Sarah Palin represents “old-fashioned” values. You may see that as a good thing (if you’re conservative) or a bad thing (if you’re liberal). But whatever side you’re on, we pretty much all agree that she’s peddling a return to a hazy golden era of American history before the big-government welfare state arrived on the scene and ruined (conservative) or fixed (liberal) everything.
What’s confusing is that she’s using ultra-modern media techniques to promulgate her retro message. She’s the queen of Twitter, Facebook, reality TV, soundbites and blogbursts.
Shouldn’t we be using retro propaganda techniques to promote a retro ideology?
My answer: Yes!
The medium is the message, people, and if you want to bring back the values of the past, you necessarily must do so by utilizing the media techniques of that same past.
In order to rectify this glaring omission in the conservative messaging arsenal, I have taken it upon myself to create the kind of propaganda that the Palin campaign (and she is running for president, no doubt about it) ought to be making:
(Click on the illustration [or here] to view a full-size version of the poster, suitable for framing or detailed admiration.)
This drawing is based on those classic “stairway to a better life” illustrations often found in early/mid-20th-century self-help books and magazine articles.
Print, link, distribute — backward to a better future!
(In the first half of this essay, Gerrymandering 101, I explained how gerrymandering works and why it’s so ubiquitous. Here in the exciting conclusion I name and shame the ten most gerrymandered districts of the current 111th Congress — plus 20 bizarre bonus districts not mentioned in the title.)
This is what most people imagine when they think of a gerrymandered district — what I call “Gerrymander Classic.” NC-12 looks very much like the gerrymandered districts of the 19th century, but taken to extremes. As bad as it is, NC-12 at least looks like a congressional district, with meandering lines, consistent width, and hand-drawn appearance. As we’ll soon see, modern gerrymandering is often another animal altogether, with jarring shapes and artificial boundaries that are not just offensive to the eye but somehow feel like an insult to rationality.
This is what gerrymandering looks like in the modern era: ugly. Gone are any attempts at aesthetics. In the old days, redistricters at least tried to disguise their gerrymandering by drawing district lines that looked almost kinda sorta reasonable. No more. Nowadays many districts, with FL-20 being a good example, seem to be the result of computer algorithms with no regard whatsoever for human or natural boundaries. Needless to say, all sense of “community” within a congressional is out the window altogether when it is shaped like this, with jagged tendrils reaching out every which way to gobble up the desired demographic.
PA-12 is a rare example of “packing” (jamming as many opposition voters as possible into one district) that backfired. This district was created to be a Democratic stronghold formerly held by Congressman Jack Murtha, who was assumed to have a lock on the district. At the last redistricting in 2000, the Republicans in charge gave up on the area, which is solidly unionized, and decided to “pack” Murtha’s new district with as many Democrats as possible, to allow the remaining districts in the region a chance to have slim Republican majorities. But in the intervening ten years everything has changed: the area grew more and more conservative, and the locally popular Murtha died, opening up the seat to possible challengers. In the 2010 election, PA-12 barely remained Democratic with Mark Critz winning by a hairsbreadth 50.8%-49.2% margin — while most of the surrounding districts overwhelmingly went Republican. Thus, if the foolish 2000 Republican redistricters had not consciously set out to create a “packed” Democratic district, and had instead just drawn the boundaries at random, they could have easily won all the races in the area, instead of losing this one (and the adjacent PA-4) by the slimmest of margins. Note to gerrymanderers: THINGS CHANGE. What may appear to be a wise gerrymander maneuver today may blow up in your face sometime in the future.
I have included NC-6 as a perfect example of “inverse gerrymandering,” a district that is partly hollowed out internally by a different gerrymandered district — in this case, the northern end of NC-12, our first example above. NC-6 is a stark reminder that no gerrymander is freestanding: all congressional districts are interlocked like jigsaw puzzle pieces, and every time you enclose any area by some outrageous boundary line, you are disincluding that same area from some surrounding district. So for every gerrymander you create, you are likely to also have a less-noticeable but just as offensive inverse gerrymander next door.
