Independence Day this year carries a bit of melancholy with it as we watch the insanity emanating from Washington, D.C.
As David Frum put it in The Atlantic, “This is a Fourth tinged with sad ironies.” We are dealing with “a president mysteriously dependent on a foreign power—a president who lavishly praises dictators and publicly despises the institutions of freedom, not only the free press but also an independent judiciary and other constitutional restraints on his will.”
As we celebrate the Declaration of Independence we should remember that the Declaration is largely a list of grievances against the King of Great Britain, a list that interestingly carries echoes today for the governed and governors in the U.S.
A key concept expressed in the Declaration is no taxation without representation. It was one of the most fundamental slogans at the birth of the United States. Too often over the past few decades those four words have been separated, changing their meaning.
Our founders were not proto-Randians. They were not calling for no taxation, and that extreme view is coming home to roost. As The New York Times reported, conservative legislatures in Kansas, South Carolina and Tennessee have agreed to significant tax increases recently. Meanwhile Illinois faces the prospect of becoming the first state ever to lose investment-grade status from S&P after decades of fiscal mismanagement involving both parties. Perhaps America is getting the message it’s been waiting for.
While there has been a breakdown on our approach to taxation, it has a lot to do with forgetting the second part of the slogan and the consequent breakdown in representation.
As fashionable as it has become, this is not a rant about Gerrymandering. That is not to say it’s not an important subject. In the New Yorker, Lawrence Wright’s article “America’s Future Is Texas” notes how Texas’ redistricting really changed the bipartisan Gerrymandering game that led us to where we are now.
John Oliver also covered the topic very well on Last Week Tonight, and Barack Obama will devote his post-presidency to efforts at reforming the way political districts are drawn. Fixing the issue of Gerrymandering could go a long way toward solving the excessive polarization in our government, if not the country.
However, even the most evenhandedly drawn districts won’t solve the problem we face with representation today. As the Thievery Corporation reminds us, it’s a Numbers Game.
As I mentioned recently in “The Poisoning of Democracy,” the 435 members of the U.S. House of Representatives has been the same number for essentially the past 106 years. (Essentially because it briefly went to 437 when Alaska and Hawaii became states in 1959, but dropped back to 435 in 1962.) It has remained at the level that was set by the Apportionment Act of 1911.
There is no specification for the number of representatives in the Constitution, though there was a guideline on equal representation and a maximum number of people per representative. Representation was therefore reapportioned after each census, so the number should have risen after the 1920 census, to 483 to be exact. However, concerns about immigrant waves settling in cities led to fights during the 1920s that finally resulted in the Reapportionment Act of 1929 which gave us the setup for the 435 representatives we have today.
As the population of the U.S. has grown while the number in the House has remained 435, the power of smaller rural states has grown at the expense of larger urban areas.
The original idea was a representative for every 30,000 people, the average now is 700,000 people per representative. But districts are not set up nationally, and 700,000 is more than the entire population of four states. I live in the second most populous county in NJ. At 639,000 people as of the 2010 census, it is bigger than Wyoming and Vermont. But, unlike Wyoming and Vermont, we do not get two Senators and three Electoral votes.
We probably don’t need one representative for 30,000 people, but one per 700,000 is too few, and a greater number of representatives would make it harder – if not more expensive – for special interests and lobbyists to control Congress the way they do now. It would be a way to take the power back.
The key question is not just how much we are taxed, but how that money is used. Today’s Congress is bought and paid for by powers that do not have the best interests of the American people at heart. The AHCA is an example of legislation that penalizes millions of Americans to reward insurance companies and the wealthiest with new tax cuts. The unrepresentative nature of our government today can be seen in the unpopularity in much of what Congress pursues, from gun control to the environment.
Despite all of the tri-cornered hat wearing and Gadsen flag waving over the past decade, the Tea Party Patriots missed a very important element in the “Don’t Tread On Me” approach, representation.
With the Gadsen Flag rattlesnake in mind, it is time for the people to take back the symbolism of our revolution and we can start with a Diamondback cocktail. Then we can fight to have all of our voices heard in the people’s House. From the Cold Glass blog, the Diamondback recipe is:
1.5 oz Rittenhouse 100 rye
.75 oz Apple Brandy
.75 oz Yellow Chartreuse
Dash of Peychaud’s bitters
Stir, strain into a chilled cocktail glass (optionally garnish with a cherry)
Happy Independence Day!