In the United States, Republicans enjoy much greater power than their support merits. There are a number of reasons for this. The Republican “base” votes, whereas lots of other people don’t bother. And, of course, there is extensive gerrymandering, which the current Republican party has taken to new lows. If that isn’t enough there is organised voter suppression, which targets the poor and others unlikely to vote for the party of the rich. Of this anti-democratic brew, people’s unwillingness to vote is ultimately the most worrying.
The new Republican zeal is in part explained by the poor long-term outlook for the party. Demographic patterns suggest an inexorable rise of non-Wasp minorities in the US. For very good reasons these minorities do not care for the Republicans and don’t vote for them. However, unless non-Republicans get over the idea that their only democratic duty is to vote in the presidential election and that they can safely ignore mid-term elections, Republicans may be able to perpetuate their rule in favour of the privileged and socially conservative minorities indefinitely.
Traditional moderate Republicans who initiated the new gerrymandering did not foresee one of its major drawbacks. The process has led to a growing number of safe Republican seats and this in turn has led to intense struggles within the Republican party for nominations. Enter the extreme right and the Tea Party simpletons, manipulated by anti-democratic Svengalis in Washington.
Most half-way sane Republicans now live in fear of a putsch from the right. And successful attacks take place regularly, leading to the emergence of scary right-wing zealots at state level, in the House of Representatives and even in the Senate.
In a New York Review article, Elizabeth Drew explains:
The 2010 elections were the single most important event leading up to the domination of the House by the Republican far right. Both the recession and organized agitation by the Tea Party over the newly passed health care law ‑ “spontaneous” campaigns guided from Washington by the old pros Karl Rove and Dick Armey, and funded by reactionary business moguls ‑ helped the Republicans, and especially the most radical elements in the party, sweep into the majority in the House of Representatives and take control of twelve additional states, including Ohio, Florida, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and Michigan. The Republicans who took over states in 2010 reset our politics. Among other things, they made the House of Representatives unrepresentative. In 2012 Democrats won more than 1.7 million more votes for the House than the Republicans did, but they picked up only eight seats. (This was the largest discrepancy between votes and the division of House seats since 1950.)
The new Republican domination has led to tax cuts for the wealthy, the introduction of comprehensive sales taxes, which of course discriminate against the poor, less money for welfare and education and the introduction of transvaginal ultrasound examinations for women seeking abortions. “Consensual sodomy” is one of the latest targets. The right has a view of how society should be and it seems it will stop at nothing to advance it.
Most of all, of course, they hate Obamacare. Drew feels that these zealots, who will do anything to unravel this piece of legislation before it becomes operational, possibly successful and even popular, may overreach themselves. Writing just before the Republicans forced a government shutdown, Drew argued that such a shutdown would seriously hurt the Republicans, just as it did in 1996 when Bill Clinton outmanoeuvred Newt Gingrich. This may well be true, but wouldn’t it be nice if instead of waiting for the right to self-destruct, people got off their backsides and exercised their hard-won right to vote.
Read Elizabeth Drew here.