Florida has more than its fair share of gerrymandering nightmares. But while many of the state’s districts were admittedly drawn to favor Republican candidates, FL-3 is instead a federally mandated “minority-majority” district gerrymandered to give black voters a voice:
[FL-3] was drawn in 1992 to be North Florida’s black-majority seat and Democrats were shifted from the surrounding districts to make the surrounding districts more Republican. It currently stretches from Jacksonville’s downtown in the north to Orlando’s in the south, and stretches east and west to include other largely minority and Democratic areas such as Gainesville, Sanford and Eatonville. As a result of this gerrymandering, the district is strongly Democratic with a Cook Partisan Voting Index of D +18 and gave Obama 73% of its vote in the 2008 election. It is 50.9% black and 35.4% white. … The 3rd District is at the center of the debate over the potential impact of the FairDistricts initiative. Due to its shape, the 3rd is one of several districts that violate restrictions in the initiative which require compact districts that conform to geographical and political boundaries. On the other hand, the 3rd District is protected by the Voting Rights Act and a non-compact shape may be necessary to ensure it remains an effective African-American seat.
The “FairDistricts Initiative,” ballot proposals designed to finally make Florida’s redistricting theoretically nonpartisan, was finally approved by voters this year on November 2 — but was immediately challenged in court not by the Republicans as you might imagine but by none other than Corrine Brown, the representative of FL-3! Why? Because the new law stipulates that districts be geographically compact, which would eliminate her voting bloc and most likely her seat in Congress, when FL-3 is totally reconfigured next year. Which is ironic, because Republicans also view the new law with disdain, seeing it as a plot to swing the redistricting advantage back to the Democrats. Sigh. Can’t we all just get along? (Answer: NO!)
Political scientists love to cite IL-17 as the prototypical gerrymandered district, and you are likely to see IL-17 used as the illustration in many academic treatises about redistricting. And we can see why here. Its shape has often been described as “a rabbit on a skateboard,” though to me it looks more like an embryonic ichneumon wasp with a pancreatic cyst. We saw above how PA-12 was a gerrymandering blunder by the Republicans; IL-17 is the opposite, a gerrymandered district created by Democrats to ensure themselves a seat in western Illinois — but which this year was snatched from their grasp by Tea Party candidate and now congressman-elect Bobby Schilling. Ooops! The Democrats went out on a limb when drawing IL-17 — several limbs, by the looks of it — but the wave election of 2010 changed the electoral landscape. Let me repeat my warning to over-confident redistricters next year: THINGS CHANGE. Gerrymander at your own risk.
Florida-22 isn’t a congressional district: it’s series of random lines generated by a malfunctioning dot-matrix printer. What else could explain the sheer purposelessness of the innumerable jagged ins and outs of a district so thin that in a few places you could run across it in under a minute? All of this to achieve — what? A district that is almost perfectly balanced between Democrats and Republicans. Couldn’t the same result have been effected a little more simply, perhaps by circling some random part of a Florida map with a felt pen? But all is forgiven, Florida-22, because on November 2 you elected as your representative Allen West MFC (My Favorite Congressman), quite obviously the next President of the United States.
The odd shape of the district is indicative of the use of gerrymandering in its construction. The unusual division was not, however, drawn to favor politicians. Owing to historic tensions between the Hopi and the Navajo Native American tribes and since tribal boundary disputes are a federal matter, it was thought inappropriate that both tribes should be represented in the U.S. House of Representatives by the same member. Since the Hopi reservation is completely surrounded by the Navajo reservation, and in order to comply with current Arizona redistricting laws, some means of connection was required that avoided including large portions of Navajo land, hence the narrow riverine connection.
So, the district was drawn this way so that Hopis and Navajos don’t give each other “electoral cooties” by having to vote for the same congressman? What — is America now a 3rd-grade playground? Imagine how Republicans in Nancy Pelosi’s district feel, or Democrats in rural Texas. All across America people have to line up at polling places alongside people whom they despise. Get over it.
The new district was concocted after the 2000 Census when Maryland, like all states, drew up new congressional and state legislative district boundaries to reflect changes in the population.
Former Secretary of State John T. Willis, who was in charge of the redistricting as chairman of the Governor’s Redistricting Advisory Committee, said the committee did not mean for the 3rd District to look like it does. That’s just how the numbers worked out, he said.
