In which an older and wiser yet terminally earnest former liberal struggles to come to grips with the cynicism, hatred, and paranoia that plague both sides of the American political spectrum. "Can we all get along?"
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NOTE: The above Web pages feature chronologies, maps, and other kinds of political information.
links to background info pages, etc.
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(Former) Regular reads:
InstaPundit (Glenn Reynolds)
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Virginia political blogs (Waldo J.)
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And I quote:
"The use of force alone is but temporary. It may subdue for a moment; but it does not remove the necessity of subduing again: and a nation is not governed, which is perpetually to be conquered."
Edmund Burke, 2nd speech on conciliation with America, Mar. 22, 1775 (Bartlett's 16th ed., p. 331)
Mrs. Powel: "Well, Dr. Franklin, what have we got, a republic or a monarchy?"
Benjamin Franklin: "A republic, if you can keep it."
After Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, Sept. 18, 1787. (Bartlett's 16th ed.)
"As long as the reason of man continues fallible, and he is at liberty to exercise it, different opinions will be formed. As long as the connection subsists between his reason and his self-love, his opinions and his passions will have a reciprocal influence on each other, and the former will be objects to which the latter will attach themselves."
James Madison ("Publius"), The Federalist Papers No. 10 (1787)
"Of the three forms of sovereignty [autocracy, aristocracy, and democracy], democracy, in the truest sense of the word, is necessarily a despotism because it establishes an executive power through which all the citizens may make decisions about (and indeed against) the individual without his consent..."
Immanuel Kant, Perpetual Peace: A Philosophical Sketch (1795)
"To act successfully, that is, according to the rules of the political art, is political wisdom. To know with despair that the political act is inevitably evil, and to act nevertheless, is moral courage. To choose among several expedient actions the least evil one is moral judgment. In the combination of political wisdom, moral courage, and moral judgment, man reconciles his political nature with his moral destiny."
Hans Morgenthau, Scientific Man vs. Power Politics (1946), p. 203
"Thus, whenever a concrete threat to peace develops, war is opposed not by a world public opinion but by the public opinions of those nations whose interests are threatened by that war."
Hans Morgenthau, Politics Among Nations 6th ed., rev. by Kenneth Thompson (1985), p. 288
"The texture of international politics remains highly constant, patterns recur, and events repeat themselves endlessly."
Kenneth Waltz, Theory of International Politics (1979), p. 66
"Men wiser and more learned than I have discerned in history a plot, a rhythm, a predetermined pattern. These harmonies are concealed from me. I can see only one emergency following upon another as wave follows upon wave, only one great fact with respect to which, since it is unique, there can be no generalizations, only one safe rule for the historian: that he should recognize in the development of human destinies the play of the contingent and the unforeseen."
H. A. L. Fisher, History of Europe (1935), p. vii [Oxford Dictionary of Modern Quotations (1991), p. 80]
"Most of the change we think we see in life is due to truths being in and out of favour."
Robert Frost, 'Black Cottage' North of Boston (1914), [Oxford Dictionary of Modern Quotations (1991), p. 86]
"My thoughts encompass divinity, therefore divinity is. The divinity that my thoughts encompass is associated with the order that arises out of chaos... As we expand our knowledge of this realm, we ... see it in terms of one sublime order that awaits full realization."
Louis J. Halle, Out of Chaos (1977), p. 646
"Here, then, is the complexity, the fascination, and the tragedy of all political life. Politics are made up of two elements -- utopia and reality -- belonging to two different planes which can never meet."
E. H. Carr, The Twenty Years' Crisis, 1919-1939 2nd ed. (1946), p. 93.
"My biggest blunder in life was attempt to seek common ground with Keynesians, based on the naive thought that by putting my ideas in Keynesian language that I would make any dent on the Keynesians."
Milton Friedman, New York Times, July 4, 1999
"War made the state and the state made war."
Charles Tilly, The Formation of National States in Western Europe (1975), p. 42
"Americans like to mock Kuwaitis as rich and pampered and lazy and decadent, which is exactly what the rest of the world says about Americans. Actually, we shouldn't mock Kuwait at all. It represents the hopes and dreams of Americans of all political persuasions. For liberals, it's a generous welfare state with guaranteed employment and a huge government bureaucracy. For conservatives, it's a country with no taxes and plenty of cheap maids who aren't allowed to vote."
Peter Carlson, "Castles in the Sand," Washington Post Magazine Jan. 14, 1996, p. 32-33
"[Bill Clinton's] greatest strength is his insincerity... I've decided Bill Clinton is at his most genuine when he's the most phony... We know he doesn't mean what he says."
Newsweek reporter Howard Fineman, in a speech in Indiana quoted by Howard Kurtz, Washington Post Apr. 27, 1996
"Whatever one thinks of Bill Clinton, his opponents [*] must be thwarted. They are enemies of democracy and of the Constitution that insures its possibility. We long ago lost the luxury of choosing our allies. This is war."
* (referred to elsewhere in this piece as "mad dogs bent on political annihilation")
Eric Alterman, "Democracy Disappears" The Nation, Jan. 11-18, 1998
"There are no enemies in science, professor. Only phenomena to study."
From the movie The Thing, 1951 (a Cold War sci-fi allegory)
Julia Roberts: "Can you prove any of this?"
Mel Gibson: "No... A good conspiracy is unprovable. If you can prove it, someone must have screwed up somewhere along the way."
From the movie Conspiracy Theory
THE 16 WORDS: "The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa."
