- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 6, 2010

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

In an earlier age, “Immanentize the Eschaton” — introduced by philosopher Erich Voegelin, popularized by William F. Buckley Jr., made into a slogan by Young Americans for Freedom — became an insiders’ rallying cry for a generation of conservatives. The polysyllabic slogan meaning “to seek heaven on earth” became a warning from conservatives (the YAF button read “don’t immanentize the eschaton”).

“Eradicate the Gerrymander” may not have the same mellifluous tonal qualities as the earlier slogan, but, on both philosophical and practical political grounds, it may end up becoming just as important to a new generation of conservatives.

Gerrymandering is the act of drawing election-district boundaries to benefit one group of voters at the expense of another. The nickname was created almost two centuries ago, when Massachusetts Gov. Elbridge Gerry approved a new legislative map that included a district shaped like a salamander. A newspaper wag combined the governor’s name with the amphibian’s, and a new term was born.

Redistricting takes place at the state level — in most states, the state legislature passes a bill through both houses, and the governor signs it into law. States redraw lines for both their own legislative districts and the U.S. House of Representatives. The Constitution mandates the exercise at least once a decade, based on the population figures in the decennial Census.

Since before Gerry’s salamander, political parties have vied with one another to control the line-drawing process. When one party controls both houses of the legislature and the governor’s office, it controls the process outright; the result, often, is bizarrely shaped districts that resemble Rorschach ink-blot test characters — all in the name of ensuring the election of members of one party over the other.

First let’s consider the philosophical objection.

What’s truly objectionable about gerrymandering isn’t that it results in bizarrely shaped districts; what’s objectionable is that by drawing lines in such a way as to create “safe” seats for a Democrat or a Republican, it insulates elected officials from the voters they represent, and makes them more difficult — in some cases, virtually impossible — to defeat for re-election.

This is a violation of one of the fundamental principles of the Constitution. The Founders gave members of the House of Representatives a single two-year term of office for a reason — they wanted the House to be that body of the federal government most closely attuned to the populace. By creating a two-year term, they ensured that no member of the body would ever be more than 23 months away from having to face his voters again. That would, in the Founders’ minds, generate a healthy interest on the part of the Member in what his constituents were thinking about the issues of the day.

But over the decades — and especially since the introduction of the desktop computer in the 1980s — the act of redistricting has become less about allowing voters to select their representatives than about allowing representatives to select their voters.

The ability of party elites to slice and dice demographic and voter registration information to create “safe” districts has perverted the notion of accountability to the people — who cares about what the people have to say, if you’re in a district so heavily gerrymandered that you could only be defeated if someone published pictures of you with Tiger Woods?

The House was meant to be that body of the federal government that turned over more frequently than either the presidency or the Senate. Instead, because of gerrymandering, it is the most ossified branch of the federal government.

That’s not the way it was meant to be, and, as conservatives, we should object on philosophical grounds.

Beyond the philosophical objection, though, is a more practical political consideration, which can be summarized in a simple equation: “Gerrymandering = Higher Taxes and Higher Spending.”

Consider: Unless you’re one of the 60 or so true market-oriented conservatives in the House, the only thing that keeps you from succumbing to the lure of Washington-based special interests constantly asking you to vote for their spending programs is the knowledge that on a regular basis, you have to stand before the voters back home.

If you didn’t ever have to worry about getting re-elected, why would you ever say “no” to the special interests with their hands out? What politician likes saying “no?” None. They live to say “yes.”

Not surprisingly, those members in the gerrymandered districts tend to be the same members who vote for more and more spending.

So, by reducing the fear of being defeated at the polls, gerrymandering increases the likelihood that members will vote for more and more spending — and, eventually, they’ll have to vote for the higher and higher taxes to pay for that spending.

“Eradicate the Gerrymander.” Put it on your rear bumper.

Bill Pascoe is CEO of the Foundation for American Freedom, and writes the “In the Right” blog for CQPolitics.com.

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