Thursday, October 07, 2004

This Sold House
Somebody give James Wolcott a cigar, because he's nailed it again:

... I have a lot of liberal friends who seem to hoping, praying for a Kerry win so that they can unplug from politics and stop worrying. But a Kerry win will be only the first victory in a long war to set the country and the world aright. Or at least prevent us from all getting flattened by conservatism unbound.

(The piece Wolcott links to in the context of this excerpt, while a little too florid and self-consciously radical for my tastes, also has one priceless quote: "John Kerry is not the answer to all our prayers. So far, he only provides an answer to one: that of Getting Bush out of there. A Bush victory would bring certain doom to the dying dream of authentic democracy whereas a Kerry victory would bring continued uncertainty: I choose uncertainty over certain doom.")

It's not too soon to think about the next battle in the "long war to set the country and the world aright." I humbly suggest that the Augean stable known as the U.S. House of Representatives would be a worthy site for that fight. The Boston Globe has had a great series running all week about just how things are currently done in that body--and who they're done for.

The most powerful man in that House, and I'd argue in the Republican Party, is Tom DeLay of Texas. As you might have heard, DeLay was "reprimanded" by the House Ethics Committee yesterday for the second time in six days--this time for "linking legislative actions to political donations" and for assigning federal officials to search for those Democratic state legislators who had left the state in an effort to block DeLay's redistricting scheme last year. The previous wrist slap was for DeLay's action last year in the Medicare prescription drug fiasco, when he tried to persuade a retiring Republican Congressman, Nick Smith of Michigan, to support the measure by promising to help Smith's son win his father's seat.

I keep waiting for the Democrats to "make him famous," the same way they did with Newt Gingrich from 1995-98. DeLay really should be the swing voter villain from Central Casting. Between his bizarre and scary rhetoric and his unapologetic water-carrying for big bid'ness, it's hard to imagine anyone outside the South seeing him as even remotely sympathetic or admirable. Whenever I engage thoughtful Republicans--granted, a fairly small sample size--online or in person, I try to understand how they can abide this guy. None of them stand up for DeLay; most view him as an embarrassment, and the rest try to dismiss him as irrelevant.

Online lefty types talk about Karl Rove and Grover Norquist a lot. But those guys are essentially tacticians; DeLay really is the face, voice and core of the modern Republican Party: intolerant, autocratic, partial to theocracy and oligarchy, and prone to see democracy and the Constitution as obstacles to amassing greater power rather than as bulwarks of American greatness.

One could argue, though, that DeLay is as much symptom as disease. He's been brutally effective in augmenting his own power and pushing through the corporate agenda, but what really sustains him--and similarly dirty pols on both sides of the aisle--is the undemocratic gerrymandering both parties practice at the state level. Jeffrey Toobin in the New Yorker and various other folks have raised the flag against gerrymandering from time to time. Whatever happens next month, that should be the next big battle for all of us interested in recapturing our democracy.

This is the fight I want to see joined. It should be a bipartisan cause: not only should all Americans appreciate the general utility of making all congressional elections as competitive as possible--since such a setup tends to make officials more attuned to their constituents--but Republicans in states like Maryland and Massachusetts are deprived of representation in anything close to their proportion of those states' voters.

There is, of course, a connection to the current election fight as well. If you go to or similar sites with the electoral college map, it's not all that hard to devise a scenario in which Kerry and Bush tie at 269 EVs each. In that case, the House of Representatives picks the winner--regardless of the popular vote. With DeLay running the show, that's a pretty scary thought.

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