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Why we shouldn't be surprised by the election result

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America has voted. Things worked better than in 2020, at least in most places. Unfortunately, Arizona and Nevada cannot seem to run timely, efficient, glitch-free elections. Perhaps the states of Georgia and Florida should host a tutorial on how to run fair and fast elections for Arizona and Nevada.

The most astounding result across the land from last Tuesday’s election was this — 98% of incumbents from both parties who ran for re-election were victorious. Almost every incumbent senator and governor of either party won with the possible exception of Arizona and Nevada (where the incumbent governor left casinos open during Covid, but closed churches).

Yet exit polls revealed that 75% of voters think the country “was headed in the wrong direction.” Why such an entrenched political class in a society with such high levels of dissatisfaction? This degree of incumbency entitlement is not healthy in a representative democracy. How did this happen?

The first answer is increased “gerrymandering,” the process by which congressional districts in various states are manipulated for maximum benefit for one party or the other by their respective state legislatures.

It is now reported by political pundits that the 63 House seat loss suffered by President Obama in 2010 is now almost impossible as a result of gerrymandering. Some analysts believe that as of today, gerrymandering has been so successfully employed by both parties that in the 435-member House of Representatives only about 50 seats are realistically open to being flipped from one party to the other in a specific election.

In the election last Tuesday, Americans cast 52 million votes for Republican congressional candidates as opposed to 46 million for Democrat candidates. And yet, the Republicans will probably only gain somewhere between 20 and 25 new seats.

The supposed swing state of New Jersey is a classic example of the destructive impact of gerrymandering. In the wake of the 2020 Census, New Jersey aggressively gerrymandered the state so that “New Jersey’s blue seats got bluer…red seats got redder,” reports Tracey Tully in The New York Times article "In New Jersey, Redistricting Helped Most Incumbents Win Big."  

The baleful effect of this fact is that it thwarts the will of the people. Our forefathers designed the House of Representatives as “the people’s house.”  Every member of the House is up for re-election every two years. Consequently, if the people are very unhappy or concerned about an issue, at the very least they can make their pleasure or displeasure known very quickly.

Conversely, our forefathers designed a Senate where only one-third of its members are elected every two years and each Senator is elected to a six-year term to place a check on whether the voters acted too hastily. The House has been described as a hot cup of coffee and the Senate as a saucer into which the hot coffee is poured, allowed to cool down, and examined as to whether it should be consumed.

Clearly, the excessive, bipartisan gerrymandering of the House of Representatives has compromised its purpose as the “people’s house.” Consequently, the gerrymandering must be done away with. One way to accomplish this would be to put in term limits. As the late Secretary of the Treasury John Connally once said, “let members serve for a maximum of 12 years and then go home and make a living under the laws they have passed.”

The “gerrymandering effect” also emphasizes and enhances the admittedly strong political divisions existing presently in American society. How? When you have created a congressional district that is “safely” Democrat or Republican, the real election takes place in the primary, not the general election.

So, if a Republican or a Democrat Congressman tries to reach a compromise with other lawmakers on the other side of the aisle on legislation, assuming that if he or she can achieve at least half of his desired goal, it is better than achieving nothing, his more radical fellow Republicans or Democrats in his home district threaten him with “being primaried.” So, the country ends up electing the less moderate congressional candidates in the primaries. So, in the general election voters are faced with a stark contrast between a very conservative or a very liberal candidate to be their congressman.

This phenomenon leads to the current situation where in the Congress elected in 2020 the most conservative Democrat had a more liberal voting record than his or her most liberal Republican colleague. This complete lack of “overlap” between the two parties in the House makes the traditional compromise and horse-trading that results in legislation getting passed almost impossible. (Remember that Upton Sinclair observed at the beginning of the 20th century that the two things you should never witness being made were sausages and legislations.)

Some of us who have worked with Congress over the years have witnessed this accelerating bifurcation of Congress into two warring camps with a “no-man’s land” in the middle ground where compromise used to take place.

I have often lamented that in this congressional situation the perfect is the enemy of the good, and the good is the enemy of the imperfect “doable,” and gridlock ensues with the country being ill-served because relatively little gets done.

A very good example is immigration reform. There is probably nothing for which the federal government has jurisdiction which is as broken as immigration policy.  A good, constructive compromise on this volatile issue is achievable if the moderate conservatives and the moderate liberals formed a coalition of the middle and broke from those to the left of them in the Democrat Party and those to the right of them in the Republican Party (I will be fleshing out that “achievable” immigration compromise in a future CP column).

Given the fact that for the vast majority of congressional districts the threat of being defeated in the primary is greater than the threat of losing a general election, the coalition of the middle fades into oblivion and nothing constructive gets done. As a consequence, the country as a whole suffers destructive legislative gridlock.

We can and must do better.

Dr. Richard Land, BA (Princeton, magna cum laude); D.Phil. (Oxford); Th.M (New Orleans Seminary). Dr. Land served as President of Southern Evangelical Seminary from July 2013 until July 2021. Upon his retirement, he was honored as President Emeritus and he continues to serve as an Adjunct Professor of Theology & Ethics. Dr. Land previously served as President of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (1988-2013) where he was also honored as President Emeritus upon his retirement. Dr. Land has also served as an Executive Editor and columnist for The Christian Post since 2011.

Dr. Land explores many timely and critical topics in his daily radio feature, “Bringing Every Thought Captive,” and in his weekly column for CP.

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