American elections: the wisdom of the crowd?

This is the second in a series of two posts building off Something got you down, FOX News? (The first addressed the article The war on men.) Specifically, it explores another article trending on FOX at the time that post was written, Three words to define Obama 2.0. The author, Michael Goodwin, never specifies what the three words are, but after a careful reading, I believe they are “evasive, strident, and pugnacious.” OK.

I’m open to other suggestions.

I’m less interested in the gist of his argument – the piece advances a specious conspiracy theory regarding a media coverup of what happened re: Benghazi – and more interested in its conclusion:

It will be up to Republicans to persist, proving already that voters were wise to elect a divided government and keep the constitutional system of checks and balances vibrant.

I have no doubt that Republicans fully intend to persist. But Goodwin’s claim that voters were wise to elect a divided government is just wrong.

I imply that they lacked wisdom not in the sense that I would have preferred a Democratic House majority, but in the sense that attributing the Republican majority to wisdom of any kind is sort of absurd. Wisdom implies the exercise of choice, and as I have previously explored in completely non-original fashion, voters were given remarkably little in voting for their representatives. Here’s the Wonk Blog graphic once again:

In words, which party won the House majority depended on the decisions made in 74 Congressional districts — just 17% of the total number. In the other 361, voters could only cross their fingers. I’ve said it once, and I’ll say it again: The problem with democracy is that you can’t vote out the guys from places you aren’t. And it didn’t work out – the party that won Congressional ‘popular vote’ ended up with a 201-seat minority.

Michael Goodwin might approve of what the Congressional split means for the constitutional system of checks and balances, but that doesn’t mean it involved choice or wisdom on the part of the electorate. To present the Republican majority as reflecting – in any way – the will of the people is disingenuous at best… and also at worst. It’s just disingenuous. And its the kind of self-interested thinking that stands in the way of reform.

And in case you read this as sour grapes from someone who simply doesn’t like how the election turned out — that’s partially true, though I am trying to focus on Goodwin’s representation of the split rather than on the split itself — gerrymandering and safe districting should concern even those pleased with the outcome in the House.

These make for more than just a partisan issue: they’re part of why every issue is so goddamn partisan in the first place. The twin practices make for less accountability, and less accountability makes for a more divided Congress — or if you prefer reputable news sources, here’s the AP: New Congress: Fewer moderates make deals harder:

When the next Congress cranks up in January, there will be more women, many new faces and 11 fewer tea party-backed House Republicans from the class of 2010 who sought a second term.

Overriding those changes, though, is a thinning of pragmatic, centrist veterans in both parties. Among those leaving are some ofthe Senate’s most pragmatic lawmakers, nearly half the House’s centrist Blue Dog Democrats and several moderate House Republicans.

That could leave the parties more polarized even as President Barack Obama and congressional leaders talk up the cooperation needed to tackle complex, vexing problems such as curbing deficits, revamping tax laws and culling savings from Medicare and other costly, popular programs.

I guess that’s a good thing if you prefer a government that does nothing, or if you’re secretly hoping we go over the fiscal cliff (I guess not-so-secretly now that I’ve said it), but I think, in general, we would mostly prefer a Congress populated by moderates than dominated by radicals.

And right now, democracy is getting in the way.


6 thoughts on “American elections: the wisdom of the crowd?”

    1. Please, I’m not going to defend the electoral college! 🙂

      That said, had Obama won the electoral college but lost the popular vote, I wouldn’t have claimed the voters made a wise decision…


  1. The problem may not be gerrymandering, but “districting” itself:

    In fact, some suggest that redistricting has made the system more proportional:

    It makes sense. Imagine you have a state with 60% Republicans and 40% Democrats and you had 10 districts. If you made each district incredibly “safe,” and gave 6 districts to the Republicans with 100% and 4 districts to the Democrats with 100% (this is unrealistic but bear with me) you’d generally always have 6 Republican seats and 4 Democratic seats. That, then, would be more proportional *on average* than a system with 10 competitive seats, where you could easily have 10 Republicans or 10 Democrats despite only a few points swing in one direction or another at the statewide level.


    1. That could theoretically be addressed by dividing cities into wedges for the purposes of districting… but I also understand why a more concentrated urban population would naturally distort the numbers through districting. Interesting!


      1. That’s no wedge, that’s a gerrymander about to eat Chicago… by Wedge, I meant like a pizza – so you have some urban area mixed with some suburban areas… which also has its own set of problems.


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