Thursday, January 24, 2013

Is Non-partisan Anti-Racism possible?

GOP leaders have begun to advocate for a change in how electoral college votes are allocated.  In swing states where they control the governorship and the state legislatures, they are considering allocating EV's by Congressional District.  Those states are Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Virginia, Florida, Michigan and Ohio.  In PA, WI, and VA, legislation has already been introduced.

The scheme, especially if applied only in some states, would dramatically increase Republican chances of winning the Presidency, even if their candidate lost the popular vote.  Even if applied in all states, their chances are improved.  After all, the GOP holds a significant majority in the House despite receiving fewer votes in total than the Democrats.  It is estimated that the current apportionment of House seats gives the GOP a 7% advantage.  In order to win a House Majority, Democrats would need to win the combined popular House vote by 7%.  A landslide to break even.

The cause for this inequity is usually described as "gerrymandering".  "Gerrymandering" is a colorful term, with a long history in American politics; it means the drawing of legislative districts for partisan advantage.  That should be a signal to us to be alert.

There is a whole historical treasure box of colorful political lore, filled with stories of bosses, bribery, machines, corruption, and political chicanery.  Political reporters and historians trot out these stories because they are fun facts and funnier stories.  But the overall effect is to convey the message that corruption and anti-democratic practices are the historic norm, both parties do it, and it all equals out in the end.

The present system of Congressional Representation is not the result of cute and colorful partisan hijinks.  It is a complicated process driven almost entirely by a serious struggle over the amount of political power that African Americans and Hispanics will exercise.

The 1965 Voting Rights Act, as it has been applied across the country, mandated the creation of majority-minority districts as a way to ensure that African Americans and Hispanics had a reasonable chance of electing members of the House.

Republican legislators at the state level saw the opportunity for their party in this mandate:  by consolidating minority voters into as few districts as possible, they could create other districts that were more white, and thus more likely to be won by the GOP.   In a state like Pennsylvania, it works like this.  Obama won by 5% statewide, but only carried six Congressional districts, losing 11.

The GOP plan to apportion some states' electoral votes by Congressional district is not simply a plan to leverage their gerrymandered advantage in the House into the election of the President.  It works because it is a based on a successful effort to minimize the political power of African Americans and Hispanics.  It is racist in intention, and in effect.

Does this all stem from the mandate to create majority-minority districts?  Majority-minority districts were the strategy to block the previous strategy to minimize minority political power: diluting minority voters by spreading them as thinly as possible across districts.

There are about 58 majority-minority districts in the US, not an unreasonable number in a body of 435 members.  More importantly, the House is a large body and should recreate the diversity of the country.  Everyone should be represented there.  Electing the President is a different matter.  There every person's vote should count equally.

I believe in the national popular election of the President.  But that is not my point today.

Liberal theology, as understood by the Unitarian Universalist Association, has come to believe that our response to systems of oppression, like the systematic oppression of African Americans, is a theological matter.  It is not simply a political problem (colorful hijinks in the game of politics).  Liberal religion has always stood for naming and witnessing to the truth of the world -- whether it is about whether the earth revolves around the sun, or the origin of the species or the nature of the society in which we live.  And the truth of the current situation is that the Republican party and the conservative movement is actively basing its strategy on minimizing the political power of non-white people.

Yet, we are supposed to be non-partisan.  How is that supposed to work?

3 comments:

Rob Eller-Isaacs said...

Voter suppression is a long tradition in America. From the 3/5rule to Jim Crow and now the combination of voter suppression efforts under the guise of voter ID requirements coupled with racialized mass incarceration and restricting the voting rights of felons. It's all of a piece. At this point it's difficult to argue against the notion that the Republican strategy is inherently racist.

Tom Schade said...

Greetings Rob,
May I point out that this would disenfranchise me, as well? As a surplus voter in a predominantly blue congressional district, my vote no longer has any weight. I suspect it would make your vote pretty irrelevant too. In fact, without looking at maps and data, I think that this plan would be a pretty effective program to degrade any small influence that UU's have in Presidential elections. What I saying is that this is a broad-based cause, too.

Unknown said...

Partisan = to take a side, to take a stand.

If one is for social justice and anti oppressive, I think it follows that one is necessarily partisan. But partisan to whom? and to what?

For me, I work with the assumption (faith really) that there is a anti racist, progressive movement and I am part of it. I took a stand and became part of that movement.

Sometimes that movement finds the Democratic Electoral Coaliton to be a means to realize its goals, and sometimes it doesn't. At the present moment, in more than a few "fronts" of the struggle, the Democrats are on the same side as the anti racist, and progressive movement.

But the "indespensible nation" rhetoric, and big parts of the policy toward the rest of the world tell me keep me "this is an alliance of convenience."