Politics and Prejudices: Take back the power!

Jul 15, 2015 at 1:00 am

Nearly everyone was so dazzled by the U.S. Supreme Court's rulings last month legalizing same-sex marriage and saving Obamacare that they overlooked another vitally important decision.

The Supremes gave us here in Michigan a chance to take our democracy back ... if we are willing to work hard enough for it.

As you know if you've been reading this column, or paying attention to state government, our "representative democracy" is a farce. Republicans control everything, and have rigged the game by outrageous gerrymandering to make sure they always will.

They've drawn the boundaries of the districts to pack all the Democrats in as few as possible, while spreading out Republicans to make sure they get a large majority of the seats even when they get fewer overall votes, as they almost always do. Last November, more people voted Democratic for the state House of Representatives.

But that still worked out to 63 Republicans and 47 Democrats. More people voted Democratic for Congress too — but when the smoke cleared, it was nine Republicans, five Democrats.

In other words, some votes are far more equal than others. Republicans are sure to smugly say Democrats would do the same thing if they had half a chance — and they may well be right.

But that's not the point. The bigger problem is more than half our citizens are now effectively disenfranchised, since they now live in districts where they never have a chance of electing someone from their political persuasion. And that's not even the worst of it.

What this outrageous gerrymandering means is that in most districts, legislative and congressional, the only real races are in the August primaries. Those elections have notoriously tiny turnouts — which means they are all too often won by ideological fanatics (Gary Glenn, Tim Walberg) — with a few thousand crazy supporters.

Todd Courser was elected to the state legislature even though he thinks God speaks to and through him. Want to know why the legislature refuses to get serious about fixing the roads?

There are in fact plenty of Republicans who know how important good roads and bridges are if we ever hope to attract any new jobs and business. They even realize there's no way we can fix the roads without raising new revenue from somewhere.

But many still refuse to support any new taxes, no matter how justified, because they fear being taken down in the primary by an even further right anti-tax maniac.

Over on the Democratic side, inertia and one-party rule often means we elect candidates with familiar names, even if they are criminals, incompetents, or both. John Conyers could still go on winning re-election even if he were 86 and somewhat deranged (to use what is, of course, a purely hypothetical example.)

So our infrastructure continues to rot, and things get worse and worse. Fair, impartial, nonpartisan or bipartisan redistricting is the only cure; we need districts to be as balanced and competitive as possible — and the U.S. Supreme Court just opened a door.

Last month, in a narrow, 5-4 decision, the justices ruled that the people can bypass their legislatures, and vote to create independent commissions to draw state and federal district boundaries.

That's what happened in Arizona, and an angry legislature tried to deny them the right to do so. But in a case called Arizona State Legislature v. Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission, the judges said the people had every right to do so.

Now all that's needed is somebody to lead a movement to get this on the ballot. My candidate for the best person to do it is Wayne State University Law School Dean Jocelyn Benson, a national expert on state government. Last week, she wrote a column in the Detroit Free Press saying, "It's up to us to use the initiative process, amend our state constitution, and fix this broken system." That's right. But the creatures who run the legislature and benefit from this system will fight any reform, by fair means and foul, every step of the way.

We need someone who is savvy, smart, and charismatic as the public face of such a movement — and some angels as well who can raise money. If we are ever going to reclaim our democracy from those who stole it, this may be our last, best chance.

Otherwise, well, we'll be forever under the thumb of ALEC and the Koch brothers, who will happily use dull tools like Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof to screw us over for their benefit.

Democracy used to work pretty well in these parts, back in the bad old days when workers had things like benefits and unions and could send their kids to college. Not to sound melodramatic, but it might just be worth one hell of a fight to get it back.

And as for the Stars and Bars ...

The nation has gone on a positive orgy of Confederate flag-bashing ever since Dylann Roof murdered nine black people in a South Carolina church last month.

Southern states are hauling it down! Flag manufacturers are declining to make the old Stars and Bars anymore, and even Wal-Mart will no longer sell what we think of as the flag of the Confederate States of America. (Actually, it wasn't. Most people have no idea what the rebels' official government flag was; the one that's famous is a military battle flag.)

But no matter. The flag in modern times always has been a covert racist message, regardless of what anyone says. I'd be happy if I never saw one again, outside of re-enactments of Pickett's charge.

If we lose the flag, it gets shunned, wonderful. However, think about this: How many of those nine lives would've been saved if that messed-up sullen man-child couldn't have paraded around his bedroom, limply holding a Confederate flag?

That would be, ah ... zero. Now, think hard about this: How many people would have been saved if this disturbed little fuck had been prevented from buying a weapon of mass destruction, i.e., his Glock pistol, and carrying it into a church.

That would be, ah ... most likely all of them. Well, maybe he could've stabbed someone with a knife before being overpowered, though he doesn't look burly or gutsy enough to have done so.

That is as clear as simple arithmetic — but because of the power of the gun lobby and the minority of paranoid psychos it represents, no politician will even try to do anything sane and rational about guns.

So to make it appear as if they're worth something, they are pretending it's all about the flag. Someday, some civilized culture will see our worship of guns about the same way we regard the Aztec practice of cutting hearts out of living chests to please their gods.

If there is something amusing about this, it's that ironically, the Stars and Bars didn't even seem to mean all that much to Roof.

He evidently preferred the racist flags of the now thankfully extinct South African apartheid and Rhodesian regimes. Next time we have a massacre, I suggest we ban those flags too.

After all, that would be so much more effective than gun control.

Jack Lessenberry is head of the journalism program at Wayne State University and the senior political analyst for Michigan Public Radio.