Tuesday, October 01, 2013



There is no doubt that John Boehner could have prevented the government shut-down today and at the same time created for himself a legacy in our nation's history.  Instead, he stuck to the Hastert rule, under which nothing can be voted on by the entire membership of the House of Representatives unless it is approved by the majority caucus.  Today the majority caucus comprises all House members who have been elected as Republicans.  The majority of Republicans are loyal to the conservative "tea party" group.  The House is closely divided between Republicans and Democrats.  A minority of Republicans oppose the shut-down that Mr. Boehner has allowed to happen.

A shut-down would have been avoided if Speaker Boehner had simply allowed two competing budgets to be brought to a vote: one that would have defunded the Affordable Care Act and one that would not.  All of the Democrats and enough of the Republicans among the House Members would have voted for the second budget to have passed it.

I don't know how old the Hastert Rule is.  It was given a name during the Speakership of Dennis Hastert of Illinois, who was the Speaker during the late part of the Clinton Administration.  I can not find any justification for it in the federal constitution.  The constitution allows the House to elect its own Speaker and puts him in charge of the meetings of the House.  The constitution makes no mention of political parties.  I presume that in the early days of the republic, the entire house membership voted to elect the Speaker.

Anyway, there is no doubt that we no longer have a representative form of government.  The majority in the House is not allowed to vote on a sensible budget or continuing resolution.  A minority (tea party conservatives) decides what can be voted on.  In addition, members of the House are elected from districts that, in many cases, were given boundaries that favor the election of Republicans.  We have a House with a Republican majority elected by voters in which Democratic voters outnumbered Republican voters by at least two million votes.  Districts that deliberately favor one party are called Gerrymanders.  The process of creating such districts is called gerrymandering.

There was a time in our history when there was not an ideological divide between Democrats and Republicans.  When my Father was a young man in Michigan, the farmers there were mostly Democrats.  The Republicans were mostly business people who lived in cities and villages.  Gradually these allegiances changed so that by the time I was a young man most farmers were Republicans.  At the same time, great industries grew, largely in support of the public demand for automobiles.  Miners dug iron ore and coal to supply the great steel mills.  The steel mill owners hired immigrants from Eastern Europe to work in the mills.  (The work was dirty, dangerous, and hard and the immigrants would accept the low wages offered.)

Eventually the workers in the mines, the mills, and the auto factories formed labor unions that were powerful enough to demand and get improvements in working conditions and higher salaries.  These union workers became mostly Democrats.  We now had the basis for an ideological split between the two major parties.  The Democrats favored policies that helped their constituents, the workers.  The Republicans favored policies that helped their constituents, the business owners and managers of large companies.

That's enough history for one day.  The ideological split between Democrats and Republicans is going to stay for the foreseeable future.  It is important that our political system should not have features that favor either of the two major parties.  Gerrymandered legislative representative districts have got to go.

How do we get rid of them?  There may be lawsuits that challenge the boundaries of certain districts.  So far, a lawsuit has challenged a district in a Southern State on the basis of race discrimination.  A district was drawn to include as many black voters as possible so that other districts could be formed near-by with only black minorities.  We will have to see whether the federal courts will consider gerrymandering to achieve a favorable outcome for one political party violates the principle of equal rights for all voters.

Another remedy is to give the power to choose district boundaries to an impartial citizens' commission rather than the state legislature.  We have already done this in California and a few other states.  We can see a result in the make-up of our state legislature.
Comments: Post a Comment

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?