“It’s a very complex situation, and population is the No. 1 driving characteristic,” Willis said.
The final plan, Willis noted proudly, created eight congressional districts that had almost exactly the same number of people in them.
“All of our congressional districts don’t deviate by more than one person,” he said.
But Rascovar said that no matter how the committee “painted it”, the new boundaries were drawn to favor Democratic candidates in the 2nd District.
“They needed ‘x’ number of votes . . . what you end up doing is juggling these neighborhood votes, and it becomes absurd,” Rascovar said.
“The most absurd is that the politicians drawing up these districts are no longer concerned with the neighborhoods,” he said. “All they care is, ‘How many loyal Democrats can I get in this district?’ ”
Willis disagreed. Although the interests of incumbent representatives were taken into consideration, he said, no single district was favored.
We didn’t draw the district that way on purpose. It was an accident! Honest!
Here it is: The most ridiculous congressional district in the entire country. No, you’re not looking at two districts; IL-4 has two absurdly gerrymandered halves held together by a thin strip of land at its western edge that is nothing more than the median strip along Interstate Highway 294. The end result is a gerrymandered gerrymander, a complete mockery of what congressional representation is even supposed to be. As with AZ-2, the intention behind IL-4 was to create an ethnic enclave, in this case an Hispanic-majority district within an otherwise overwhelmingly non-Hispanic Chicago. Problem is, Chicago has two completely distinct and geographically separate Hispanic neighborhoods — one Puerto Rican, the other Mexican — but neither is large enough to constitute a district majority on its own. Solution? Lump all Hispanics together into a supposedly coherent cultural grouping, and then carefully draw a line surrounding every single Hispanic household in Chicago, linking the two distant neighborhoods by means of an uninhabited highway margin. Voila! One Hispanic congressperson, by design. And as a side-effect, the most preposterous congressional district in the United States.
But wait — our gerrymander tour isn’t over. If you think those ten were bad, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet. While they may have indeed been the ten most gerrymandered districts in the nation, at least they shared something admirable in common: They were legal. The same cannot be said about our next ten districts, which may not be as crazily shaped as the ones above, but which are in one crucial aspect far worse: they’re noncontiguous.
The whole reason gerrymandering even exists as a practice in the first place is to overcome the requirement that each congressional district be contiguous — in other words, a unified single enclosed area, however strangely shaped it may be. This self-evident need to create contiguous districts is the whole reason why gerrymandered district boundaries wander all over the landscape, so as to enclose certain sought-after voters while still keeping them geographically connected to the rest of the district. Without the requirement to have each district be contiguous, politicians could easily have created a new level of fantasmagorial gerrymandering in which demographic groupings are enclosed without any regard to where they might be located on a map, forging “districts” out of disconnected topological islands.
Thank heavens that can never happen, right? Right?
The politicians in charge of redistricting are so brazen in some states that they seem to have gotten drunk on gerrymander wine, tossing caution to the wind and cavalierly creating noncontiguous congressional districts with portions completely cut off from the rest of the voters. How in the world they got away with this, I have no idea — apparently, if you have the hubris to create gerrymandered districts in the first place, it’s not so big a step to cross the invisible boundary between unethical and illegal.
That said, I am unaware of any federal law stipulating that districts be contiguous; it seems to be legislated on a state-by-state basis. And it could very well be that certain states intentionally fail to pass or enforce such a law, if it serves a political purpose to violate it. After all, who’s going to prosecute the redistricters? Themselves?
If this trend continues, perhaps the time has come to enact nationwide guidelines expressly prohibiting noncontiguous congressional districts. Until that time, we’ll have…
Gerrymander: It’s a dirty word. Everyone knows it’s a political insult, but not everyone understands exactly what it means. And even many of those who know what gerrymandering is don’t fully grasp how it completely dominates American politics.
Welcome to Gerrymandering 101.
