Magazine | April 3, 2017, Issue


The Limits of Proportional Representation

One must wrestle with two related issues when discussing gerrymandering:

(1) If a state is divided 60–40 between Party A and Party B, and its ten neatly drawn districts each have the 60–40 split, is it desirable for that state’s congressional delegation to have zero members of Party B, four, or somewhere in between? If the answer is zero, then gerrymandering is wrong.

(2) If another state with a population deserving ten districts is divided 90–10 between Party A and Party B, and there are four groups of like-minded Party B people each with 2.5 percent of the population at the corners of the state, would it be fair to gerrymander those people into an oddly shaped district to give them one seat out of the ten? If the answer is yes, then this means your philosophy is that people more properly belong in a district with faraway kindred spirits than in a district with geographic neighbors with whom they have little else in common.

Is the main purpose of representatives to fight for perks for their geographic district, or to advocate a particular view of government for like-minded citizens of their state?

Bruce Spidell

Boca Raton, Fla.

Dan McLaughlin responds: The answer to Mr. Spidell’s first question, about the 60–40 split, is zero, without any gerrymandering; that is the necessary result of the traditional American winner-take-all election system. The alternative of a proportional-representation system gives us the European problem of parties of the far right and far left that get 10 percent of the vote. The answer to his second question is likewise no, although, in both cases, Voting Rights Act–driven racial gerrymanders proceed on the opposite assumption.

As for representatives’ standing for the narrow interests of their districts, that’s why the Constitution gave us a House, Senate, and president each elected by different electorates.

First Loyalty

Nationalism versus conservatism (“For Love of Country,” February 20)? Cut to the chase. The first issue is always: Which “first loyalty”? Self or God?

Lincoln reminded us in 1863, when he resoundingly reasserted the pledge of the Founders in the first sentence of the Declaration of Independence: Natural law. Madison established that the freedom championed in 1776 by the American people was “freedom of conscience.” Lincoln spoke at Gettysburg of “this nation, under God.” We are “rightly” understood, as Tocqueville first observed in 1831, as a people of conscience, not ego. Some of us seem not to know that we were founded on an idea: natural law. Our survival as the people of an “exceptional nation” is at stake. Can we still return to being, as G. K. Chesterton put it, “a nation with the soul of a church”?

Piers Woodriff

Orange County, Va.

NR Editors includes members of the editorial staff of the National Review magazine and website.

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