Slaying Governor Gerry’s Monster

Among the more noteworthy monsters or monstrosities of the world is the American way of electing a President. For four years, maybe eight, of being President (during the last two of which no one will pay attention to you because they’re obsessed with who will be next) it is now standard procedure to spend at least two years, probably more, seeking the office. And that means endless days and nights of fund-raising appearances quite apart from a) time spent contacting the hands of potential voters and b) keeping up some kind of appearances at one’s day job. It’s a great advantage to be unemployed if you want to be President.

Recent announcements by likely and unlikely candidates for the position have led to considerable musing on the subject. Unless you are Harold Stassen or Norman Thomas, you only get one or two shots at the job and if you are a professional politician and you are somewhere between 40 and 70, the thought has probably crossed your mind that you might some day be President. No one else may have thought of it, but you have. And now is the moment for many such thoughts to surface. Christopher Dodd has been a relatively decent Senator from Connecticut, but who looks at him and sees a President? Governor Thomas Vilsack of Iowa may be a very good governor and undoubtedly has a certain advantage in the Iowa caucuses, but how many people outside the Iowa governor’s mansion have thought to themselves, “You know, Tom Vilsack would make a great President”?

And now we are told that a small group of professional campaign advisors has decided to slay the monster. So quietly that even someone like myself who pays attention to these things was unaware of it until I read the current Atlantic Monthly, (Now, there’s a way to get noticed: a piece in the Atlantic Monthly!) Yet, when I looked on line, sure enough there were multiple entries under “Unity08,” some laudatory, some critical. Some people have noticed.

The thesis of Unity08 is that the system is broken, that the parties are becoming polarized, and that we need a ticket that can lead from the center. Thus they insist on their candidates for President and Vice-President coming from different parties. Is this a recipe for progress or frustration? What can a Vice-President do if the President isn’t interested in his opinion?

Seems to me the problem is the increasingly polarized election districts, scientifically sculpted to give one party control so that the candidate need only appeal to the most partisan voters. The real problem is the gerrymander, a monster created in 1812 in Massachusetts and suddenly coming to dominate our political lives with the increasingly skillful use of the computer to design election districts that only one party can hope to win.

We have one state, Iowa, with districts designed by a non-partisan committee. We have one governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger of California, who has put non-partisan destricting on his agenda. Good for him! But that’s too small a beginning. Maybe the technicians behind Unity08 could put their skills to work on that project and really accomplish something.

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