Wednesday, July 18, 2012

William J. Dobson Peers into the Future,
And Forgets some History

I'm  enjoying The Dictator's Learning Curve by William J. Dobson.  It's a great survey of "soft dictatorship" worldwide--the kind that seems to be saveur du jour today everyplace in the world except North Korea.  It's journalism, not grand theory, heavy (a bit too heavy?) on anecdote, but Dobson has trekked the earth in a lot of dreary places and he has a receptive spirit of inquiry.  Perhaps the most interesting thing I've picked up so far is the Dog that Did Not Bark--the point that there really is  no necessary underlying similarity between governments that implement soft dictatorship.  We see, for example, how Putin in Russia proceeds via a near-total indifference to the dispossessed, while Chávez in Venezuela keeps the engine pumping by mobilizing them.  That's the base: the superstructure is that the both operate by a mix of cynicism and fear that keeps their adversaries off balance, bathed in the illusion of democracy without the substance.  

So, good stuff (I haven't finished yet).  But here's one real coffee-snorter. In fixing Venezuelan elections (Dobson says) 
Chávez' electoral engineers have been fond of gerrymandering, not unlike what was once practiced in America's Deep South to prevent African American candidates from being elected to predominantly white legislatures.
In the words of the great Steve Martin, excuse me?  Elites in the Deep South used to keep African Americans from voting by not letting them vote--by refusing to let them onto the vote rolls, by striking them off, by poll taxes, by naked intimidation, by murder.  It's in the modern age--since Baker v. Carr and one-man-one-vote--that elites have discovered the discreet charms of gerrymandering, this time to secure incumbents of either party. It's offense against the public welfare for which blacks, ironically, are at least as culpable as whites.  It's one source--there are so many--of the poisonous public forum in our time.  Dobson is a good journalist but he must have been dozing in his high school civics class.


Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Ebenezer Scrooge said...

I remember AJ Liebling, in "The Earl of Louisiana", stating that one of the differences between Louisiana politics and the politics of other Southern states was that black folk could actually vote. Liebling might not let a small fact stand in the way of a good story, but he was generally reliable, at least to recount what he heard.

Maybe Louisiana did the gerrymandering? Or not.