Living in the land of clouds

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Ideally, this country would have two strong political parties that are evenly matched, one just to the right of center, one just to the left.

Not radically right or left, just a little bit.

In each legislative and congressional district each party would be so balanced in support that the candidates would have to seek middle-of-the-road compromise positions if they were to win over the centrist independents who would always be the deciding factor in an election. The candidates would be forced to be responsive to the people under those conditions, because they wouldn't get elected or re-elected if they didn't.

There's a wonderful word I first learned in German for that kind of thinking. Roughly translated, "wolkenkuckucksheim" means "cloud cockcoo land." It's the name of a perfect city built in the clouds by the main characters in a play ("The Birds") by the ancient Greek playwright Aristophanes.

It means I'm dreaming if I think that will happen.

Because for all the face painting done every election by politicians (lipstick on pigs comes to mind), it really isn't about the will of the people. It's about power.

Nobody runs for office unless they want the power to tell people how to run their lives.

To accomplish that goal, they gerrymander legislative districts to make sure the party not in power in any given state following the dicennial census has no chance to win a majority of state legislative and Congressional seats. Happens every ten years.

In Idaho, where there is no effective Democratic opposition (due to some really, really poor decision-making by the party's leadership), the gerrymandering was designed mainly to try and force out moderate Republicans in favor of more conservative Republicans closer in thinking to the strongly conservative party leadership. It was one of the reasons Tim Corder lost to Bert Brackett, but there were some really egregious cases in northern Idaho.

And there were some really bizarre gerrymandering cases around the country. Both parties play the game, but in the 2010 elections one of the overlooked results was the large number of state legislatures that wound up being controlled by the Republican Party.

So the normal gerrymandering that occurs after every census will give the GOP a slight edge, overall, at least until the next census in 2020. But it has been interesting to see, with the increased state control by Republicans, how many pieces of legislation have been introduced -- exclusively by the Republican party -- to limit participation in elections. Those limits are all designed to disenfranchise minorities and the poor, or to restrict their ability to exercise their franchise to vote. Why? Because very few minorities and the poor vote Republican. So, functionally, if they won't vote for the GOP, don't let them vote at all.

All these bills are solutions looking for a problem, since the level of individual voter fraud in recent years has dropped to virtually nothing.

It's not like the "good old days" when Lyndon Johnson could get more votes than registered voters in his congressional district, or John Kennedy could get elected president on the strength of the cemetery vote in Mayor Richard J. Daley's Chicago. Or, for that matter, the silly games played in Florida and Ohio in 2000 and 2004 by the GOP-controlled election boards there that left people wondering just who had won those critical states in the presidential election. Note that in all four of those cases, voter fraud did not happen at the level of the individual voter. All resulted from the political machinery that controlled counting the votes.

So at a time when fewer and fewer Americans are voting, failing to exercise a crucial right that very few people in the world have, we've got people running around trying to make it harder to vote.

And that bothers me. I don't care if some guy is a drunken bum living in the gutter who wants to vote for the Adolph Hitler Party, he has a right to vote. I shouldn't make it difficult for him simply because I oppose his politics. In America, with the exception of certain felons in certain states, every person over the age of 18 has a right to vote. Trying to deny that, or put roadblocks between that person and the voting booth, is wrong.

You shouldn't have to cheat, or stack the rules, to guarantee you'll win.

Americans also have an obligation to vote, one not enough of us exercise. Look at it this way. If only half the eligible voters register, and only half the registered voters vote, that's only a quarter of the people even casting a ballot. If the race, say for president, is close, somewhere near 50 percent for the win in a given state, those numbers mean that just over 12.5 percent of the population elected the president. So much for majority rules and mandates.

It would be nice, if the citizens of this nation turned out in large numbers to vote each year. It would be even nicer if the majority of them would be willing to do some study and actually learn about the candidates. But that may be asking too much.

I dream of a balanced, well-educated electorate that conscientiously studies the issues and candidates and exercises their franchise to vote.

I live in Wolkenkuckucksheim.