Pres. George W. Bush, State of the Union address, Jan. 2003
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July 13, 2016 [LINK / comment]
Redistricting reform movement is growing
Yesterday evening I attended a local meeting of the "OneVirginia 2021" movement (see Web site), which is dedicated to reforming the process by which redistricting is done here in the Old Dominion. I joined their Facebook page early this year, since it is an issue near and dear to my heart, and later made a modest contribution of money. The main speaker was Executive Director Brian Cannon, and he was joined by Angela Lynn, a Democrat who ran for the House of Delegates last fall, and a couple assistants. About 25 people attended, altogether.
Mr. Cannon began by outlining three central problems with the status quo of incumbent-protecting gerrymandering: 1) Both parties are guilty of it ("bad" bipartisanship); 2) Many of the resulting districts have a monstrous "Frankenstein" characteristic (encompassing multiple local communities, which are split up in the process); and 3) There are often woeful personal consequences, such as when the Democrats tried to redistrict State Sen. Bryce Reeves out of his district, but goofed by mixing up his house with that of a relative named Reeves. (For more on that case, which had largely escaped my notice last year, see bearingdrift.com.) It's a perfect example of how legislators use gerrymandering to reverse the principle of democratic accountability: Instead of voters choosing their representatives, the representatives choose their voters. Politicians make up some of the worst excuses you can imagine to justify this practice; basically, it comes down to "So what? Everybody does it."
Brian Cannon explains the grotesquely misshapen state legislative districts in northern Virginia at the OneVirginia 2021 meeting. On the right is Angela Lynn.
If you ask the average American, they are not likely to grasp what gerrymandering is all about or why it matters. Indeed, as I tried to say during the meeting, that is the whole point. Gerrymandering is deliberately used by lawmakers not just to keep themselves in power, but also to foster a sense of cynical hopelessness about bringing about any real change. As but one illustration of how bad things have gotten, six State Senators told a judge that they were willing to rack up $51,000 in legal fines (at taxpayers' expense) for contempt of court after refusing to turn over documents related to their redistricting action. Mr. Cannon summarized the legal history of redistricting and gerrymandering, including the 1962 Supreme Court case Baker v. Carr, which required states to draw districts with approximately equal populations.
It is worth citing once again Article II, Section 6 of the Constitution of Virginia, which is routinely and blatantly ignored by our elected representatives in Richmond:
Every electoral district shall be composed of contiguous and compact territory* and shall be so constituted as to give, as nearly as practicable, representation in proportion to the population of the district.
This controversy came before the court system last year, and this past January Federal judges issued a ruling which imposed new lines, affecting the First, Second, Third, Fourth, and Seventh Congressional Districts in Virginia. (See the Richmond Times-Dispatch.) I was aware of this forced redistricting, but did not realize just how extensive the changes were. Accordingly, I have updated the maps on the Virginia Politics page.
Roll your mouse over this map to compare the newly-redrawn congressional district lines to the ones that were originally drawn in 2011. Before the court-ordered changes, the Third Congressional District was an absurdly stretched-out and non-contiguous, except by boat.
The Third Congressional District was originally intended as a "minority-majority district," a means to ensure that African-Americans get a fair chance at electing a member of their own race to Congress. (Indeed, Supreme Court rulings have required a number of states to do just that.) But "racial gerrymandering" got out of hand in some states, and Virginia is a perfect example. The Republicans in the House of Delegates "packed" so many blacks into the 3rd C.D. that the Democrats ended up with thousand of "surplus votes" that went to waste.
So what is to be done? Mr. Cannon laid out the best-case outcome of the reform movement, which is passing a state constitutional amendment to have special independent commissions handle the task or redistricting, and the second-best outcome, which would be to pass a statute with strict criteria by which legislators must draw the district lines. In my mind, the latter option would change very little. If there is one thing that I learned from my years of political involvement, the political establishment in Virginia is solid as a rock, almost impervious to the popular will. It's been that way ever since Sen. Harry F. Byrd Sr. ran Virginia almost as a despot. (He died in 1965, after more than three decades in the U.S. Senate, and his son Harry F. Byrd Jr. "inherited" the position.)
After the meeting, I called attention to my past involvement in this issue (predating "OneVirginia 2021"), such as when I spoke up at a public meeting with state legislators in Verona, in April 2011. In recent years, I have placed a heavy emphasis on this topic in my American Government classes at Central Virginia Community College. I talked with Mr. Cannon about various issues related to redistricting, such as the alternatives of a congressional election based on proportional representation, either statewide or in multi-member districts. The latter approach (MMD) reduces the number of districts that need to be drawn, making the process simpler and presumably more transparent, but it often works to the disadvantage of various minority factions that might not get any representatives. The bottom line is that no system is without flaws, and realism dictates that any reforms not stray too far from long-established practices. For better or worse, we are probably stuck with the single-member district system and the two-party system that it tends to foster. In political science, that is known as Duverger's Law.
I expect to become active with OneVirginia 2021 in the weeks and months to come. I should mention that I became familiar with their work through Facebook friend Bob Gibson, who runs the Sorenson Institute for Political Leadership at the University of Virginia. Like me, Bob is a big Washington Nationals fan.
This is the first political blog post I have made since early May. That may seem odd, given that it's an election year. On Facebook, I have made clear my utter refusal to consider voting for Donald Trump, regardless of who he picks as a vice presidential candidate. At this point I'm leaning toward voting for Libertarian Gary Johnson, former governor of New Mexico. More on all that soon...
To see previous blog entries, go to the Politics archives page.