Stupid Political Games

Some people don’t like politics because it often seems so stupid and immature. Strike that – people don’t like politics because it often is stupid and immature.

In the month since Barack Obama’s inauguration, we’ve been (mis)treated to some of the worst displays of puerile politics in recent memory, which might be amusing, if the stakes – both immediate and long-term – were not so high.

We all know the immediate stakes are the success of the stimulus package and the health of the economy. You know, can you keep your job, stay in your house, feed your family. Stuff like that.

The long-term stakes have to do with which party will run the United States in the remainder of the 21st century. It works like this: the Constitution says we will have a census every ten years. The next one’s due in 2010. Based on census information, state legislatures redraw congressional districts within their states. We all know this process, gerrymandering, is the worst example of political sausage making we have. Those of us who believe in good government long for the day when the courts step in and prescribe a fair system, so we don’t wind up with congressional districts that look like the Illinois Fourth.

That day will come. It won’t come in time to stop the next re-apportionment. So the question is: which party will dominate state legislatures in the years 2010-2015? Answer: whichever party stops playing stupid political games and at this point it’s unclear either party will do that.

The Republicans, the party of “no,” would rather wreck the economy than allow President Obama and the Democratic majority to accomplish anything. When times are good, people have more important things to do than watch Congress. When keeping one’s job depends on Congressional action (or inaction), voters pay attention and right now there’s not much love out there for the GOP in Congress.

Republican governors, like California’s Arnold Schwarzenegger and Vermont’s Jim Douglas are vocal about the need for federal money to keep their states going. Some Republican governors, like South Carolina’s Mark Sanford, Alaska’s Sarah Palin, Louisiana’s Bobby Jindal and Texas’s Rick Perry, grumbled and criticized the stimulus package, then stuck their hands out for their states’ share.

It’s odd to watch normally lock-step Republicans acting all confused and fratricidal (i.e., like Democrats). I don’t think it will play well at the state-level ballot box in 2010.

On the other hand, the Democrats have a golden opportunity to screw up and they rarely let one pass. Howard Dean – a former Vermont governor – rode a wave of grassroots support to become chair of the Democratic National Committee in 2004, much to the chagrin of the DC beltway Dems. As chair, Mr. Dean forced his “50 state strategy” down the protesting throats of the congressional campaign committee. Rahm Emanuel, then chair of that committee famously left a meeting with Mr. Dean in a cloud of blue language.

After sweeping Democratic wins in 2006 and 2008, it’s clear Howard Dean was right, but beltway Dems have thick heads. Although Mr. Obama has gone to great lengths to be gracious to the likes of Joe Lieberman and Judd Gregg, he’s allowed chief of staff Mr. Emanuel to freeze Mr. Dean out of the new ascendancy, even leaving him uninvited even to the installation of his successor at the DNC.

Spats worthy of seventh grade are nothing new to DC and if Howard Dean doesn’t have a thick skin, he should. What is more important is that new DNC chair Tim Kaine acknowledge Mr. Dean’s vision and keep the pedal down on the 50-state strategy or he stands a good chance of returning to Republicans their dream of a permanent majority.

© 2009, Mark Floegel

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