I was very disappointed to see that yesterday, Nate Cohn had written Quit Blaming Gerrymandering for the Shutdown. I was not disappointed because he was wrong; I was disappointed that he beat me. On Wednesday, as I waited around at the VA for my father’s surgery, I wrote in my notebook, “Gerrymandering by Republicans does not make for very conservative districts. It makes for very liberal districts.” That was in my list of “articles I will write when I get the hell out of here!” Unfortunately, Cohn published his article before I was even out of the hospital.
What’s going on is that a lot of pundits are claiming that the Republicans are so extreme because of gerrymandering which makes for really red districts. If that were true, then the House would now be controlled by the Democrats. The idea of gerrymandering is to create districts that are fairly safe for the Republicans (in this case) but really safe for the Democrats. So the Republican districts will be maybe 60% Republican but the Democratic districts will be 90% Democrat. (The opponent districts would probably not be able to be quite this extreme for practical reasons.) If you don’t understand this, you should watch C.G.P. Grey’s great “Gerrymandering Explained” video:
Cohn notes that many districts are in fact highly “red” but this isn’t due to gerrymandering; it is just because (especially in the south) whole regions are really conservative. And even in those areas, there will be natural gerrymandering because liberals tend to live in compact areas.
But Cohn (and everyone else, as far as I can tell) avoids an important point. If gerrymandering caused politicians to be extreme, it would be the democrats who are extreme. But they aren’t, are they? So this whole idea that gerrymandering has made Republicans extreme is nonsense. In fact, it is a kind of apologia for the Republicans. But the facts don’t provide any such comforting narratives to explain the radicalism of the Republican Party.
As I discussed yesterday, I think that the problem is that the Republican elites have simply become extreme based upon their acceptance of the work by truly minor league thinkers like Ayn Rand and Friedrich Hayek. But based upon a comment by JMF, I have begun to think that this is allowed by a great deal of implicit fascism in the base of the party. As the data show, neither the elites nor the base believe in “small government” except as a talking point. But the elites get support for policies the base largely doesn’t agree with by getting the base to vote on its typically fascist beliefs. As I wrote in the comments, “Are they jingoistic? Check. Do they vilify immigrants and minority groups? Check. Are they hierarchical and authoritarian? Check. Are they in favor of traditional Christian sexual mores? Check. Are they for corporate welfare? Check.”
That is all speculative. What is not speculative is that Democrats being forced into overwhelmingly liberal districts has not lead to a bunch of socialists or even very liberal people in the House Democratic caucus. I may be wrong about why the House Republican caucus is so extreme. (I actually believe there are a number of reasons.) But there is no doubt that gerrymandering is not any part of the cause. Let me just leave you with a good example: Nancy Pelosi is more conservative than her liberal district. That would never happen on the opposite side. (It would make a great term paper to look at Boehner compared to his district.)