William Barth: Why have they no fear of voters?

SINCE THE POLLS show Americans are furious at Congress over fumbling the fiscal cliff issue — in addition to having virtually no respect for members of either party in the first place — one legitimately might ask this question: Why do these politicians so insouciantly ignore the will of the people?

The answer is obvious.

They have no fear of the voters.

But how can that be, when members of the House stand for re-election every two years and senators every six years?

Because the manipulations of the political class are worse than you ever imagined.

THROUGH THE redistricting process politicians have rigged the game. For the most part, voters, you are all but forbidden to replace them.

Presidential candidates must run from sea to shining sea. Governors must run from state border to state border. Heck, even Beloit city council and school board members must run across the entire municipality. Candidates in such races must reach for broader appeal, which tends to push them toward the political center — pragmatic problem solving over rigid ideology.

Yes, senators run across entire states, too, but six years is an eternity in politics and attention-deficit-disorder citizens have short memories.

Most members of Congress and state legislatures are elected by district and, as we have seen in both Wisconsin and Illinois, the majority party can seriously corrupt the process. When one party has total control — Democrats in Illinois, Republicans in Wisconsin — its practitioners draw voting lines with the sole purpose of locking in their majority.

But even when control is split the parties are likely to rig the game to suit incumbents. Exhibit A: The 2000 redistricting which shifted Beloit to the 2nd Congressional District, out of the 1st District. To lock in Paul Ryan’s incumbency, Republican areas were swept into the eastern part of the 1st, while Democrat-leaning Beloit was shifted to benefit Democrat Tammy Baldwin in the 2nd. Thus, both incumbents were made safer in a bipartisan corruption of the process. Voters had no voice in the matter.

THIS IS NOT just an academic exercise for political scientists. It has real-life consequences for American citizens.

When politicians corrupt elections to suit themselves — by picking their voters, instead of the other way around — this is what happens:

• They no longer fear voters, or feel any particular need to satisfy all citizens.

• They only respond to the activist majority in their district and their financial patrons.

• They are pushed toward ideological extremes, because the only real concern is a primary challenge if hard-liners become restless.

• Political party loyalty becomes paramount, because that has more to do with keeping one’s job than responsiveness to citizens. It’s why so few have the courage to stand up to party brokers and say, “This is unethical and offends fair play. I refuse.”

And it’s why the same tired old faces keep showing up in Congress, mouthing the same tired old lines. They are representing the people who put them there, and keep them there. And that constituency is not representative of America as a whole.

The result is clear to see in the fiscal cliff debacle. Nearly everyone in the country is mad at these jerks. But, ask yourself: Do they look afraid? They know the power of the people has been undermined by the perversion of the election process. They know it, because they did it.

BY THE WAY, fine-tuning the rigging of the game continues. In the wake of Obama’s re-election some Republican-controlled swing states are looking at changing the way electoral votes are allocated. The objective is to change from winner-take-all to tallying electoral votes by congressional district.

Why?, one might ask.

Wisconsin is instructive. Obama won Wisconsin by a healthy margin of popular votes, and thus captured all of the state’s electoral votes. That result would have been radically different if electoral votes were awarded by congressional district, in large measure because the state’s 2010 remapping plan had locked in safe Republican districts. In the November 2012 election, if Wisconsin had allocated electoral votes by congressional district, Obama would have won the popular vote by a wide margin but Mitt Romney would have received the majority of electoral votes.

Americans should remember that presidents are not directly elected by popular vote, but by the Electoral College under the Constitution. The most recent example of this process producing contrary results came in 2000 when Al Gore won the popular vote but George W. Bush won the Electoral College. That’s rare, but it has happened.

It could cease to be rare if states and majority parties changed the rules and rigged the game. It would be increasingly likely the candidate who lost among the people would win a politically-engineered contest. Down that road lies a country without confidence in its government, where government “of the people, by the people, and for the people” is but a dusty memory.

PERSONALLY, I’VE already lost confidence in the Republican Party and the Democrat Party, because too many of them — judged solely on performance — are unworthy of the people and have no qualms at all about manipulating the process if that helps them cling to power.

For the most part their dishonesty is not about stealing our tax money or selling their votes for cash under the table. Pure criminality would be less obnoxious than what they practice, the systematic stripping away of the people’s sovereignty. That corruption is what has been on display in Washington, as politicians with no fear of the people obsess over their partisan wars in total disregard of voters.

There have been times in this country’s history when the people have risen to take back what is rightfully theirs. No, I’m not advocating armed revolution, so will the gun-nuts please stand down.

I am suggesting the American people need to pull their heads out of their posteriors, pay attention, and live up to what was expected of them by the Founders. Benjamin Franklin, asked what kind of government the revolution had endorsed, said, “A Republic, if we can keep it.”

Indeed.

William Barth is the Editor of the Beloit Daily News.