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The scenario for the midterm elections remains grim for Democrats, but they have two factors working in their favor. First, the pathetic state of the GOP and second, and more importantly, the advantages of incumbency. In American politics, it’s nearly impossible to lose a reelection race unless, to paraphrase an old line from former Louisiana politico Edwin Edwards, you’re caught in bed with a dead girl or a live boy. The main reasons for that are gerrymandered districts and the fundraising edge incumbents enjoy. “There are two parties now, the Ins and the Outs,” a congressional staffer told me. “The Ins can command huge sums of special interest money to finance their re-elections, whether it’s business money for the GOP or labor money for the Democrats.”
As to gerrymandering, the same staffer said: “Thanks to increased computer capability and experience in drawing boundary lines, state legislatures and campaign professionals have perfected the art. There’s a whole industry dedicated to drawing district lines so politicians can pick their own voters. If you raise the requisite money to communicate with them and hit them with four weeks of ads before the election, there’s not much a challenger can do. Victory is almost mechanical.”
But just how big of an edge does incumbency offer? Take a look at the numbers (provided to me by Fair Vote):
During the seven elections for the House between 1996 and 2008 – during which a collective 3,045 seats were contested – a grand total of 89 incumbents lost their bids for reelection. The average margin of victory in House races since 2000 is about forty percent.
In 2008, fifty-two candidates ran for a House seat unopposed, twice the number of highly competitive races where the margin of victory was five percent or less.
The number of incumbents defeated since 1994 has ranged from a low of six in both 1998 and 2000, to a high of twenty-two in 2006, the year Democrats made huge overall gains won back control of the House. A number of those who lost that latter year – all Republicans — were tainted by their relationship with Jack Abramoff.
Democrats have reaped the primary advantages of incumbency. Of incumbents who lost between 1996 and 2008, a mere twenty-one were Democrats. Nine of the losers were redistricted out of their seats and five were embroiled in scandals (like William “Dollar Bill” Jefferson of Louisiana).
So congratulations, Nancy Pelosi: You’ve headed one of the worst congresses in recent memory (except, in fairness, virtually every one that came before it) but if your colleagues listen to Edwin Edwards the results in November may not be quite as bleak as it looks now.
More from Ken Silverstein:
Perspective — October 23, 2013, 8:00 am
How pro-oil Louisiana politicians have shaped American environmental policy
Postcard — October 16, 2013, 8:00 am
A trip to one of the properties at issue in Louisiana’s oil-pollution lawsuits
For the past three years my dosimeter had sat silently on a narrow shelf just inside the door of a house in Tokyo, upticking its final digit every twenty-four hours by one or two, the increase never failing — for radiation is the ruthless companion of time. Wherever we are, radiation finds and damages us, at best imperceptibly. During those three years, my American neighbors had lost sight of the accident at Fukushima. In March 2011, a tsunami had killed hundreds, or thousands; yes, they remembered that. Several also recollected the earthquake that caused it, but as for the hydrogen explosion and containment breach at Nuclear Plant No. 1, that must have been fixed by now — for its effluents no longer shone forth from our national news. Meanwhile, my dosimeter increased its figure, one or two digits per day, more or less as it would have in San Francisco — well, a trifle more, actually. And in Tokyo, as in San Francisco, people went about their business, except on Friday nights, when the stretch between the Kasumigaseki and Kokkai-Gijido-mae subway stations — half a dozen blocks of sidewalk, which commenced at an antinuclear tent that had already been on this spot for more than 900 days and ended at the prime minister’s lair — became a dim and feeble carnival of pamphleteers and Fukushima refugees peddling handicrafts.
One Friday evening, the refugees’ half of the sidewalk was demarcated by police barriers, and a line of officers slouched at ease in the street, some with yellow bullhorns hanging from their necks. At the very end of the street, where the National Diet glowed white and strange behind other buildings, a policeman set up a microphone, then deployed a small video camera in the direction of the muscular young people in drums against fascists jackets who now, at six-thirty sharp, began chanting: “We don’t need nuclear energy! Stop nuclear power plants! Stop them, stop them, stop them! No restart! No restart!” The police assumed a stiffer stance; the drumming and chanting were almost uncomfortably loud. Commuters hurried past along the open space between the police and the protesters, staring straight ahead, covering their ears. Finally, a fellow in a shabby sweater appeared, and murmured along with the chants as he rounded the corner. He was the only one who seemed to sympathize; few others reacted at all.
Number of U.S. congressional districts in which trade with China has produced more jobs than it has cost:
Young bilingual children who learned one language first are likelier than monolingual children and bilingual children who learned languages simultaneously to say that a dog adopted by owls will hoot.
An Oklahoma legislative committee voted to defund Advanced Placement U.S. History courses, accusing the curriculum of portraying the United States as “a nation of oppressors and exploiters.”
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“He could be one of a million beach-bound, black-socked Florida retirees, not the man who, by some odd happenstance of life, possesses the brain of Albert Einstein — literally cut it out of the dead scientist's head.”