Why Democrats Aren’t an Extremist Party

Chris CillizzaChris Cillizza over at the The Fix blog has an interesting article with one of those terrible Washington Post style headlines, Want to Know Why the Government Is Shut Down? This Chart Explains it. The chart in question is not very useful. Basically it shows (The shock!) that most members of the House of Representatives are in districts that are quite safe. This is an old and very boring argument: Washington is dysfunctional because of polarization!

Excuse me while I yawn.

But it’s worse than that. There is a halfway interesting argument to be made from the data, although Cillizza completely misses it. He notes:

Of the 199 Democrats in the House at the start of the 113th Congress, a majority—51 percent (!)—won their race with 67 percent of the vote or higher. Among the 234 Republicans elected in the last election, 67—or roughly 29 percent of the GOP conference—won with 67 percent or higher.

What I find interesting here is so many more Democrats have incredibly safe seats. Of course, there is a reason for this: gerrymandering. That’s what I wrote about last week, Gerrymandering Didn’t Make GOP Extreme. The idea behind gerrymandering is to make your own party’s seats safe enough but to make your opponents’ seats extremely safe.

So we have to ask, “With more than half of the Democratic House seats extremely safe, why don’t we see extremism on the part of Democrats?” There are a lot of reasons for that (e.g. money in politics, voter apathy), but I just want to discuss one here. Political caucuses tend to be governed by norms. That is why we don’t jump from socialism to fascism and back every time control of government switches. Those norms are very much active in the Democratic Party where I’m sure our elected official still often think, “You just don’t do that kind of thing.” Norms have completely broken down in the Republican Party. A good example is Ted Cruz. Normally, a Senator would never think to try to control the House caucus. You just don’t do that kind of thing. But now in the Republican Party you do.

What we see in his article is that Chris Cillizza is just another Villager, determined to find that Washington is messed up because, “Both sides do it!” That’s not just wrong. I have no problem with wrong. I’m wrong quite a lot. But that outlook on politics greatly limits seeing things as they are. Regardless of what happens, it gets put in their Both Sides Now box and shipped out. If Cillizza had been around for the start of World War II, he would have reported it like this, “Sure, the Germans invaded Poland, but the English are in India. Let’s not forget that!” Cillizza ought to be selling insurance somewhere.

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

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