In Ratf**ked, David Daley tells, in vivid and painful detail, how the Republican Party, planning for the reapportionment that would follow the 2010 census, hatched a plan that would give them a crucial edge in the state legislatures that would carry out the redistricting. They were so successful that they were able to control the gerrymandering of enough congressional districts to create a very probable Republican congressional majority until the 2020 census.
Gerrymandering was not new. Almost from the beginning of two-party politics in the United States, gerrymandering has been used by both parties to make particular districts uncompetitive (“safe,” that is, for one of the parties or the other). What was new was the novel idea of targeting particular state legislatures, and well laid plans to get a very slim party majority in them in advance of redistricting.
It may well be that the Republicans violated the gentlemen’s agreement with the Democrats about how this game was supposed to be played. However, I feel that Ratf**ked makes too much of the Machiavellian ruthlessness of the Republicans, and is correspondingly too soft on the Democrats. To me, it defies belief that Democrats were just too innocent to know how bad the Republicans were, or that they simply got caught napping.
The Democratic Party’s calling card is that they are “the party of the common man.” But since their main allegiance is to the shared control of the political process, they are careful not to get too strong. If they were to get too strong, a few embarrassing questions could be asked about why they are not more effective in serving “the common man.” If those mean and nasty Republicans get too strong – well, what can you do, they just don’t play fair! (For more on this neglected subject, be sure to read Indispensable Enemies by Walter Karp.)
Not getting too strong demands, above all, not mobilizing their base. So for example, when the Tea Party was busy organizing “town meetings” to oppose Obamacare, you might have thought the Democratic Party would have organized a few of the 38 million people who had no health insurance into town meetings of their own. Of course, they did nothing of the kind. For the Democratic Party, the mobilization of it’s base is to be avoided like the plague, because they may not be able to control it.
Similarly, if the Democratic Party were to get into a brawl with the Republicans over gerrymandering, it would weaken the Democratic machine in at least two ways. First, they might actually win! This would put pressure on them to use their increased power on behalf of “the common people” they are supposed to represent. Second, even if they didn’t win it would turn over the rock under which gerrymandering and other manipulations by the two political machines thrive – about which the less said the better!
Finally, the Democratic Party is plenty ruthless when it comes to attacking insurgents in their own party (ask Jesse Jackson and Bernie Sanders) or independents (ask Lenora Fulani).
Lou Hinman lives in New York City and is an activist with IndependentVoting.org and the New York City Independence Clubs.