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Getting around the “vote against it/benefit from it” problem

By Amanda Marcotte
Thursday, August 12, 2010 13:48 EDT
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Yesterday at Double X, I blogged about Oklahoma Republican representative and gubernatorial candidate Mary Fallin, and how she’s an example of how she’s an example of how crazy right wing politics have gotten. She couldn’t be bothered to go back for the emergency session to get more funding to the states, because she was that against it, but she was enticed to rush back to DC to vote for a bill that put $600 million towards a pointless display of beefing up border security. Since she bothered to show up, she voted against the state emergency funding bill. In other words, for Republicans, there’s not enough money to pave roads and pay state employees, but there is no such thing as too much money spent on pointless showboating to pander to racists. (Not that Democrats are off the hook—the showboating waste of money wouldn’t have passed without them.) Of course, at the end of the day, Fallin doesn’t have to pay a political price for her ideological stance against basic government services that her Tea Cracker base pretends they don’t use. At the end of the day, the bill was passed and Oklahoma is going to get $300 million.

And knowing the way Republicans operate, I wouldn’t be surprised if Fallin shows up at some event where the money is being spent and takes credit for it.

I used to be adamant that it was morally wrong to leave out districts and even entire states for this kind of funding when they routinely elect representatives who vote against it. Sure, it’s annoying when Republicans get to have it both ways, but not everyone voted for them, and it seems wrong to deny employment and services to innocent people who often did their best to vote for Democrats and were simply outnumbered. But I’m beginning to have second thoughts. The main reason is that the utter lack of consequences for Republican districts means that Republicans keep getting elected, and they are reducing the size of the pot. Everyone loses out, even if Republicans are in the minority, because Republicans are able to use what power they do have to keep tax cuts for the very wealthiest and to reduce the size of relief bills and social spending. And if it weren’t for Republicans simply making up problems—like pretending violent hordes of illegal immigrants are raping and pillaging on the border, when no such thing is happening—we wouldn’t be wasting precious resources on crap like this border security bill. I’m beginning to wonder if the price we pay for shielding voters from what it means to vote Republican is simply too steep to be tolerated any longer.

I don’t know if there’s a legal way to create a system where, if your representative doesn’t vote for the bill, you get no funding from it. But as a thought experiment, it would be interesting to think about what it would mean. The first thing that occurred to me is that doing such a thing would dramatically exacerbate the already-existing wealth and living standard differences between red areas and blue areas in the country. Initially, this would be devastating to the poorest people—but I have to point out that in red states, those people tend to be fucked already, as the local governments do everything in their power to keep them from getting services. Still, this is such a morally indefensible position, I have to think that maybe you carve out an exception for services that offer direct assistance to the poor, like Medicaid.

Ideally, what you’d do is basically pull infrastructure and other services aimed at the middle and upper classes from any district where the representative refused to vote for it. If the voters in a district are playing that game where they act morally offended when they see a sign indicating that the federal government is repaving a road or maintaining a park, then simply stop doing so. No aid for fire departments, schools, police. Nothing to keep the lights on. The immediate economic damage would be pretty steep right out of the box, and the long term economic damage would be immeasurable. Red areas would become close to developing nations even more rapidly than is currently happening. The flux of people out of those areas and into more prosperous ones would get even worse. This would be compounded by the fact that this strategy of “you only get it if you vote for it” would free up more funds to blue areas to build the kind of city infrastructure evil liberals like, such as better public transportation. Making a middle class life for yourself in a red area would probably become impossible, especially if we also pulled back funding for federal assistance programs aimed at the middle class if representatives vote against it. The gap between the haves and the have-nots, geographically speaking, would grow dramatically.

Suburban areas would probably be the most dramatically affected. The suburbs only exist because of federal government largesse in building all those highway systems that make escaping the evil liberal cities possible. If roads fell into disrepair, the economic stability of the suburbs would collapse. They’d pretty much have to dissolve their heavily Republican districts. That alone would devastate the Republican hold on power.

But the human cost probably is just too much to bear. For one thing, Republicans campaign on the idea that you should hate big city liberal elites because they’re so smug with their big brains and fancy coffee drinks, and that tactic would only have more resonance. This couldn’t be a short term squeeze. Voters would have to go through a lot of hell before they clued in to basic realities. Plus, a lot of the reason this would only work is, like I said, it would actually just break up conservative communities as people flee the economic devastation and move to blue districts. Plus, it wouldn’t be so great to live in blue areas that get denser faster than even a well-funded government can handle. By the time the plan worked to get the voters to the place where they start voting their own economic self-interest, the devastation would be so bad it would take decades to recover.

That said, there’s ways to create a milder version of this kind of long term plan to make it harder for Republicans to win races. Democrats would be wise to budget in such ways where they invest more in building city infrastructure, with a special eye towards building up the mid-sized mildly liberal cities throughout the U.S. Attracting the generally liberal populations that you get in such places would help turn more districts blue. Prioritize funding of public transportation over building more roads that allow the suburbs to explode. Rewrite the regulations on who gets the middle class funding to discourage suburbanization. Invest in building racially diverse communities, and discourage white flight. There’s many ways to get similar effects without creating massive economic devastation.

Amanda Marcotte
Amanda Marcotte
Amanda Marcotte is a freelance journalist born and bred in Texas, but now living in the writer reserve of Brooklyn. She focuses on feminism, national politics, and pop culture, with the order shifting depending on her mood and the state of the nation.
 
 
 
 
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