Thursday, 8 December 2011

E Pluribus Nevermind


Several years ago, Vice President, future Nobel Laureate, venture capitalist, and all-around (generally acknowledged) genius and renaissance man Al Gore made a remark that the US was, true to its motto (e pluribus unum), "from the one, many."

Of course, Mr Gore got the Latin wrong, but for a guy who invented the internet, put a stop to the unfortunate drowning of polar bears, and gave us the media-shattering "current.tv" (without which, how could the eight people who tune in each night watch Keith Olbermann fulminate to the point of near self-implosion), it's a small error.

And in retrospect, perhaps Al Gore was speaking the truth.

To wit: this weekend in the New York Times, there appeared a brief screed attacking the state of Texas, and how it has re-drawn its electoral map, post-2010 census.  In an editorial entitled "Voting Rights and Texas," the Editors complain that, as Texas has added four new congressional seats, the legislature re-drew its boundaries to an effect that there are now 26 "safe" Republican seats (up from 21), whilst at the same time, districts in which "minorities" (largely, Hispanic people in this case) make the majority has fallen from 11 to 10.  All of this, despite the fact that (according to the Times), "almost half of all that growth (in population) came from new Hispanic residents."

Thus, the Times conclude, Texas's new congressional seats represent a violation of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and since Texas is under remediation orders stemming from Jim Crow era laws (yes; the Act is renewed every time it comes up for vote, and thus, one might conclude that how Texas draws its districts, unlike, say, California or New York, will be under federal review forever), the Feds need to step in.

I don't have the data to argue that the Times analysis is correct, but let's presume that they are correct.

There is at least one huge problem with this "analysis," and that is, the number of new Hispanic residents in Texas has accounted for half of the population growth. Unfortunately, only citizens may vote - so in a sense, it doesn't really matter on its face how many new residents a district has when talking about the Voting Rights Act.

But the most egregious problem in the Times' piece is their word choice:"They (the legislature) reduced the number of districts where minorities could elect the candidate of their choice to 10 from 11. (emphasis added)

Huh?

What is implicit in this argument is a couple of things.  First, that the "candidate of their choice" for Latino voters is necessarily a Latino one, and second, that a Latino candidate cannot win a district where Latinos are not the majority.

Aside from the obvious fact that a black man is now the president of the US, with a plurality of white votes, this sort of "logic" represents a further slide of our nation into the sort of Balkan nonsense elsewhere.  Have we really reached a point where we should be setting aside seats in our government, virtually explicitly, based upon the ethnic makeup of the land?

That's an extreme endgame of what Mr Gore (mistakenly, one presumes) said out loud.  And was endorsed when the Justice Department blocked the new map as it is allowed to do under the 1965 Act. Big shock, of course, given that the alternative map proposed actually INCREASES the number of seats that the Democrats regard as "safe" by three.

To his credit, the AG for Texas argued that the courts, who will judge ultimately this case, have as their job to "apply the law, not to make policy."  The Times counter that the VRA, Section 2, impels the courts to act because of the imperiled ability of "minority groups to elect the representative of their choice."

In a land where we are putatively equal before the law, "groups" do not elect anybody.  In a land where, if Martin Luther King's messages are to be believed, one's "representative of choice" need not be someone of the same race as yourself.

In a nightmare scenario, played out in places like Lebanon and the former Yugoslavia, we will allot our government to groups rather than people, and our representatives  must "look like" the group they represent.  A black man necessarily cannot represent a white constituency, or an Asian a Latino one, etc.

And I have no idea what it is going to mean for my mixed-race son.

THAT does not bode particularly well for a country that is projected to be one with no majority in my lifetime.

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