David Louis Edelman David Louis Edelman

Five Things Neither Democrats or Republicans Are Talking About, But Damn It, They Should

Today’s the day we finally get to discover whether the Democrats’ surge allows them to break the Republican lock on government that’s been a fact of life for most of the Bush presidency.

Purple states map of the USAWhile some are calling this a potential sea change, there are a few commentators out there that are stating the truth: this election really won’t change much in the end. Even if the Democrats take control of the House and Senate, they’re not likely to be able to command veto-proof majorities on very much of their agenda. All it takes is a few conservative-minded Dems to cross the aisle and you’ve got logjam. And considering the kinds of candidates the Democrats are fielding these days — practically the only issue that Jim Webb runs to the left of center on is the war in Iraq — there are going to be a lot of those right-leaning Democrats around for the next two years.

Oh, you might finally get some real oversight on the war, and some of the GOP’s crazier tax and social policy initiatives will get stomped down quicker than usual. But unless the Democrats can summon a real leader in 2008 whose coattails can give them solid majorities, this Congress will be an aberration.

Which means, in all likelihood, Congress will continue to not talk about these five things, even though, damn it, they should.

1. Gerrymandering has become rampant. The incumbency rate in this country — meaning the rate these bozos get re-elected — is ridiculously high. I can’t find the figures for this election cycle right off the bat, but the rate is typically over 90 percent. Why? Because every ten years after the Census, the Republicans and Democrats sit down and redistrict their states into brighter red and brighter blue chunks. They carve up neighborhoods into ridiculous configurations of loyal voters designed to protect members of Congress. In recent years, the Republicans have decided they’re not even going to wait ten years, they’re going to do it pretty much whenever the wind blows in their favor. Putting the drawing of district lines in the hands of partisan hacks in back rooms is just a bad idea. The Brits agree with me: they’ve got nonpartisan Boundary Commissions that draw these lines in the UK. We desperately need something like that here.

2. The gap between rich and poor is growing like crazy. The Fed has done an admirable job at keeping inflation down, but that doesn’t mean it’s gone altogether. (Nor should it be.) I found an inflation calculator from the Bureau of Labor Statistics that tells me that $40,000 today has the same buying power as $25,766.39 in 1990. Translation: shit costs more. And yet the minimum wage hasn’t gone anywhere for the entire Bush presidency. Translation: low-income workers can afford less. Meanwhile, CEO salaries are skyrocketing and they’re so ridiculously out of balance with the salaries of average company workers. In the ’70s and ’80s, the typical CEO was making 15 to 20 times that of the average employee; today the ratio is closer to 431 times as much (see this article from TheTrumpet.com). No, I’m not trying to say CEOs are all fat cats that should be strung up, keelhauled, and taxed to death. I’m saying that competitive pressures are pushing the gap between rich and poor to unsustainable levels, and the government needs to do something about it.

3. We need an alternative energy Manhattan Project. The New York Times‘ Thomas Friedman has been yelling about this for a couple of years now, and he’s absolutely right. We need to pour money into research for alternative energy, and we need to do it soon. I don’t care how much squishy, flammable dinosaur you think is still left in the ground; someday we’re going to run out. But before we run out, there’s going to be a long period of chaos where prices hit the moon and the OPEC countries will really have us over a barrel. How mighty will our military be when we can’t afford to fuel the tanks and troop transports? How fabulous will our economy be when you’re paying $10 a gallon? But forget about the nightmare scenarios for a moment. Let’s think about this from the carrot side instead of the stick side: this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to dramatically lessen the influence of Middle Eastern and South American despots. The neocons wants to bring democracy to the world? This is the way you’re going to do it.

4. Why are we still building nuclear weapons? Building them, designing new ones, and, what’s even crazier, threatening to use them. What, you don’t remember that Bush and Cheney threatened to use nuclear weapons in Iraq? They did. Our biggest worry these days is that rogue states will auction one of these things off to religious fanatics and cause another Hiroshima… and we’re building more? I had high hopes for the Bush administration on this issue when they came into office; I read some article back in 2001 that said that Dubya was shocked and angered when he discovered the size of our nuclear arsenal on first taking office. But the administration has turned into the world’s biggest hypocrites on the nuclear score. We can use nukes because we’re nice. You can’t because we don’t trust you.

5. Unbridled executive power is bad for both parties. It’s the same with Bush as it was with Clinton, and every president before that back to, oh, FDR. The executive branch has much more power these days than it was ever intended to have under the Constitution. It can wiretap without Congressional approval or judicial oversight. It can declare war unilaterally without consulting anyone. It takes control of the nation’s policy agenda when really the legislative branch should be taking the lead on this. Maybe conservatives would understand the danger better if we framed it this way: in two years, Hillary Clinton might well have the power to declare war, spy on U.S. citizens, tap your bank records, and send uncooperative citizens off to Egypt to be tortured. I don’t want Hillary to have that power any more than I want Bush to have it. Grow a pair, Congress. Stand up to the executive branch and do your duty.