Pundits across the political spectrum are now noting that the 2010 Republican tsunami was bigger and more significant than it might appear on the surface, because the Republicans not only won a record number of federal races, they also utterly crushed the Democrats in local races, winning at least 675 seats in state legislatures. This spells doom for the Democrats because next year the states will re-draw the congressional district lines to accommodate the results of the 2010 census:
When the 2010 Census results are announced next month, the 435 House seats will be reapportioned to the states, and state officials will draw new district lines in each state. … Republicans look to have a bigger advantage in this redistricting cycle they’ve ever had before.
“Advantage”? Advantage in what? Isn’t drawing little squiggly lines on a map the most boring and least consequential job imaginable?
Think again. Remember this motto: He Who Draws The Lines Determines The Winners.
Yes, it’s that simple. If you can’t quite visualize how gerrymandering can possibly succeed — after all, the number of voters stays the same no matter how you group them, and if you exclude opposition voters from one district, you necessarily must include them in an adjacent district — keep reading. This essay explains in no uncertain terms how manipulating district boundaries can lead to a complete subversion of true representative government.
When commentators blithely note that Republicans will have a “redistricting advantage” next year because of their dominance in state houses, they gloss over the ugly details of what that means. Few are willing to speak The G-Word, but Jonathan Chait at The New Republic takes the plunge:
2. Redistricting. If that’s not a problem enough for Democrats, it’s about to get a lot worse. Republicans had their wave election at a very convenient time, putting themselves in position to control numerous state legislatures and thus control the next round of redistricting, which will last a decade. Partisan gerrymandering can be an extremely powerful tool, and combined with the natural geographic gerrymander, can give Republicans an overwhelming advantage, if not quite an absolute lock.
The reason even most liberals are keeping mute about the horrors of the upcoming Republican gerrymandering is that Democrats have been the most ardent practitioners of it whenever they’ve had the slightest chance. You may have wondered how America overall tends to prefer conservative policies (pollsters like to say “We’re a center/right country”) yet we often have a liberal or at least Democratic majority in the Congress. How can this be? Gerrymandering. It’s so powerful that it has at times fundamentally altered the political slant of our government. Many of the worst gerrymandered districts illustrated in tomorrow’s Part II of this essay (“The Top Ten Most Gerrymandered Congressional Districts in the United States” — don’t miss it!) are the handiwork of Democratic politicians, so the Democrats would have no leg to stand on if they were to now turn around and criticize the Republicans for doing what they’ve been doing for decades — centuries, even. The Republicans have done it too, of course, but in the majority of states in recent cycles, the Democrats have had the advantage, and they’ve not been ashamed to use it.
But that brings up a question of morality: Should the Republican class of 2010 continue the partisan cheating? Is turnabout fair play? Just because the Democrats have attempted to skew the national dialogue for decades, does that give the Republicans the right to do so now? And if your answer is “No,” then how can we possibly stop the practice? Because if the Republicans refrain from gerrymandering the 2010 census, then the Democrats’ pre-existing gerrymandering will remain in place, allowing them to remain over-represented in future elections, and when they regain power they’ll continue redistricting the country to their advantage, laughing at the Republicans for not having done the same when they had the chance.
The original “Gerry-mander” district, from 1812
Gerrymandering is not a new phenomenon. It’s been around since the very beginnings of our nation, so long that one could fairly say that the United States has been built on the principle of gerrymandering. The very first congressional districts were somewhat gerrymandered, and it’s been downhill ever since. The phenomenon was finally noticed and properly named in 1812:
The word gerrymander (originally written Gerry-mander) was used for the first time in the Boston Gazette newspaper on March 26, 1812. The word was created in reaction to a redrawing of Massachusetts state senate election districts under the then governor Elbridge Gerry. In 1812, Governor Gerry signed a bill that redistricted Massachusetts to benefit his Democratic-Republican Party. When mapped, one of the contorted districts in the Boston area was said to resemble the shape of a salamander. … The term was a portmanteau of the governor’s last name and the word salamander.
A misshapen or lopsided district is not always due to political shenanigans. In a few cases, the apparent gerrymandering can be forgiven, because it’s following natural geographic features — coastlines, mountain ranges, rivers — or pre-existing zigzagging political divisions, such as state borders or city limits. But in every instance where the lines follow no natural contour, you can rest assured they were drawn to benefit the party in power.
