The hole in the "oil spot" strategy for Iraq.

A mostly political Weblog.
Nov. 14 2005 3:46 AM

The Hole in the "Oil Spot" Strategy

Plus--You Can't Shut Anyone Up Anymore.

(Continued from Page 4)

"I was so disgusted that I deleted the damn e-mail before I read it," the Republican said. "But that's all this White House has now: the politics of personal destruction." [Emph. added]

Hmm. Weekly Standard notes that if Klein's source hadn't deleted the e-mail he would have noticed that it was a completely civil and substantive attempt to rebut the substance of Scowcroft's arguments.Real Clear Politics reprints the sober, almost academic email, which ends with a vicious, inflammatory, "Let the debate proceed." If you can't send that around then you can't have a useful argument about policy. ... The "talking points" are such a solid presentation of the neocon case for war that one almost suspects they were written by ... Jeffrey Goldberg (except there were no guilt-trippish Hitler references!). ... See also  Taranto. And Ponnuru. ... 12:36 P.M.

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Yes on 77:  I'm going to vote for Proposition 77, which would try to end gerrymandering in California by giving the job of drawing district lines to a panel of retired judges. (There's a similar ballot proposition in GOP-controlled Ohio. There, unlike in California, it's the Democrats pushing reform.) Jill Stewart and the new, Martinezized LAT ed board make the now-familiar case that, thanks to modern computer technology, politicians are able to draw districts in which virtually all incumbents are safe from defeat.

Indeed, no California pol in either the U.S. House of Representatives, the state assembly, or the state senate was defeated in 2004. Yet state voters were pissed off! This impenetrability of elected institutions is as big an issue for our democracy as campaign finance reform, about which a hundred times more ink has been spilled. (After all, the candidate who raises more money quite often loses. The candidate who gets to rearrange concrete district lines to his advantage almost never loses.) Gerrymandering certainly seems as much an impediment to effective democracy as the "rotten borough" system overthrown by the Supreme Court in the one-person/one-vote decision of Baker v. Carr.

The sophisticated new objection to redistricting reform is that "safe seats' also come from the increasing tendency of voters to self-segregate geographically. If Americans don't consciously self-segregate by party, they do self-segregate by values, and that's what the parties have come down to. This means that  if you don't want to carve up towns and regions into funny shapes, you'll wind up creating a lot of safe seats, because any given area will tilt one way or another. There's no way you are going to draw a Republican district in Santa Monica or West Los Angeles, for example. Or in the center of most cities.  There's no way to draw a Democratic district in Simi Valley, I suspect. And any requirement that city boundaries must be respected-- Prop. 77 contains such language--will make it that much harder to draw competitive districts. That's because competitive districts are most likely to be created on the fringes of cities by drawing a circle that ropes in some conservative suburban voters with more liberal urban voters.

The unsophisticated answer to the sophisticated objection is that right now the system is rigged to intentionally maximize the number of safe seats. There's no way to make them less competitive. It's almost mathematically impossible. You could draw district lines at random and the result would be a greater number of competitive districts, in which the incumbent at least had a shot at losing. If self-segregation were all that was at work, after all, politicians wouldn't have to concoct crazy squiggly districts shapes to guarantee their job security. The New York Times Magazine's world-weary contrarian exposition of the difficulties of drawing competitive districts concluded that under Prop. 77

at most a dozen or so of the state's 53 congressional district could have competitive races.

A dozen? A dozen seems like a larger number than zero! A dozen competitive seats would be a big improvement. I'll take it.

For a centrist Democrat, it seems as if only good things will flow if there are a greater number of competitive seats:

a)More centrist Democrats will be elected! Prop. 77 won't result in a GOP takeover of the California statehouse. There aren't enough Republicans in the state to go around. It might easily result in an increase of Democratic seats, because there will be more districts with slim Democratic majorities rather than a smaller number of safe-seat districts with huge Democratic majorities. If Dems sweep the new swing districts, they'll win big. But the winners are likely to be centrists who appeal to the swing voters, not paleoliberals or interest group hacks who know they can't be dislodged.

b) Democrats might retake Congress.  Gerrymandering guarantees a safe Dem majority in California, but nationwide it's one of the things keeping Republicans in power. As Morton Kondracke notes, thanks to gerrymandering a surge for the Democrats analogous to the Gingrich surge in 1994 is probably no longer enough  to change who controls the House. That's why the Republican National Committee has opposed Proposition 77, even though it's a pet project of Republican Governor Schwarzenegger.

c) With more centrists will come more compromises, meaning less disconnect between the relatively extreme safe-seaters in the legislture and the relatively mushy moderates in the electorate. That might result in less government-by-initiative in California, where initiatives have resulted in various budget mandates that make it hard for even compromising politicians to keep the state solvent.