gerrymander their districts. Democrats essentially say, “This would not be right,” so they let the neutral commissions draw theirs, the end result being that Republicans get an extra 10-20 seats. In this election, it was enough for them to take over the House. Democrats will gain a Senate seat, and did wonderfully well in Governor elections, but they will lose at least seven House seats. In 2020, they won the Presidential election, and two Senate seats, but lost about a dozen House seats. How is that? You can’t gerrymander gubernatorial or Senate seats, is how.

Democrats should wake up, and stop this incredibly self-destructive course. Get rid of the nonpartisan commissions, and start gerrymandering in the way that Republican are doing, and will do. The fascists are still not far from taking over the country, and “The People’s House” cannot be distorted by one party’s machinations to game the system, while the other party scrupulously will not use the tactic.

It was the brilliant French epigrammist La Rochefoucald who said that, “Hypocrisy is the tribute that vice pays to virtue.” That is all that virtue gets out of the deal, in that framing. Democrats have many things to be proud of. But desperately holding on to some idea of political virtue being more desirable than winning enough elections to be able to pass important legislation, and stop the fascists from holding power, is sheer willful foolishness and weakness. Purity on the political field gets you nowhere near enough to where you need to be. Democrats essentially handed the House to the most awful group this nation has ever seen, by not being willing to play the districting game the way they do. And it simply has to stop.