Friday, July 12, 2013

Reason #296: Seven out of Ten

It's a given now that this is the worst Congress ever. Both in terms of popularity and productivity, they are demonstratively, empirically, the worst--you can prove it with graphs. But given the dramatic halt to which the Senate's immigration reform package has come in the House this month, and the Senate's own hissyfit this week over Harry Reid's attempt to change the filibuster rules so maybe one of Obama's appointees--to departments that in some cases are currently being run by nobody--can actually get approved for once, I'd like to take a step back and actually look at some of the relevant numbers.

In 2012, Obama won the popular vote by five million or so votes, but actually lost more congressional districts than he won. He won Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Virginia, but only carried between a quarter and a third of their respective congressional districts. Naturally, many Republicans see this as a failure of democracy, regardless of how many actual voters all those Republican districts represent.

Likewise, if you look at the vote totals by party, the Democrats received far more votes for both their House and Senate confidantes--around five percent more in both cases, mirroring Obama's numbers--yet were still crushed in the House, and barely held onto their majority in the Senate.

The disparity between House election results and the actual vote margins is due to the most extensive gerrymandering this country has ever seen--any state that has a strong Republican majority then immediately goes to work redrawing its districts to spread out its conservatives into as many districts as possible while cramming its liberals into as few districts as possible. This is helped along a great deal by the fact that heavily-populated areas tend to be more progressive in the first place.

But there's another way to look at it.

Even in a country where Republicans have a stranglehold on every drop of their territory, where they're enacting voter-ID laws and cutting down on early voting to stifle Democratic turnout, Obama still won twice--and by a bigger margin the second time. Even in a country with a conservative Supreme Court that neuters the Voting Rights Act and rubber-stamps each of the aforementioned discriminatory redistributing efforts (and they have), Democrats have won four out of the last six presidential elections.

Consider: from 1968 to 2004, Republicans won seven out of ten presidential elections. Of the ten elections before that, Democrats won seven. Of the ten before that, going back now all the way to guessed it: Republicans won seven. Prior to that, the political parties get harder to distinguish by modern paradigms, but it could, at least, be argued that liberals had another good run.

While I don't want to point to this an some magical absolute pattern, it is true without a doubt that American politics are cyclical--generations come and go, and new movements are born in response to old ones. Even if the pattern holds true and the Obama presidency heralds another 7-out-of-10-wins period for Democrats, the tide will eventually turn. But even more certain than that is the fact that by 2044 or so, this will be a majority-minority country--which means that conservatism, as we know it today, is in its death throes.

The conservatism of 2050 will not be anti-gay, or anti-Hispanic; those battles will be over. It may well be anti-abortion, but with irreligion on the rise and Catholicism in the midst of both upheaval and decline, who's to say? I see no reason to believe it won't still be anti-poor, deep down, but after forty years of progressive politics it's not crazy to think that entitlements and social welfare and all that good stuff will have run totally off the rails and need reigning in.

The point is, a wild animal is always loudest and most dangerous when it's cornered. And for all the noise they create, for all the harm they're still doing, the Tea Party wing of modern conservatism is most definitely cornered.

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