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Monday, July 10, 2006

Representing, but not keeping it real

(Title hat-tip to Dooce.)

A couple of things about representative democracy, at least as practised in the US, have stuck in my craw recently. I haven't blogged about them because, frankly, I don't have anything substantive to add to the non-debate. But maybe I do. And, if not, well, I need an outlet that’s more civilized than head-butting some Italians.

The minimum wage: Do as I say, not as I do

Some weeks back, in the latest delivery on George Bush's promise of "compassionate conservatism", the Republican-dominated Senate refused to raise the minimum wage. It’s been $5.15 per hour for the last nine years. Republicans refused to raise it on principal, and also because of what a drag it would be on the economy, what with adding to the cost of doing business in the US, and all.

Also on principal, or something, the Senate has voted to raise it’s own members' salaries almost $32,000.00 in the same nine-year period, presumably because the cost to the US tax-payer is less consequential. But they represent the people, mind.

One prominent Republican was startled at negative reaction to the vote, asking, "When we said 'compassionate conservatism', did they think we meant compassionate towards others?"

I suppose they had better hope that American voters don’t start putting two and two together. The recent efforts to fire-up the pre-election Republican hype machine over illegal Mexican immigration came uncomfortably close to this minimum-wage vote. A few days closer together and folks might have realized that the poverty-level minimum wage is what keeps Americans out of the market for low-end jobs. That crappy kind of take-home pay only looks good if you’re from somewhere that pays even worse. Mexico, for instance.

Take the minimum wage up a few bucks and you might have a crisis of actual citizens applying for the jobs. But, instead, let’s keep wages at poverty-level and spend tax-payer money to militarize the border to keep out those greasy wetbacks. Yeah. That’ll work. Good idea!

Gerrymandering: What would TJ do*?

In another stroke of representative democracy, state legislatures are busy re-drawing their electoral boundaries to make it easier for the dominant party to stay in power. Both parties are guilty, but the Republicans turned it into both a science and an official party strategy under the leadership of ex-House Majority Leader and recent criminal indictee, Tom Delay.

It’s all perfectly legal, according to a June Supreme Court decision. Only problem is, it subverts democracy by trying to pre-determine the outcome of elections. This article provides a very good explanation, if a biased one.

This issue is the half brother of “campaign finance reform” in that it’s pretty obvious how to fix it, but it’s never in the interest of the party in power to do so. (For Republicans, it also works nicely as a one-two punch with legislative measures to keep likely Democratic voters from voting at all.)

So let’s all laud the righteousness of democracy. Let’s hold democracy aloft like the obvious beacon of perfection it is. Let’s export democracy to every dark, despotic corner of the globe.

But let’s squash it like a bug at home.

*Credit to Slate.


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