The Embarrassed Republican: Dear John

No tinfoil hat dance for you tonight, John.

Poor John Boehner, jilted in mid-negotiations.  He came back from the White house picked up some satisfying "Plan B" candy and flowers on the way home and had the door slammed in his face.  No tinfoil hat dance for you tonight, John.

As we watch in amazement at the continued stalling of the financial agreements that revolve around the “Fiscal cliff” situation in Washington, it’s hard not to pick out the bad guys and say “They’re the ones, it’s their fault!”  For myself, I do have to say that this is primarily a Republican problem, but that’s still too simple an explanation.

There is a block of representatives who are against any compromise and they have come to this stance in support of their own constituencies.  Of course congress does have it’s share of the “tin foil hat brigade,”  Senators and Representatives that don’t seem to hear the clarion call of reality on one subject or another.  However, for the most part these men and women mounting a serious impediment to any agreement are representing the wishes of voters concentrated in their home districts.

In the same way that most of us are generally satisfied with our own representation in Washington, these men and women are quite unlikely to loose their positions any time soon.  Think about Rodney Frelinghuysen.  We regularly re-elect Representative Frelinghuysen, he has not had a serious challenger in years. His support is firmly entrenched, he has plenty of money (of his own and those willing to back him) and most voters don’t look at his voting record so they wouldn’t know if he had alarmed them or not.  As long as Rodney doesn’t take a questionable stance on something that makes a big splash in the media, he’s safe as houses.

So these men and women enjoy the support of their home districts, if they want to continue as representatives they will continue to support the views of those who elected them.  Are there really that many ultra-conservatives across the US to continually elect these people.  The answer is “yes,” if you draw the district lines in the right way.

This is part of the Republican problem.  Many of these districts have been drawn by republican state legislatures to concentrate republican and republican-leaning voters into “Safe districts.”  Once mixed districts, with broader political thought, have been sliced and separated into a house by house, neighborhood by neighborhood spiderweb of political support.  This gives the party a certain guarantee of political representation in Washington, but it’s not a guarantee for any one political candidate.

The candidate’s danger here is that while we can be sure that those elected will be republican, even an “old favorite” can be knocked off by the means of a primary challenge.  That means any entrenched interest with the necessary funds can mount their own candidate during a primary when they either see an advantage or are dissatisfied with the current candidate.  We’re not talking about voters like you and me here, it takes big money and influence to make a serious primary challenge.  Something only the very rich and powerful can hope to execute successfully.

The system then becomes rigged to run a much smaller game, far fewer voters participate in the primaries than the general election.  And these voters are much more dedicated and concerned about their own interests.  In practice, the election really happens in the primary in a concentrated district, waiting for the general election is just a formality.  Republicans do tend to vote together and they do tend towards voting consistently republican year after year, no matter who the latest candidate is.

What also comes from this re-districted election process are candidates who tend to lean farther to the extremes of political thought.  If a conservative candidate is running in a conservative district then it is to his benefit to be as conservative as possible.  Challengers to the office need to fully embrace those who have put them on the ballot as well.  If it’s an oil company then you tour the rigs, wear your hard hat and rail against the evils of green energy.  If it’s a local pharma company, then you visit retirement homes, kiss the old ladies and rail against the “job killing” properties of letting medicare bargain for drugs.  If it’s the Tea party, then you wave your American flag, march proudly with your sign “Don’t tread on me”(Hopefully spelled correctly, I’ve seen “Don’t terd on me!” several times.  It gives the coiled snake a whole new meaning) and rail against all the “So-called Americans” who are out to steal the products of your labor.

One unintentional outcome of this process is that the elected representatives are more likely to become isolated when they do get to Washington, especially the ones with less experience.  Their own inability to make the necessary compromises to effectively govern, either through their own or imposed ideologies, is more likely to leave them on the sidelines.  Which is why this process can work against the constituencies that elected them.  As we now can see, It really looks like any agreement in the “Fiscal cliff” negotiations is going to require enough democrats to counter republicans who can’t or won’t go along, to ram it through over their objections.

However, I tend to doubt that’s going to happen before republicans have a long and satisfying spanking before the American people for getting us to this position.  The Democrats will demand it.  Which makes us all wonder if gerrymandering of “Safe districts” really serves the party all that well.

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