Monday, October 30, 2006

Hertzberg: Hearts and Brains - New Yorker

David Seaton's News Links
For an American to accept the idea that the very structure of America's democratic process itself could be seriously flawed is to take a huge step into the unknown. It may be, however, that a massive shift in public opinion will not have a massive effect on the election results and that the system was designed with precisely that end in mind. DS

Abstract: The great bafflement of next week’s midterm congressional elections is that there is even a sliver of a hint of a shadow of a doubt about the outcome. The polls are unequivocal. In a mid-October NBC/Wall Street Journal survey, the public’s “job approval” of the Republican Congress stood at a wan sixteen per cent, as against seventy-five per cent disapproving. Another measurement normally regarded as electorally predictive, the one pollsters call “right track/wrong track,” is nearly as one-sided. In last week’s Newsweek survey, twenty-five per cent of respondents pronounced themselves satisfied with “the way things are going in the United States at this time,” while sixty-seven per cent registered dissatisfaction. The Newsweek poll also found that, by a 55-37 margin, likely voters generically prefer Democratic candidates for the House of Representatives to Republican ones. Those numbers are a near-mirror image of the same survey’s job rating for President Bush: thirty-five per cent approve of his performance, fifty-seven per cent disapprove of it. There’s a lively debate among historians over the question of whether the record of the forty-third President, compiled with the indispensable help of a complaisant Congress, is the worst in American history or merely the worst of the sixteen who managed to make it into (if not out of) a second full term. That the record is appalling is by now beyond serious dispute.(...) In a normal democracy, given the state of public opinion and the record of the incumbent government, it would be taken for granted that come next Tuesday the ruling party would be turned out. But, for reasons that have less to do with the wizardry of Karl Rove than with the structural biases of America’s electoral machinery, Democrats enter every race carrying a bag of sand. The Senate’s fifty-five Republicans represent fewer Americans than do its forty-five Democrats. On the House side, Democratic candidates have won a higher proportion of the average district vote than Republicans in four of the five biennial elections since 1994, but—thanks to a combination of gerrymandering and demo-graphics—Republicans remain in the majority. To win back the House, Democrats need something close to a landslide. Their opponents, to judge from their behavior, seem to think they might get one. READ MORE

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