Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The Tyranny of Small States

One of the centerpieces of the American political ideology is rule of the majority with rights for the minority. The founders, that is the people who were America's earliest leaders, designed our system so that a simple majority couldn't dominate the political system. They did this two ways, first by creating the electoral college and by organizing a senate that treats each state equally regardless of demographics. This means that Wyoming, a state with about 50k fewer people than the district of Columbia, and California, a state with 70 times as many people as Wyoming, are represented exactly the same in the senate.

For decades, democrats have wondered why they have to compromise so much on big issues. The civil rights act took decades to pass even after large majorities supported it. And today a majority of Americans support most of the liberal platform. Every democratic president since FDR has been elected with promises to reform health care. But in every encounter, with the exception of LBJ'S medicare victory in the wake of the 1964 election, they have walked away with little or nothing for their efforts. The Senate has successfully obstructed every effort to stabilize the health care market in the Untied States.

This has little to do with democracy and everything to do with how the territories were organized a long time ago by the same legislators who decided slavery was ok as long as it was only done where it was really profitable. The western United States was divided up into a series of mid sized territories which became rural states with a nominal population. As the country became more industrialized, states were divided sharply into densely populated modern industrial societies and rural conservative societies. This creates a political problem that has stymied every progressive effort since the industrial revolution. Conservative rural states, which I'm defining as states which have voted for the republican presidential candidate in every election since 2000, can brag about having 22 states with 44 senators even though they have only an estimated 30% of the population. In these "red states" there are 9 of the senators that make up the democratic majority in the senate. This is a list of them-

Mark Begich- Alaska

Blanche Lincoln- Arkansas

Mark Prior- Alaska

Mark Udall- Colorado

Michael Bennet- Colorado

May Landrieu- Louisiana

Clair McCaskill- Missouri

Ben Nelson- Nebraska

Tim Johnson- South Dakota

Robert Byrd- West Virginia

Jay Rockefeller- West Virginia

Now lets consider that these 11 senators are in states that would go bananas if they voted for a public option, the center piece of the democratic health care plan, that means on the issue of health care we have only 49 senators. but we are assuming that these 49 senators are all in democratically friendly states. In the last election, a large number of independents who normally vote conservative voted for Obama and a lot of conservative voters stayed home. Recent troubles with the economy may work against the democrats rather than work for them in the 2010 elections. So there are states that may intimidate other democratic senators from making on more liberal reforms. senators like -

-Bill Nelson - Florida

-Tom Harkin- Iowa

-Harry Reid- Nevada (hes the majority leader so I'm sure he will not block anything but his state has been conservative traditionally)

-Kay Hagen- North Carolina

so that knocks down the 49 votes to 46 (screw it I'm counting Reid as a vote). But I'm afraid we are not done routed out all the liberals quite yet. Just being in a state that could elect liberal democrats doesn't give a senator the ability too support big liberal reforms like the taxes on the rich, ecological preservation, climate change and/or anything having to do with health care. Some senators are in swing states that could go liberal or conservative at any given time on any given election. As a result these senators have too portray the image of a moderate and non Parisian or at least be pretty good at being liberal. these senators are-

Evan Bayh- Indiana

Barbara Mikulski- Maryland

Ben Cardin- Maryland

Jeff Bingaman- New Mexico

Tom Udall- New Mexico

Sherrod Brown- Ohio

Jim Webb- Virginia

Mark Warner-Virginia

so we started with 60 senators and now we are at 38 senators who are in states that vote democratic constantly for president and who also elected democrats to the actual senate. The reason i find that information important is that we end up with roughly 1/3 of the senate who could vote for a quality overhaul of the health care system "safely" 1/3 who would have a hard time voting for a health care reform that damage their moderate image. The longer it takes to bring a bill to the floor on congress the harder and harder they make it for the 22 senators who are in a tough spot.

Not only do democrats from rural and swing states have to worry about potential opponents criticizing any big time reforms they help pass, but the smaller their state the smaller the pool of voters too draw campaign contributions from and the more they rely on special interest and business donations to survive their reelection campaign.

Liberals and progressives are seriously underrepresented in the senate. This fact has slowed some of America's most important reforms for almost a century now. The states which have always voted for the democratic presidential candidate in the last three elections have 36 senators and represent 47.2% of the population. As a result of this fact, Americans will almost always have to wait for public problems to be overwhelming and extreme for anything to get done. Maybe god just wants the sick to suffer and the earth to die.

sources- U.S. census population projections and common sense.

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