Is Congress catastrophically broken, or is it doing exactly what it was designed to do?

Summary:What if this is a condition Adams and Jefferson coded for, and what if we're now running an error handling routine built into America's operating system?

Yep, you got it: elections. Every two years, we hold elections to refresh and renew the blood in the lower house. Every four years, we hold elections to choose the chief executive. And every six years, we review our decisions on the upper house and replace those senators who have overstayed their welcome.

If the American people don't like something enough, they can vote with their votes. Oh, sure, huge interest groups and media and focus groups and all sorts of other techniques are used to manipulate the vote, but the vote is still the vote. Even back in Jefferson and Adams' day, they used whatever media tools were available to them to influence voters.

But then there's another tool that's used to balance government, and this one is a bit more sneaky. It's called gerrymandering, and it's the practice of redefining district borders to selectively group together certain groups of voters in such a way as to influence the selection of representatives.

For about two hundred years, we've had this sneaky little tool that politicians have been able to use to maximize their votes. In the last election, for example, the Democrats won more votes for the House than the Republicans, but there are more Republican representatives (giving them more power) because, supposedly, of gerrymandering.

So here we have a law (remember, we're talking Obamacare) that has made its way through all three checks and balances. It is now the law of the land.

Then we have an election. In that election, one of the centerpieces of the dispute is Obamacare. Barack Obama is reelected, winning both the popular and electoral vote, so the public's check-and-balance of the executive system has run, and -- in the majority -- chosen Obama and Obamacare.

That part of the system appears to work. You might not like President Obama, but he was undeniably reelected.

Next, we have the legislative branch. In the upper house, the Dems won the majority of the Senate seats, possibly because only a third of them were running in 2012, or possibly because Americans wanted Democrats in Senate seats. In either case, the Democrats control the Senate.

In the lower house, the house where all members are validated in each election, the Republicans retained control. You could say they retained control because it was the majority will or you could could say they retained control through creative gerrymandering, but in either case, they retained control.

Even gerrymandering, though sneaky and a bit underhanded, is an element of the popular vote. Congressional districting is controlled, generally, by the local state legislatures, which themselves are elected.

So even if more Americans voted for Democrats for the House than for Republicans, the fact that Republicans control the House is a function, somewhere down the line, of a stronger political machine and a stronger voting base.

In other words, based on how the country's voting systems are defined, the Republicans won control of the House with as much fair and square as any political battle is ever won.

So now we have a GOP-controlled House, a Dem-controlled Senate, a Dem-controlled White House, and a relatively mixed-breed Supreme Court. And we have Obamacare.

The executive branch likes Obamacare. It, next to the killing of bin Laden, is its signature accomplishment. Part of the legislative branch likes Obamacare, but the other part doesn't like it.

Once again, we hit checks and balances. The two houses of Congress were set up to balance each other out. The Senate was designed to give smaller states an even playing field with the bigger states, and the House was designed to reflect population.

Of course, it's interesting that the House, the branch of Congress designed to reflect the population, was gerrymandered to a point where the makeup of the representatives doesn't actually match the voting patterns of the populace for those actual representatives.

Let's wrap this whole thing up with a surprsing conclusion...

Topics: Government : US, Government


In addition to hosting the ZDNet Government and ZDNet DIY-IT blogs, CBS Interactive's Distinguished Lecturer David Gewirtz is an author, U.S. policy advisor and computer scientist. He is featured in The History Channel special The President's Book of Secrets, is one of America's foremost cyber-security experts, and is a top expert on savi... Full Bio

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