A lot of pundits are going to live-blog election day.
But can we wait that long? NO! That’s 24 whole hours in the future.
We need some live-bloggin’ now.
If you can’t wait for tomorrow, and are itching for an open thread today, this is the place to be.
I’ll be updating this post throughout the day with election-related news and snippets (plus some original content, as always). The comments section is a free-for-all — any topic you want, including and especially breaking news and tips for updates. When you vote tomorrow (and you will vote tomorrow) you’ll be part of the hoped-for electoral tsunami; but you can now be part of the pre-tsunami too.
Looks like the Republican wave is cresting at maximum height as it reaches the rocky shores of November 2:
That seems to be the best way to characterize the Democrats’ attempts at following Alinsky’s directive to “Pick the Target, Freeze It, Personalize It and Polarize It.” How can you do that if your opponents have no leader?
First they tried to “freeze, personalize and polarize” Rush Limbaugh, then Sarah Palin, then Glenn Beck, then John Boehner, then Karl Rove, then Glenn Beck again, then Christine O’Donnell, then Rand Paul, then Bill O’Reilly, then Sarah Palin Again, then Glenn Beck again…but it just isn’t working. Because the Tea Party is not a political party and it has no identifiable leader. Must be frustrating for the Alinskyites! In a pinch, they can always fall back on “You’re all racists!”
Chandra Levy always holds a special place in my heart, because her murder was the very last major news story before the 9/11 era. Her killing dominated the headlines until 9am, September 11, 2001, when the world suddenly changed, in an instant and forever. And she was (for many years) wiped from our collective memory.
Aside from the poignancy and tragedy her story would hold even under normal historical circumstances, it somehow has became a landmark in American history, the last moment of the “Era of Innocence.”
One of the most peculiar curiosities of this election season has pretty much eluded media detection until now: Bruce Lee is running for office! Yes, that Bruce Lee. You’d think he’d be a shoo-in, but he’s got some heavy-duty competition in his race: Eleanor Roosevelt, Booker T. Washington, Diego Rivera, and Arthur Miller:
As much as we’d all love to vote for Bruce Lee for anything, he’s dead, as are all of his opponents.
A local resident notified me that ads for Bruce Lee and his opponents were cropping up all over Oakland and Berkeley, so I made a trip to snap the photo you see above, showing a public advertisement in Oakland.
This being Barbara Lee’s district, the candidates are almost all left-wing icons:
Eleanor Roosevelt — Grande Dame of the progressive movement
Booker T. Washington — Civil rights pioneer
Diego Rivera — communist artist
Arthur Miller — award-winning playwright and one-time communist
Rounding off the list are two strange choices: sultry-voiced beloved jazz vocalist Shirley Horn, who seemed to be entirely apolitical; and kung fu maestro Bruce Lee, whose opinions about American politics are similarly unknown. But that’s why we love him: we don’t know his politics, so there’s nothing to disagree with!
I had thought at first that this offbeat selection of sample candidates was confined to Alameda County, perhaps the result of a bored county employee entering in his or her personal heroes, knowing they would be uncontroversial in this “progressive” district. But a bit of research turned up something unexpected: The exact same slate of sample candidates is also running in Pierce County, Washington (the area south of Seattle, including Tacoma):
What exactly is going on here? Who came up with these voting choices? And why are they being used in counties three states away from each other?
A mystery we may likely never resolve.
That said, I think it’s a travesty that we don’t actually have the chance to vote for Bruce Lee, for real. So, to correct this obvious deficiency in the 2010 election season, I have created my own online poll, featuring all the candidates in the Alameda and Pierce County sample ballots.
Since I don’t want to commit pre-emptive voter fraud by declaring Bruce the winner ahead of time, I will let the people speak!
But before we do so, here is a word of wisdom from Bruce himself, which we can consider his political philosophy:
“Do not deny the classical approach, simply as a reaction, or you will have created another pattern and trapped yourself there”.
In case you need help deciding, here are the campaign sites for each candidate:
As the value of Federal Reserve Notes (commonly known as “the United States Dollar”) continues to fall, some Americans have abandoned the currency in favor of “Obama Notes”—scraps of paper signed by President Obama. In a recent exhange, a Michigan woman traded one Obama Note for enough monetary value to partially pay for her house.
