Begin with this…..The Democrats have been the majority party, by millions of votes, for the presidency, the Senate and the House of Representatives for most of the last seven election cycles. By majority I mean they have received more votes total than the Republicans. Yet they are the minority party in all three.
How is this possible? What can be done about it?
This is the subject of David Faris’s new book It’s Time to Fight Dirty: How the Democrats Can Build a Lasting Majority in American Politics.
I don’t typically read this sort of book. For the most part, it’s my view that the average political pundit, and most political scientists, know about as much as the average active voter does. Many of them are wrong so often, so consistently, that one must ask if being wrong is what they are paid to do. But since It’s Time to Fight Dirty is published by the very scrappy Melville House, whom I’ve long been an admirer of, I decided to give this one a go.
See what Mr. Faris has to say.
He’s very good at describing the problem. If you replace Democrat and Republican with Party A and Party Z, I can’t imagine many people would come away thinking our current system is at all democratic, let alone fair. I have long argued that our Senate is anti-democratic as it gives two votes to the state of Wyoming though it has a smaller population than the city of San Jose, California.
Due to Gerrymandering house districts and the Electoral College both the House of Representatives and the White House have similar non-democratic hurdles preventing majority rule built into them by the Constitution itself. Since it is nearly impossible to change the Constitution, what can be done?
Mr. Faris lays out several arguments; some I found convincing and possible; some I did not.
For fixing the imbalance in the Senate, he suggests granting statehood to both Washington D.C, and Puerto Rico which can be done with a majority vote in the Senate and the approval of the president. This could not happen now, but it could in 2020. I think both of these are good ideas, though it is not clear that the citizens of Puerto Rico want statehood. Both have populations larger than several states by the way.
Mr. Faris loses me when he argues in favor of dividing California into seven states to produce 14 Democratic senators. We’ll see what happens with the three state initiative that is currently on California’s November ballot, but I don’t see a strong desire to split up the state myself. There have always been a few groups arguing for this, since we first got statehood, but I’m not convinced there is a much more than a small minority who favors this.
And I’m far from convinced that this would produce seven blue states. California is actually a fairly conservative state. We sent the country both Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan. While our current senators are both democrats, Diane Feinstein is probably a Rockefeller Republican at heart.
Mr. Faris is right to suggest dividing the state more or less latitudinally which would give each of his new states a coastline and one urban center, most of them coastal. But I’m not convinced that the southernmost or the northernmost states would be consistently blue. Yes, they would have gone for Clinton, but San Diego is still a navy town, quite conservative overall, and if we follow Mr. Faris’s new boundaries looking at how each county voted for Proposition 8, which banned same-sex marriage, we’d have only three out of seven voting in favor of equal rights for LGBT people. Only the Bay Area counties and Los Angeles voted no, as I recall.
So I’m not convinced this plan would give congress the Democratic senators Mr. Faris hopes for. I think you’d get three blue states and three purple ones and one red one. An improvement, certainly but no enough to keep Texas or Florida from doing something similar down the road.
And I don’t think there’s any hope of dividing up the water rights. This plan would produce two or three states with the water needed by the rest. Just try to work that one out. It’s all about water in California, I like to say. Everything else comes second. Everything.
That’s my main quibble with It’s Time to Fight Dirty. The rest of the book, I more or less agree with. If the Democrats can take control in 2020 they would do well to look at Mr. Faris’s ideas about voting rights, about ranked choice voting, and about expanding the supreme court with term limits on the justices. These are all good ideas that could go a very long way to correcting the damage the Trump “administration” is doing.
We’ll see what happens this November. With the victory of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez I am hopeful that positive change may finally be on its way. But with Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer, the people who led the party to defeat in 2016 still in charge, there is cause to worry.
Whatever happens, David Faris and the good people at Melville House have certainly done their part to bring the issues to the table.