A winning issue for McCain
By Bruce Walker
John McCain can still win this election, but he needs to find an issue that truly separates him from Barack Obama. During the Democrat debates, Hillary Clinton was asked about New York drivers licenses for illegal aliens. There was only one right answer, but the political advantage of giving the right answer was not obvious to Hillary. She, like Obama, always wants to make the politically helpful answer to any question. While she flip-flopped and hesitated, Americans saw the real Hillary: Someone always calculating what positioning would help her most politically. At that moment, the Democrat nomination battle changed. McCain needs to expose Obama in the next debate just like Hillary was exposed at that moment in the Democrat debates.
If McCain is to show the American people that he is a true reformer, while Obama is just another Chicago machine politician, then McCain needs to raise a proposal which is clearly good for American politics, an important campaign issue which he has not raised so far, an issue that will soon confront our nation, and an issue in which Barack Obama is vulnerable. McCain needs this issue to be one that Democrats themselves have complained about, and an issue in which McCain can show that he truly rises above party labels: An issue, like earmarks, in which McCain stands up for the people against Washington insiders of both political parties, an issue which the next president will face during his first term. There is such an issue: Congressional reform of gerrymandering by state legislatures.
In 2010, the Bureau of the Census will count Americans again, just as it has every ten years since the founding of the Republic. Then state legislatures will engage in the most crassly political and public act of partisan corruption legally allowed in America: Those legislatures and state governors will redraw congressional districts and state legislative districts so that the minority party wins much fewer congressional and state legislative races than it would with neutrally drawn legislative districts.
These old style politicians will do more than that, though, when they draw obscenely contorted legislative districts. They will draw congressional and state legislative districts so that incumbent legislators of both parties face no real opposition over the next decade of elections. Incumbents, in gerrymandered districts, choose their voters. Sophisticated software now makes this unseemly spectacle even more dangerous to democracy: Legislators in the majority can almost pick individual households who will be in their districts now.
Barack Obama chose his own voters in 2001, when Illinois Democrats got to redraw the state legislative districts and State Senator Obama chose just which voters he wanted to represent. He has used this corrupt system to help himself politically. What Obama did was no different from what other state legislators and other congressmen from both parties did, but the fact is that Obama participated in this moral crime.
Any candidate who bases his whole campaign on the theme of change must have some position on this rotten old system. But Obama has been silent, except to say that he would “encourage” states to adopt redistricting commissions. Obama said that when he was asked if he would support federal legislation to require states to have redistricting commissions. The man who sees a federal answer for every problem thinks, on this one issue, that the matter should be left to the states. How odd.
Democrats have traditionally profited much more from gerrymandering than Republicans have. The primary reason that Democrats controlled the House of Representatives for over forty years was because they had a massive advantage in state legislatures which translated into Democrats electing more House members than they would have in fairly drawn districts. With Democrats edging closer to a filibuster proof Senate, partisan gerrymandering by Democrats to insure continued control of the House becomes very important to Democrats.
During the last redistricting process, Republicans, for once, had the muscle to not only stop much Democrat gerrymandering but to engage in gerrymander themselves. Tom DeLay was more demonized and persecuted than George Bush because he gerrymandered congressional districts in Texas to elect more Republicans and fewer Democrats. McCain, by asking for a federal end to state gerrymandering, can force Obama – if he does not agree with McCain – to defend what Tom DeLay did in Texas.
Obama and Democrats need gerrymandering to make the House of Representatives safely Democrat. They need gerrymandering to lock in control of state legislatures for the next ten years, when these gerrymandered legislatures will again redraw their own boundaries. Gerrymandering is extremely important to the electoral success of Democrats. That is why Obama did not support requiring states to adopt redistricting commissions, as several states have done, which effectively ends gerrymandering. He wants a corrupt old system that insures Democrats hold power. He learned about politics in Chicago, and that is how things work there.
Long ago, Republicans in Congress passed federal laws to end congressional gerrymandering. As early as 1872, the Republican controlled Congress passed a statute that required congressional districts be “compact and contiguous territories containing as nearly as practicable an equal number of inhabitants.” Two Republican controlled congresses passed similar legislation in 1901 and in 1911. With very minor tweaking, that language would work today: Add a bit more language like “such districts shall not be drawn to create a partisan advantage for any political party” and this post-Civil War language works and then extend this requirement to state legislative districts too. If this federal bill became law, democracy in America would change forever for the better. It is a very simple reform which could be done right now by Congress in one day.
McCain should ask Obama if he will support this reform (and because Obama has totally ignored this issue pivotal to real political change, McCain should claim this reform as his very own – Obama would have to agree to follow the reforming Senator McCain.) McCain should challenge Obama to ask Democrats to pass this reform before the election. He should say that if the Democrat leaders in Congress will not call Congress back in session, then he will ask President Bush to use his constitutional power to call Congress to session for the purpose of passing this simple reform, which would be one or two paragraphs of text. McCain should ask Obama, during the debate, whether he would vote to support this bill – McCain could even tweak Obama a bit: He could ask Obama if he intends to vote “Present” when the bill comes up in the Senate, and he could ask Obama what he did to end gerrymandering while in the Illinois Senate.
If Obama says that Republicans have gerrymandered too, and that Republicans have opposed an end to gerrymandering, then McCain should point out that he has never been afraid to take on Republicans or Democrats – but will Obama take on his own party? McCain can and say that he will urge Republicans in both houses of Congress to support this reform, and he is sure that they will, and McCain can ask Obama if he can persuade Democrats to end gerrymandering.
Is it too late to raise this issue? No: America will be facing this ugly mess in a couple of years. If McCain demands an answer from Obama every time McCain talks during the debate, can Obama ignore it? If Obama ignores McCain’s call to end gerrymandering, McCain can point out to America that Obama is simply pretending this old evil in our political system does not exist. McCain can make this a key issue in the last days of the campaign, moreover he can remind America that Democrats were screaming about the abuses of gerrymandering – until they got in power.
There is no risk in McCain making this attack. If Obama is caught with a “deer in the headlights” moment, he will probably lose the election. If Obama supports immediate congressional action to end gerrymandering, he concedes that McCain has raised an important reform that Obama himself ignored and America will have a blessed end to the plague of gerrymandering. If Obama defends gerrymandering, then McCain can begin calling him “The Democrat Party’s Tom DeLay,” and he can begin to usefully talk about Obama supporting gerrymandering when he was in the Illinois State Senate.
If Obama were not a charlatan, then this would not be an issue: Barack Obama would have already made the ending of gerrymandering a clear plank of his campaign. But if Obama were not a charlatan, he would have kept his promise to accept public financing of his campaign instead of reversing his position when it favored him. McCain needs desperately to expose Obama as a calculating, cynical, politician. In the last debate, McCain can raise gerrymandering, call out Obama, and do just that.
Bruce Walker, a contributing editor for Enter Stage Right, is the author of two books. His latest book is The Swastika against the Cross: The Nazi War on Christianity and his first book was Sinisterism: Secular Religion of the Lie.