Now go vote, if you haven’t already.

See also my blog posts Five Things Republicans Need to Shut Up About if They Intend to Run the Country Again at Some Point and Five Things Democrats Need to Shut Up About if They Intend to Run the Country Again.

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  1. Brian on November 8, 2006 at 12:50 am  Chain link

    5. Unbridled executive power is bad for both parties.

    Bad for children and other growing things as well. People forget that the reason we’ve GOT the government divvied up three ways is that the Founders had recent past experiences with both extremes – the rump parliment having de-facto executive power during the Commonwealth period and the Kings deciding to .. you know .. just ignore Parliament when it suited them.

    Which is why the FBI should not ever never have raided the Congressman’s office for evidence this year, and more of a stink should have been raised over it. This one time well we can shake our heads and mutter “he was a crook”. But now we’ve set precedent that the Legislature is not inviolate.


  2. David Louis Edelman on November 8, 2006 at 1:52 am  Chain link

    Touché, Brian.

    I shoulda also mentioned David Halberstam’s book The Powers That Be here. A history of the media in the twentieth century that also points out how Nixon and his Watergate sins were the end product of a long line of power-grabbing chief executives starting with FDR.

  3. Cindy Blank-Edelman on November 8, 2006 at 4:23 pm  Chain link

    Regarding your number 2 above, check out a great organization: United for a Fair Economy (www.faireconomy.org). They are awesome. I used to work for them for a short time, but I didn’t make them awesome. :-)

    P.S. Yes, I am David’s big sister. :-)

  4. Jose on November 11, 2006 at 7:24 am  Chain link

    Well the votes are in and I suspect the effect of this election is probably overhyped. I hope you get what you’re looking for but I suspect you won’t. It seems that contemporary politics in western countries is becoming increasingly about political jockeying for position at the expense of good governance. It’s a disturbing trend and I don’t see it reversing.

  5. Brian on November 13, 2006 at 9:52 pm  Chain link

    Gerrymandering has become rampant.

    It’s worked this long – the term was coined before the War of 1812. More seriously how do you set up something bipartisan in this era? We’ve also got an issue where a setup like that has to be Federal but power over HOW to run elecions is down at the state level.

    The gap between rich and poor is growing like crazy.

    It’s a problem, but I don’t no how you’d go about making this better with a law. Social pressure might be a better route – fewer people smoke now not because the government said ‘no’ but because it’s not cool to smoke.

    We need an alternative energy Manhattan Project.

    Agreed. But I’m biased – I know some guys in Bremerton, Washington who would be thrilled to transport parts for an SPS constellation to oribit ….

    Why are we still building nuclear weapons? .. We can use nukes because we’re nice. You can’t because we don’t trust you.

    It’s all about intention. The Brits have had nukes for .. oh years and years. No one thinks they’re about to go and nuke Paris. This might not be true of other actors in the world.

  6. David Louis Edelman on November 15, 2006 at 10:18 am  Chain link

    Brian: True enough that gerrymandering has been around forever. Problem is, with fancy modern computer programs, they’ve gotten really, really, good at it. How to change it? We could start by shining a huge journalistic spotlight there and seeing what happens.

    It’s a problem, but I don’t no how you’d go about making this better with a law.
    You can’t completely solve it with laws. But you can raise the minimum wage, close tax loopholes for the rich, encourage small business development, etc.

  7. Maura on January 4, 2007 at 6:39 am  Chain link

    Re gerrymandering:

    You might be interested to see that Del. Brian Moran, Chair of the Virginia House Democratic Caucus, has just introduced an important bill in support of bipartisan redistricting in Virginia:


    It doesn’t address gerrymandering everywhere else in the country, but here in your home state of VA, there’s a growing movement in support of a more fair approach to redistricting.

    Note that this is bipartisan rather than nonpartisan, but that’s still a hell of a step in the right direction.

    (BTW, yes, it’s that Maura, catching up after many months of not reading your blog after reading your great email about the B&N #1 designation for Infoquake! Congrats, my friend! Timshel.)

  8. David Louis Edelman on January 4, 2007 at 9:27 am  Chain link

    Maura: Good ol’ Brian Moran! I hadn’t heard about this bill, because as you know, I’m quite lazy when it comes to following local politics. I worry that a bipartisan approach is just going to mean lots more back room deals… but I suppose it’s better than nothing.

    Oh, and thanks, and welcome back! You know you’re welcome to comment on my blog anytime, anywhere, for any reason. :-)

  9. allie on September 2, 2008 at 4:03 am  Chain link

    6. End the drug war.
    Black market drugs spawn all kinds of violence and continue to be highly profitable. We waste tens of billions per year and have completely failed to make drugs less available. We have more criminals behind bars than any other nation, most of them non-violent drug offenders. 1% of Americans are in jail, 1 in 9 black men are. I’m lazy so I’ll let people who are better at it make my case for me. There is a good Penn & Teller 3 part series on the drug war floating around on youtube.

    NYtimes on Americans in Jail:

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