How we got here

Sitting here and listening to the news about the government shutdown made me think about something I posted on another blog a day or two ago.  What we’re currently witnessing in Washington DC should not be a surprise to anyone.  This is nothing more than the culmination of over 100 years of self-segregation and polarization of our political beliefs.

Post Civil-War, there were Liberal Republicans and Conservative Democrats by the boatloads.  Liberal Republicans helped get the first Black Americans elected to Congress representing states from the South.  Not long after that, the Lily White Movement began the start of pushing liberals out of the GOP.  Further alienation from within the GOP came during the Great Floods of ’27 when Herbert Hoover completely dismissed a report from Robert Moton on the treatment of Blacks who helped protect Mississippi towns from floods.

On the opposite side, Liberal Democrats held a rather uneasy alliance with Conservative Southern Democrats until the desegregation of different institutions began.  Southern Democrats transformed themselves several times to include calling themselves Dixiecrats before many of them became Republicans on down the line.

At the same time, both parties have continuously focused on obtaining that super-majority in DC.  That meant that redistricting after the census was the way to ensure they didn’t lose control while slowing down the opposition at the same time.  Over time, we’ve arrived to the Congressional representation that we presently have.

On the Right, you have people unwilling to compromise because they’re “doing the will of their constituents”.  The same can be said by the Reps on the Left.  That is likely more true than not.  However, when districts are drawn up to where they are over-represented by one ideological group, it is very easy to enter the realm of the tone-deaf.  When you’re safe in that cocoon, you don’t have to worry about anything other than a primary challenger.  You don’t have to give a crap about what the country wants, just as long as you do what’s necessary to get re-elected.  When I read analysis from Nate Silver, that let me know that my thoughts were not likely my own.

In 1992, there were 103 members of the House of Representatives elected from what might be called swing districts: those in which the margin in the presidential race was within five percentage points of the national result. But based on an analysis of this year’s presidential returns, I estimate that there are only 35 such Congressional districts remaining, barely a third of the total 20 years ago.

Instead, the number of landslide districts — those in which the presidential vote margin deviated by at least 20 percentage points from the national result — has roughly doubled. In 1992, there were 123 such districts (65 of them strongly Democratic and 58 strongly Republican). Today, there are 242 of them (of these, 117 favor Democrats and 125 Republicans).

Knowing how we got here is one thing.  Knowing how to untangle this knot of numptiness is something completely different.  This shutdown was more than 50 years in the making.  Based on electioneering, it will be another 50 years before we can untangle this crap.  As long as we’re surrounded by binary thinkers who only see ideology, we’re screwed.  This crisis will simply be replaced by the next bigger and more devastating one.  I don’t want my generation to be the one where America goes from Superpower to Super laughingstock, but as long as the idiots are in control, I may as well get my popcorn and watch the show.


One thought on “How we got here

  1. Lots of interesting things covered here.

    As a sidebar, anybody interested in the 1927 floods should read Rising Tide by John M Barry. It’s actually a great book about the Mississippi and man’s attempts to control it, throughout our history and it does get deep into the 1927 flood and everything that went on.

    I agree with you that both parties are now litmus test parties. If you lean to the center or left as a Republican, you’re a RINO, and if you lean to the center or the right as a Democrat, you’re a Dixiecrat if you’re from the South and a Blue Dog if you’re from somewhere else. (see any blog to confirm this).

    The point about Gerrymandering is interesting and I agree that it contributes to the polarization. It’s always gone on and always will but it’s been taken to a level where the minority party (whichever it happens to be at the time) horse trades to get “safe seats”, so you have few districts that are 50/50 or anywhere near. The object of it all it to protect incumbents, of every stripe.

    Several years back, Bill Shipp used to point out how the computer era had contributed to this. With all the new programs, they could do a better job of slicing and dicing, since they had better demographic info than they used to have. Ah, progress. 😆

    On the bright side, such as it is, if you get away from blogs, opinion columns, TV discussion shows, and politicians, and just talk to members of the Great Unwashed, you’ll find a lot less polarization and a lot of folks who think they all suck. Politicians, especially the national politicians are so far removed from the average working stiff that they are clueless. I had a conversation a while back with a local guy I know, whose views are about 180 degrees from mine and he made the remark, “They have no idea how people like us live”. And that’s a large part of the problem, in my eyes.

    As for the shutdown, it’s just a game that both sides are playing and the object is to position themselves for 2014. When it gets to the debt ceiling deadline, just like they always do, they’ll cut some kind of deal and both sides will claim victory and it’ll be forgotten until the next time it comes up………..and on and on.

    None of them will suffer any real fallout from it and if, on the off chance, they lose an election, they can just get a K Street lobbying job and make some real $$$$$.


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