The Government’s Basic Structural Problems

Steve Co, writing for the New Yorker’s blog:

Media narratives of the fiscal-cliff negotiations and the upcoming debt-ceiling brinksmanship often seem premised on the idea that the American people have voted for a divided government and are demanding that President Obama and the Republican House split their difflllerences in a responsible bipartisan bargain, grand or otherwise. But what if the voters, properly understood, haven’t actually sent such a message?

Obama won the popular vote by a comfortable margin and secured a second term in the White House. That same day, more Americans voted for Democratic Senate candidates than Republicans; this led to the inauguration, last week, of a Senate led by Democrats. And a million more Americans voted for Democratic candidates for the House of Representatives than voted for Republican candidates. Yet the new House has a thirty-three-seat Republican majority.

There is one main reason for the electoral anomaly in the House: gerrymandering.

It’s more important to address the big structural problems in the government than it is to tackle any particular issue. Those structural problems are, in order of importance, gerrymandering in the House, the 60-vote requirement to impose cloture on a filibuster in the Senate, and the fundamental structure of the electoral college.

Gerrymandering is particularly important right now because it not only leads to party representation inconsistent with votes earned, as the above quote makes clear, but, more importantly, incentivizes House members to cater to the extreme wings of their party. House members from safe districts have much more to fear from a primary challenge from the fringe than they do from their general election opponent.