February 05, 2005

The Districts Make Us Weak

Phil Carter explains how military contractors manage to clamp down so firmly on the federal teat:
A major reason has to do with the way defense programs are typically constructed by the prime contractor. A smart prime contractor will assign subcontracts with an eye on politics, by spreading the wealth to as many subcontractors in as many Congressional districts as possible.

\This means that any cut to this program affects a large number of jobs in a large number of Congressional districts, and that any cut is likely to be received with a broad and vocal Congressional response. So while defense programs may be very easy to terminate in practical terms (every government contract carries a "termination for convenience" clause), they are extremely difficult to kill for political reasons.
Um, is there really any doubt that we'd have a more effective (and efficient) defense program if we just did away with Congressional districts? Oops, did I say that? My bad, need to protect "local interests" and all. On a related vein (artery, really), I was reading Andrew Moravcsik's Newsweek piece this morning about how no other countries want to adopt our system of government, and found myself just flabbergasted. Really, what's not to love about a lower legislative house in which, theoretically, one party could win a majority of votes nationwide and still get only 1 out of 435 Congressional seats? (If, say, the Republicans won every single race by one vote but lost San Francisco by 435 votes. We do love Nancy Pelosi, after all.)

No, nyet, nein, I can't imagine a single other country on earth that would find this appealing. Britain and Canada have single-member districts, true, but they have nothing like those monstrosities known as "the Senate" or the "electoral college". More realistically, nifty features like congressional districts and an upper house tilted towards regional minorities might make sense for a country like Iraq right now, but even then, they probably won't make sense for Iraq ten years from now. (Assuming no civil war/implosion/subsumption by Iran, etc.)

Better for a government to divide itself up along ideological and political lines than to entrench ethnic/sectarian/cultural divisions. Here in the U.S., we've all but enshrined white Southern conservatism as its own invincible entity, while the workings of the House/Senate have permanently screwed over racial and ideological minorities. ("Affirmative action" districting has made things worse, tamping down minority turnout and restricting minority candidates to but a few well-marked holding pens.) Whatever. This is a tepid rehash of old concerns. But I figure I may as well throw a few stones at the tank now and again. And here's the new slogan, "Proportional Representation! Do it for National Security." Thanks, Phil!
-- Brad Plumer 4:21 PM || ||