At this early stage, it is unknown at what level the exchange rate between Obama Notes and Federal Reserve Notes will initially settle on, but current estimates are around 7,000 US dollars for one Obama Note.
Among Ishmael Reed’s other honors are writing fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and National Endowment for the Arts. In 1995, he received the Langston Hughes Medal, awarded by City College of New York; in 1997, the Lila Wallace Reader’s Digest Award, establishing a 3-year collaboration with the Oakland based Second Start Literacy Project in 1998. In 1998, he also received a John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Fellowship award. In 1999, he received a Fred Cody Award from the Bay Area Book Reviewers Association, and was inducted into Chicago State University’s National Literary Hall of Fame of Writers of African Descent. Other awards include a Rene Castillo OTTO Award for Political Theatre (2002); a Phillis Wheatley Award from the Harlem Book Fair (2003); and in 2004, a Robert Kirsch Award, a Los Angeles Times Book Prize, besides the D.C. Area Writing Project’s 2nd Annual Exemplary Writer’s Award and the Martin Millennial Writers, Inc. Contribution to Southern Arts Award, in Memphis, Tennessee….
The San Francisco Chronicle features on its Web site several blogs authored by leading Bay Area citizens. These blogs, known as “City Brights,” allows these pillars of the intellectual community to speak directly to the public.
Ishmael Reed is one of those San Francisco Chronicle bloggers. And yesterday, on the Chronicle‘s Web site, he unveiled his commentary on tomorrow’s election.
Considering his stature, his statement needs no editing or analysis; when someone in his position has something to say, it stands on its own, and requires no further commentary.
Instead: Complete impotence and total inaction on the part of the U.S. government.
Meanwhile, if someone threatens to contest a buiding permit in New York, the White House swings into action!
Note: I’ve just spent 20 minutes skimming through every single left-leaning site out there, searching for irrational Democratic optimism to contrast with the latest prediction saying that the Republicans will destroy the Democrats with a pick up of at least 70 seats. And you know what? I couldn’t find a single progressive article to rebut it! Every single leftist site is filled with gloom that the Rethuglicans have a lock on the House and will likely go way beyond that.
If the electoral climate is so bad that it quashes the irrational exuberance of even the most irrationally exuberant leftists, you know it’s going to be a day for the history books.
Headline I’d like to see tomorrow night:
Mayan priests: “Did we say 2012? Sorry about that — we meant 2010.”
Reader Carl Hoffman attended Jon Stewart’s “Rally to Restore Whatever” event on Saturday and came back with a photo of what I consider the one sign which perfectly encapsulates the self-defeating cognitive dissonance of unthinking “progressives”:
“Pro Mosque, Pro Masturbation”
Extra credit study question: Spot the logical fallacy in this picture.
On one hand, the professors take hard-left stances on sexuality and gender issues, claiming to staunchly support the rights of gays and women. Yet they also worship at the altar of radical Middle East studies professors who act as apologists for Sharia law and other policies completely at odds with Western “liberalism.”
Top Ten Candidates I’d Most Like to Vote for in 2010:
9. The guy with the Slurpee laughing at Obama in the ditch
8. Alvin Green
7. Bruce Lee
6. Jimmy “The Rent is Too Damn High” McMillan
5. Carl Paladino (Baseball bat to the state house? Hell yeah!)
4. Christine O’Donnell (just for the pure head-explosion-osity of it)
3. Miza Lurk-o-sky as a write-in for Alaska Senate (just to ensure the recount lasts til December at least)
2. Allen West (for real)
1. Aqua Buddha
In case you missed it, yesterday’s poem “The Department of Free,” (which someone piquantly described as “Dr. Seuss meets Ayn Rand”) was given a glorious dramaticreading treatment by Scott Baker and Liz Stephans of The Blaze and B-Cast:
Liberal media spin on the World Series outcome, to bring solace to the Democrats:
Nancy Pelosi’s district defeats George Bush’s state
Well, it’s already election day on the East Coast. So it’s time to wrap this up.
Need I say what the next step is for everyone reading this? You know already: