• Blame the gerrymander
    September 30,2013

    In their vigorous drive to sabotage not just Obamacare but the president they blame for its adoption in 2010, Republicans in the House of Representatives are claiming that they are acting on behalf of the American people.

    “The American people don’t want a government shutdown, and they don’t want Obamacare,” House Republican leaders declared. “We will do our job and send this bill over, and then it’s up to the Senate to pass it and stop a government shutdown.”

    Did these Republican leaders forget — or not even notice — that in 2012, two years after passage of the Affordable Care Act, the American people re-elected President Barack Obama? Do they seriously believe the American people don’t notice their illogical and viscerally partisan posturing?

    Well, given the way congressional districts are drawn, the Republicans believe they have a reasonable practical strategy. The most conservative members of Congress are playing to the folks back home who sent them to Washington, and even their more moderate colleagues have caved in to their demands.

    The problem arises when these extremists cynically translate the wishes of a majority of their own constituents into a national consensus.

    Blame it on gerrymandering, the almost amusing name attached to the process of creating voting districts in the states. The odd name arises from an 1812 law enacted by Gov. Elbridge Gerry of Massachusetts that created new legislative districts that, to some imaginative minds, were shaped like a salamander. It was just one short step from salamander to gerrymander.

    “Gerrymandering has been condemned because it violates two basic tenets of electoral apportionment — compactness and equality of size of constituencies,” the Encylopedia Britannica observes. “A U.S. Supreme Court ruling of 1964 stated that districts should be drawn to reflect substantial equality of population. However, using studies of regional voting behaviour, the majority parties in certain state legislatures continue to set district boundaries along partisan lines without regard for local boundaries or even contiguity.”

    And thus the American people today find themselves facing another shutdown — the first in 17 years — of their federal government because, frankly, there seems little reason to believe that the Senate and the House can find common ground as both pursue their competing political goals.

    In the minds of those who recognize that not only was the Affordable Care Act approved three years ago, but also that President Obama was re-elected — despite or perhaps even because of his role in the law’s creation — House Speaker John Boehner’s capitulation to the wishes of the more extremely conservative members of his domain was a huge disappointment.

    And perhaps even more vexing to many moderates was House Majority Leader Eric Cantor — unlike the often genial Boehner, Cantor exhibits few personal traits that make him likeable — declaring Saturday that “we will do everything we can to protect Americans against the harmful effects of Obamacare. This bill does that. We’re united in the House as Republicans.”

    The bill Cantor cited was passed in the House in the early hours of Sunday morning after a stormy debate. It would delay the implementation of the health care measure for another year and repeal a tax to pay for it, and it was presented to the Senate as the House’s price for avoiding the government shutdown.

    Republicans act as if they can’t accept the fact they lost at the polls in 2012, and they often appear guided more by their abundant contempt for Obama than by sensible politics.

    The cure? Require the states to abide by the 1964 Supreme Court ruling that should mercifully end gerrymandering.

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