Matthew Engel was in combative mood in the FT on Saturday. He notes that the most rotten legacy of twelve years: a gerrymander operation that has dug most incumbents in so deeply that the battleground is confined to a small minority of seats. Electoral insecurity, he argues, is the best way to keep politicians honest.
Engel’s Law applies every bit as much – or more – in the peculiar circumstances of the American Congress, which can enact its whims without having to take responsibility for executing them. Theoretically, the House of Representatives is the most accountable legislature in the world. Its members have to submit to the holy will of the people every two years. In fact, control has changed hands just once – once! – in the past half-century.
Lately, this has been bolstered by the gerrymander. Not an old-fashioned, straightforward fair-cheating-all-round kind of gerrymander, whereby one party rigs the boundaries to keep out the other – the kind of racket that has been the staple of semi-mature democracies since the concept was invented in New York two centuries ago.
Instead, this is a malevolent variation, in which the system is rigged to ensure the maximum number of safe seats for both sides, and the minimum number that can change hands, however relentless the landslide. It is a conspiracy by the political class against everyone else. Most congressmen now expect a job for life.