Jewish World Review Nov. 13, 2002 / 8 Kislev, 5763
http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com | Having lost badly in the midterm elections, one would expect the Democrats to hone their appeal to middle America and go after the votes of moderates that they lost in a bid to regain the majority. Instead, the House Democrats seem intent on suicide by choosing Nancy Pelosi - a leftist - as their leader. How could they make a mistake like that?
Their obtuseness in making this bad decision underscores a basic political fact: Most House Democrats have a lifetime tenure secure as any U.S. Supreme Court judge. In the aftermath of the 2001 redistricting, most House members are, in reality, no longer elected officials but civil-service employees.
In 2002, 91 percent of the incumbent Democrats who were re-elected won with more than 55 percent of the vote; 64 percent were either unopposed or won with more than two-thirds of the vote. These guys have job security that a civil servant might envy.
The beleaguered survivors of the GOP rout are not hardy souls who live by their wits in swing districts. They are fat and lazy incumbents who have more to fear from viruses and bacteria than they do from Republicans. Immune from electoral vicissitudes, they can go as far to the left as they like without ever having to face the broad centrist middle of American politics.
In state after state, the political parties got together with their computers and concocted deals whereby most Democrats and most Republicans were allotted safe seats.
Since most state governments are divided, with at least one house of the state legislature in opposition control, the two parties carved up the map between them to eliminate any chance that the bulk of their members would be defeated. The result is that most Republican districts are ultra-conservative and most Democratic ones are ultra-liberal. The swing voters are all dumped together in 40-50 districts, only about 10 percent of the total.
We in New York City are long accustomed to urban seats that return Democrats each election cycle irrespective of national trends. But now the rest of America has likewise been carved up in a grand and cynical deal between the political parties to deprive voters of a real choice on Election Day.
The by-product of this bipartisan deal is that the House of Representatives can become more polarized. The only incentive for thinking about mainstream America - the desire to win control of the chamber - is, itself, diminished by the generous sharing of perks and power within the House which has come to be part of the grand two-party deal that runs Washington.
Ever since the 40-year Democratic control of the House of Representatives was ended in 1994, both parties understand that one day's majority party might be tomorrow's minority. As a result, staffing perks, good-sized offices and other plums of power are more fairly distributed. So House Democrats need not trouble themselves to represent national opinion.
The Senate, where turnover is far more common proportionately, cannot enjoy the same civil-service mentality that dominates the House. State lines are not subject to partisan negotiation, so reapportionment cannot dull the Senate's electoral process as it has in the House.
How odd! The framers of our Constitution expected the House
to be subject to the ebbs and flows of public opinion, while the Senate,
secure in six-year terms, would be more immune from these fluctuations.
But these esteemed gentlemen never met today's deal makers. Now the
Senate is the only legislative body we have that is really elected.
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11/08/02 I have egg on my face