Conscience & Re-Districting

In disucssing the battle over whether or not to expand the conscience exemptions regarding the new mandated coverage by HHS, a very msart political scientist and I came to the conclusion that if we had non-partisan re-districting, we would not even be having this conversation.

Every ten years, after the census, state legislators re-draw the maps of congressional districts. Because computers give highly detailed information about voting behavior, those who are carving the districts draw the lines to create "safe" districts in which incumbents are unlikely to be challenged. One side of a street that votes Republican may find itself in a different district from their neighbors across the street who tend to vote for Democrats. Maybe, one day, they will divide individual homes, putting Dem grandma's bedroom in one district and her GOP-leaning son's bedroom in a different district.

The result of this process is that the only challenge an incumbent fears is from within their own party in a primary. Primaries are traditionally low-turnout events, so a few galvanized people, driven by one or two issues, exercise disproportionate influence. Both parties are drawn to the extremes of their own parties, with the base exercising undue influence, enforcing a kind of orthodoxy on its members. Compromise becomes impossible and moderate, centrist politics is slowly exterminated.

The President, of course, is not influenced by re-districting. He must make his case to all the people and, so, must try to persuade moderate, centrist voters. Those centrists do not want extreme pro-choicers forcing their values on Catholic institutions just as they do not want Grover Norquist writing the tax code. I hope the President will notice that all those members of Congress and senators making conference call to his staff are from safe seats that will vote for him just as they voted for John Kerry and Michael Dukakis and Walter Mondale. But, if Obama wants a second term, he needs the people who voted against Kerry in 2004 and for Obama in 2008, that is, swing voters. Nobody swung so much as the Catholics and pissing them off is not the way to win re-election.

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