Politico.com has a great article today detailing some of the more outrageous comments made by members of Congress this August. Neither party has a monopoly on foolishness nor even on Nazi-metaphors, which are worse than foolish.
Political rhetoric can and should get heated at times and the image of members of Congress as paragons of reason and exemplars of thoughtfulness has not fared very well what with money in freezers, the birther movement, anything more complicated than "Good Morning" uttered by Rep. Michelle Bachmann, etc. In the current debate over health care reform, large issues are at stake and a bit of verbal back-and-forth is fine.
But, truly outrageous remarks, such as invoking comparisons with Nazism, should be punished and the only avenue for punishing a member of Congress does not exist in large parts of the country. The biggest bipartisan scandal of the late twentieth century, and the most nefarious use of computer technology, was the systematic gerrymandering of the country with such effectiveness that most members of Congress do not face a real election challenge. Ever. Computers divide the districts based on voting patterns so that every incumbent is as safe as possible. The carving up of districts is in the hands of state legislatures, many of whom have ambitions of making their way to Congress, and you don’t climb the political food-chain by acting against the interests of your party or your Congressman. So, everyone goes along and gets along except, of course, for democracy.
Conservative politicians and political theorists like to lionize the Founders and here is an issue on which the Founders’ intentions have been turned on their heads. The House was intended, both by its smaller districts and its shorter terms of office, to be the body that is most responsive to the will of the electorate. Conversely, the Senate was intended to be the more deliberative body, removed from the passions of the people, capable of acting on behalf of the national interest over against any perceived local, small "d" democratic impulses. But, with redistricting, it is the Senate that is more likely to reflect popular will: You can’t "re-district" a state.
There are a few swing districts. Virginia’s Fifth District went Democratic last year by under 1,000 votes. Connecticut’s Second District is a classic swing district that flipped in both 2000 and 2006. But, most districts are considered safe for the incumbents, and the more likely challenge they face is from the ideological base of their own party which can run a candidate in the primary. This phenomenon only increases the polarization of the two parties.
Proposals to remove the process of carving congressional districts from the legislatures have generally failed to meet with the voters’ approval. And, the Founders clearly intended for political decisions to be in the hands of the political branches. Non-partisan blue ribbon panels were not part of the constitutional framework.
The anger at town hall meetings would be better targeted at this most corrupt practice of contemporary democracy, but the danger is too opaque and polls consistently show that while Congress is held in low esteem, people like their own congressman. Change is unlikely where it is most needed. And we have no one to blame but ourselves.