September 6, 2006

PGA: Redistricting

PGA: Redistricting

Chris’s Post-Game Analysis

We righteous folk from Massachusetts can’t address these “representative democracy” issues with any moral authority at all. We’re the home, after all, of Elbridge Gerry (1744 – 1814), father of the “gerrymander” (and ancestor of our ex-Congressman Gerry Studds). We have Democrats only in our Congressional delegation. Not enough Republicans run for the legislature to command a majority if all their hopeless candidates won. Three Massachusetts men have been US House Speakers in my lifetime — Joe Martin, a Republican, in the 1950s; then John McCormack and Tip O’Neill — precisely because the local tradition values seniority (and talent) hugely, and values “competitive districts” not at all.

What we can recommend, though, is a magnificent political writer, Walter Karp (1934 – 1989), and his several masterpieces on this general subject. My favorite in the Karp file — a cult favorite among political reporters of my generation, like Richard Reeves and Marty Tolchin — is a book titled Indispensable Enemies: the Politics of Misrule in America, still available in paperback at Amazon and elsewhere. It’s a long historical (and deliciously conspiratorial) argument that two-party politics has always been a fixed game and monstrous subversion of republican principles — a shared monopoly perfectly symbolized by (but not limited to) the control over districting. As Karp used to say: even compulsive gamblers in America don’t make bets (to speak of) on political races, because it’s almost always obvious (as it usually isn’t in baseball, boxing or horse-racing) that the outcome has been arranged beforehand. The arguments around Walter Karp still run hot and heavy online. Here, for example, is a fan like me. The promise, or the warning is: If you read Walter Karp, you will never get his “system” out of your head.

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