Don Ohlmeyer, former NBC president and the original producer of Monday Night Football, when asked to explain irrational choices in business, sports and politics, wisely opined, “The answer to all your questions is…MONEY.” Consider the opening week of the college football season when second tier college teams travel to Power Five Conference stadiums to be served up as human sacrifices. Just this year, in return for a $1.5 million payday, Miami University (Oxford, OH) jetted to South Florida to be on the short-end of a 38-3 shellacking by the University of Miami.
This past week proved Ohlmeyer’s maxim to be less iron-clad than I once believed. Two events, Hamas’ terrorist attack against Israel and the congressional logjam resulting from the inability of Republicans to elect a House Speaker had little to do with money. If not money, what is the primary factor which explains these events? In both cases, the answer is…GERRYMANDERING.
I’ll begin with Hamas. Comedian Dana Gould opens his “I Know It’s Wrong” album with a routine in which he claims anything, in the right context, can be funny. You can feel the audience’s tension when he announces he will prove his point with three jokes. One about AIDS. One about rape. And one about 9/11. It is the third topic which illuminates the horror of 10/7/23 on the Gaza border.
I think my favorite part of 9/11 (pause as the audience laughs nervously) was the Muslim terrorists when they went to Muslim heaven, which we all know isn’t true. They can’t be in Muslim heaven because they’re in Christian hell. Unless they go back and forth which you can do because they’re both pretend.
~Dana Gould/I Know It’s Wrong
Exactly! Muslim extremists who self-associate with one of the world’s three major religions have gerrymandered heaven. In the territorial afterlife they control, the greatest rewards come from jihad and martyrdom. Likewise, many Christian fundamentalists have walled off their heavenly enclave, depriving entry to those who do not share their beliefs or deviate from their standards of behavior. As we learn over and over again, apartheid applied to an imaginary afterlife does little to support the prospects for peace and amity in this one.
Which brings me to the more traditional definition of gerrymandering, manipulating the boundaries of legislative districts to either create safe seats for the party in power or dilute representation of various classes of voters, both of which give disproportional weight to a percentage of the electorate. Perhaps the best example is my home state of Florida where the GOP holds 20 of 28 congressional seats although party affiliation is relatively even (GOP 36.35 percent versus Democrats 34.48 percent.) Keep in mind the state legislature originally approved a somewhat more equitable map which Governor Ron DeSantis vetoed and then arm-twisted the legislature to approve his version.
However, as is so often said, be careful what you wish for. Florida’s 2022 redistricting assured Matt Gaitz a safe seat which freed him up to be the chaos agent on display during the ouster of House Speaker Kevin McCarthy. The same is true of the other seven firebrands who sealed McCarthy’s fate. This is what happens when a representative no longer needs the backing of House leadership to support his or her reelection.
In other words, while the Republican Party thought gerrymandering would be the path to electoral heaven, they now find themselves corralled behind the Gaitz of hell. Unlike the 9/11 terrorists, the GOP can actually go back and forth between the benefits and costs of gerrymandering because both are real.
For what it’s worth.