Window of opportunity for reform?
George W. Bush is the first President since 1936 to be re-elected in a year when his party gained seats in the House and the Senate, and he is the first Republican President to be re-elected with House and Senate majorities since 1924. How weird is that? (Answer: almost as weird as the Red Sox winning the World Series.) Perhaps the mere fact that this situation is so unusual accounts for the bitter grumbling still heard from the Democratic side, which had been accustomed to holding at least some governmental power for the last several decades. Though his margin was too slim to be considered a clear mandate, he is finally in a position to get some real action. On the down side, the Republicans will now be held accountable for policy successes and errors for the next four years. (The GOP will hold onto Congress in 2006, barring some catastrophe; see below.) Most second-term "lame-duck" presidencies end up in frustration and/or scandal; indeed all of them since World War II have: Truman, Eisenhowever, Johnson, Nixon, Reagan, and Clinton. That may not apply this time, however, since this is the first term in which Bush can claim a majority of the popular vote.
So what now? At the top of my dream reform agenda is abolition of gerrymandering, of which both parties are guilty. Tom DeLay's intervention on behalf of redistricting in Texas is but the most recent and notorious example; Republicans in Virginia and Democrats in Maryland have done likewise on a lesser scale. In the Washington Post, David Broder fears that this pernicious habit is "... creating a U.S. House of Lords," a privileged body that is virtually immune from popular will.
Thanks to rigged boundaries and the incumbents' immense fundraising advantage, nearly 96 percent of the "races" were won by a margin of at least 10 percent.
For example, in the Sixth District of Virginia where I live, incumbent Bob Goodlatte received almost 97 percent of the vote, mainly because the Democrats didn't even bother to nominate a challenger. He is a fine representative and recently was named to the powerful position of chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, and thus would have every reason to expect to be reelected. Yet even in a heavily Republican area such as the Shenandoah Valley there should be some degree of meaningful political competition. There was certainly a lot of organizing on behalf of the Kerry-Edwards ticket around here... Elsewhere in Virginia, in only one of the eleven congressional races did the winner have less than a 20-percent margin in the vote totals. BOR-ing! Such landslides are typical nationwide, reinforcing the alienation voters feel from their elected representatives in Washington. Remember, the House of Representatives is supposed to be the most direct expression of the popular will. Nowadays, incumbents have such a huge advantage that it calls in question the very democratic nature of our political system itself. What does this sad situation say about our fitness to preach democratic government in other countries?
The idea of Republicans as a reform party strikes many people as strange, but Newt Gingrich gave some good arguments for that in the Washington Post on Tuesday. For a perfect example of the hopelessly outmoded conventional thinking on such matters, read what George Silver wrote in yesterday's Post:
Today's dysfunctional health care system is a palpable example of the lessons that come from our national obsession with markets at all costs.
WRONG! Our health care "system" is the furthest thing from a pure market-driven system. It is, rather, a nightmarish publicly-subsidized monopoly in which the lack of accountability (thanks to non-market-based insurance policies) fuels an uncontrollable upward spiral of costs. I only wish enough Republicans were brave enough to actually say such a thing in public, but then they might not get reelected. (Such timidity is another sign of deep flaws in our democratic system.) Here are some other matters that I hope Bush will tackle:
- Radically simplifying the U.S. tax code, perhaps replacing the corporate income tax with a luxury consumption tax.
- Exempting virtually all personal savings from income tax, as part of new approach to Social Security, health insurance and loans for higher education.
- Slashing U.S. contributions to the World Bank and IMF, which do more harm than good these days.
- Getting serious about immigration, with more efficient processing of visa applicants, and huge fines on companies that employ undocumented workers.
- Raising taxes on energy across the board, to discourage profligate waste and pollution. (I know, I'm dreaming about that.)
Peterson is guilty!
After two jurors were dismissed for misconduct, which almost caused a mistrial, Scott Peterson was just found guilty of murder in the first degree. After some of the other outrageous aquittals of recent years, it's nice to know our legal system works. In the television age, it's easy for average citizens to think they can render judgments in these high-profile cases, but we never get to see or hear all the evidence. That's why I usually refrain from weighing in. The lack of direct incriminating evidence was more than offset by the overwhelming circumstantial evidence that made it obvious he was guilty as sin. (And that's an understatement.) The jurors clearly needed plenty of time to seriously consider whether there was any other plausible scenario consistent with the known facts of the case. Clearly, no. Now, does Mr. Peterson deserve to get free room and board for the rest of his life and gloat over how close he came to getting away with his nauseatingly horrible, heinous crime, or does he deserve the Ultimate Punishment? Will European countries portray us Americans as savages if he is executed?