Before I die….
By Patrick F. Cannon
My darling wife hates it when I say something like: “before I die, I’d like to see Berlin, or travel to Amsterdam to see the Rembrandts…” or any number of travel destinations on my wish list (for the record, I did just that a couple of months ago). Hates it, I suppose, because I’m in my 70s and “before I die” seems a bit more ominous at my age.
Even though I might be careful not to say “before I die” aloud to my wife, my health is good enough that I have some expectation of actually accomplishing some of the items on my wish list. For example, a few years ago I also saw Las Meninas, the great 16th century painting of the Spanish royal family by Diego Velázquez at the Prado in Madrid. Strike another one from the list. I’ve also seen the Bears win the Super Bowl, but the memory is fading. And, to be honest, I haven’t seen the dawn come up like thunder outer China ‘cross the bay.
I am not as sanguine about two of the items on my wish list, but of course we must live in hope. They are:
*Direct election of the president, and
*Eliminating gerrymandered voting districts at all levels.
I have been voting in presidential elections since 1960, always in Illinois, although I’ve lived for short periods in other states and countries. I’ve voted both for winners and losers. I voted for President Obama in 2008, so I picked a winner, but if I had wanted to vote for John McCain, it would have been meaningless, because my vote would have had little effect in a state that would inevitably be counted in the president’s column when the appalling Electoral College met to cast their votes.
Appalling because it disenfranchises me. I voted for George W. Bush in 2000. But, as we know, Al Gore actually received more votes and, in my way of thinking, should have been president. I could have lived with that, because it would have been fair, just as it (mostly!) is in every other election we participate in.
The only feasible way this can change is with a constitutional amendment (although I understand that some people believe it can be done on a state by state basis). Why, since fairness demands it, haven’t we had one? The answer is obvious – the political parties don’t want to change the status quo; they don’t want to be forced to fight for every vote, no matter whether it’s in Democratic Illinois or Republican Utah. Did you notice the dearth of ads for the 2012 presidential race in Illinois? What if the 40 percent of the votes that went to Romney would actually count? Ads would flood the airwaves (admittedly a dubious pleasure). Don’t you want your vote to count, whether you’re a Republican in Illinois or a Democrat in Utah?
And isn’t it time to put a stop to the racial politics that has raised gerrymandering to a high art? Why should an African-American only feel comfortable when he or she can vote for another African-American? Ditto Hispanics. Or white folks, for that matter. If we had computer-generated contiguous voting districts of roughly equal population, then candidates would be forced to seek votes and support from whoever ended up in their district. I might well end up in a district evenly split between white, black and Hispanic voters.
What in God’s name is actually wrong with that? The concept that we have to arrange voting districts to cater to voting blocs, thus ensuring that “one man, one vote” is some kind of alternative reality, is both absurd and insulting to all voters.
Again, politicians like to arrange voting districts to suit themselves. In Illinois, after the 2010 Census, the Democrats blatantly redistricted to insure safe seats for as many of their brethren as possible (alas, the Republicans likely would have done the same if they had been in the majority). Predictably, the cowardly Federal courts refused to even look at this outrage.
My congressional district has been designed so that only a Democrat can win. If there’s a Republican even on the ballot, I don’t remember hearing about it. Is this “one man, one vote?” And I won’t even talk about my lack of choice at the state level. In Illinois, a fellow named Mike Madigan has taken care of that too.
So, here are two obvious failures in our system that can only be remedied with constitutional amendments. Who will take up the cudgels? It won’t be the politicians. How about our great newspapers? How about the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, the Chicago Tribune? Aren’t they meant to serve the public interest? And mine? “Before I die,” I mean.
Copyright, 2015, by Patrick F. Cannon (who retains his optimism despite all evidence to the contrary)