It is reliably estimated that after all the district lines are established for the Congressional elections of 2012 there will be 20 of 435 districts that will be truly competitive in the election. Obviously there will be more contested but only some twenty may actually be drawn fairly enough to result in a real contest. In the past ten years, 78% of the House of Representatives seats did not see a change in the party of the persons elected.
Reapportionment is only one way that the political establishment, now owned by the money establishment, controls who can enter government. Ever since Gov. Elbridge Gerry (later Vice President of the US) vetoed a Massachusetts apportionment bill with a district that on a map looked like a salamander giving rise to the cartoon that called it a Gerrymander, the House district lines have been subject to chicanery. The state legislatures have used race and politics to gerrymander Congressional districts. Using the one man - one vote injunction of the Supreme Court the political establishment has, created districts using the real criteria of 1) protecting the incumbents and 2) protecting the incumbent party, defending them as needed to meet population parameters. Because the Supreme Court has ruled that political based apportionment is not a basis for a Court to reject a state’s plan, and with the added fact that the African American vote and registration is overwhelmingly of one party, it has been easy to reapportion districts along political and racial lines contending that only the former is being used
Since the Supreme Court ruled that the one man - one vote concept must be applied to state legislatures the prior use of local boundaries when mapping state districts has been replaced by purely political criteria. In some states popular outcry has caused the political establishment to implement “non partisan” reapportionment. Pennsylvania claims to have that, although a party able to control both houses will control the 5 member reapportionment commission. There is as a matter of act almost no truly non partisan redistricting at either the Congressional or state legislative level.
If you make the election outcome evident even before the campaign you reduce interest, you reduce willingness to run against an incumbent and you reduce the turnout. The radical right wing Tea Party Republicans, to ensure their continuing control, are working tirelessly in the states they dominate to guarantee that rigged electoral districts can’t be punctured. They are doing so by passing laws to discourage voting and reduce the turnout among low income, minority and young voters - three demographics that currently vote Democrat. Photo ID, restrictions on Early Voting, reduction in the number of polling places, restricting the use of provisional ballots -- all these are process changes designed to further rig the outcome of the elections in favor of the right wing controlled Republican party.
Old fashioned voter suppression still goes on. Voters are challenged outside and inside the polling place in the hope they will go home. Last minute polling place locations are made to confuse the infrequent voters. And voters are told they will be more likely to be called to jury duty or have their backgrounds and records checked.
Once the districts are rigged and the size of the electorate reduced with turnout suppressed than inordinate amounts of money are spent, now allowed uncontrollably by the most outrageous Supreme Court decision of this century (Citizens United), to get out the establishments controlled vote.
One of the reasons that the Tea Party movement and now the Occupy/99% movement has scared establishment figures is that they represented people who were somewhat outside the existing activist groups. So the right wing Republicans using their access to funds co-opted the Tea Party movement by creating the Tea Party Express (Dick Armey sponsored operation) and aided the Tea Party folks in taking over the Republican Party. The only question about the Occupy/99% movement is whether the protesters will use the Democratic party ( many of the Occupiers have voted Democrat; if anything they are more populist than the Democratic party establishment) to engage in electoral politics.
So what is the future of Democracy in America, the birthplace of the idea that a modern and a large country can be ruled by its own people? Will the tactics that allow an establishment to control the democratic processes effectively kill democracy? Or, will the people, as they did in the 1840's, the 1890's and the 1960's rise up and demand more and true reforms of democracy?
Many countries have faced serious threats to their democracies in their history. France a number of times has had to reinvent its republic. Russia and China had brief periods of democracy before being taken over by Communists. Some would argue that the Russian return to democracy is already being short circuited. And of course everyone knows what happened to the German experiment in democracy known as the Weimar Republic and what followed it.
Wither America? We face a fork in the road. Down one road lies the control of an oligarchy or plutocracy, the submission of 99% to 1% and perhaps ultimately the violence of revolution and civil war not based on political issues but on class differences. Down the other road, that most often taken by this country, lies a body politic wherein compromise and agreement are not dirty words but a way of governing; where the influence of money in politics is controlled rather than it doing the controlling; where the people make the decisions and the majority rules, with respect for the political and personal rights of the minority and the recognition by both that on any one given issue they may be in the position of the other.
American democracy has worked -- it can work again - But only if we Trust the People.
22 Nov. 2011