I believe the root cause of the shutdown isn’t the budget deficit or Obamacare, but rather Gerrymandering – and two specific symptoms of gerrymandering – uncompetitive districts evolving into extremist candidates, as well as illegitimate majorities stemming from packing and splitting.
There have been a few articles, most pointedly this one (from a conservative paper no less), that illustrate how the shutdown is being driving by a minority of the majority party. To paraphrase the article, there 30 GOP members who believe that Obamacare is in fact very harmful and will do anything to stop it. There are another 30 that are willing to compromise, but worry about being primaried from the right. It is my estimation that if those 30 were primaried, their successor would join the 30 true believers.
The emphasis in the above paragraph illustrates the problem – uncompetitive (from a partisan angle) congressional districts drawn so that they are solid for one party or another. Because one party has a lock on the district, its likely that more and more extremist (left or right) individuals will be elected – up to a point at which there are enough defectors from the majority party to elect the other candidate. This almost happened in 2012 with Michele Bachmann – she is in a solid conservative district, but has become extreme enough where there were enough defectors (or non-voters) in both her party and independent voters that she nearly lost the race (she won by 1% of the vote).
If all congressional races were competitive from a partisan angle, I believe the extremist element in each party would be rendered unelectable because independent voters (whom upon most elections ride) will choose the less extreme candidate, and that in order to win political parties would choose the more centrist candidate instead of the extreme.
So how do we stop gerrymandering?
California, after substantial bipartisan pro-incumbent gerrymandering in 2000, chose an non-partisan board to draw the districts. Other states have had similar approaches by using a non-partisan group to draw the lines.
Can we fundamentally change the rules of the system? Do we have all representatives represent the entire state they’re from like Senators do? Do we use topological rules to divide districts in a more algorithmic manner? Use an alternate voting method (Fair Majority Voting for example) to ensure that a state that is split 35:65 has a 1:2 representation ratio? Beyond an appropriate partisan representation ratio, how do you choose representatives from each party that are aligned with the voters wishes (e.g. you not voting for a party, you’re voting for a person).
The voters weren’t represented in the 2012 congressional elections – totaling up all congressional races, Democrats got more votes than Republicans by about 500,000 votes (slightly less than half a percent), however failed to gain majority control of the House because of gerrymandering, in fact they are at a 30 seat deficit (233-202). This was due to the Republican successes in 2010 getting control of state legislatures such that they could control the redistricting process, gaming the system.
The sooner we deal with the issue of Gerrymandering the better. Then maybe we can start removing some of the dysfunction from Congress and move towards a legislative body that can accurately represent the people of America, both in terms of majority/minority parties as well as fewer extremists.