In the time of Queen Elizabeth the First, 400 years ago, England was so heavily wooded that people used to say a squirrel could travel from one end of the kingdom to another without ever touching the ground.
This wee morsel of folklore came to mind as I pondered the county-by-county map of last Tuesday night's election results published by USA Today. The map has counties that went for Bush colored red, those that went for Gore colored blue. The overall effect — oh, a picture tells a thousand words! — is of a scattering of blue islands in a sea of red. If you start from almost any red county on America's borders, you can get to any other without crossing any blue counties at all. A Republican squirrel could cross this country by many, many routes — north to south, east to west — without touching Democratic turf.
A Democratic squirrel, on the other hand, would be stuck in one of the blue islands: Old New England and its scattered midwestern and northwestern extensions, a strip of the lower Mississippi, some Indian reservations, Showbiznia (i.e. the California coast), Hedonistia (the liberal vacation playgrounds of Colorado and the Atlantic coast), and Gerontistan (the retirement communities of Florida, the Ozarks and the western desert), together with some dense population centers.
(And I interrupt myself here to ask: What is this with red for Republican, blue for Democrat? The news networks were doing the same thing on Election Night. As a Brit, perhaps I'm missing something here. I had always supposed that red was the color of the Left, blue of the Right. Remember those brilliant blue outfits Margaret Thatcher used to favor? And the anthem of her opposition, still sung at the annual conferences of the British Labour Party?
… Then raise the scarlet banner high!
Beneath its shade we'll live and die!
Though cowards flinch and traitors sneer
We'll keep the red flag flying here!
I understand that British and European politics does not map one-one on to the American variety. Still, all the American lefties I know — and I know quite a few — vote Democratic. And "red diaper baby" is, so far as I know, a native American term. What's going on here? In fact, as a former officer in Her Majesty's armed forces, the media's use of blue for the Dems strikes me as a bit sinister. In British military exercises, blue always represents our forces, red the enemy. What Americans call "friendly fire" is, in fact, called "blue on blue" in the British Army. So when TV folk use blue to indicate Democrats, are they saying: "These are our people"? I know, of course, that 90 per cent of media types vote Democrat, but I am surprised to see them flaunt it.)
Back to that county map. Someone has added up the area and population figures.
Square Miles of Counties won: Gore — 580,134, Bush — 2,427,039.
Population of Counties won: Gore — 127 Million, Bush — 143 Million
What does the map prove, and what reform does it suggest? Well, it proves that on a strictly territorial basis, we own this country. Acre for acre, the Dems are a fringe cult.
This is, of course, highly misleading. A tiny county that happens to include a crowded metropolis is worth far more to any presidential candidate that a whole string of Nevada counties populated mainly by tumbleweed, and very rightly so. Those are the extremes, however. Most of our country is neither tumbleweed nor tenements. Most of it is something in between, something like Suffolk County, where I live: thin strings and blobs of suburbia, separated by woodlands, parks and the occasional farm. The population figures above suggest an argument for giving us in-betweens more of a voice.
Sure, sure, I know about the popular vote. Who cares about the popular vote? The founding fathers certainly didn't — they were, in fact, full of apprehensions about mob rule, and politicians that might pander to it. To the degree that people vote based on local concerns, urban areas are way over-represented in our vote counting. All of the 200 or so people in a city tenement block share a large number of their concerns in common. Is it really proper that those concerns, however worthy, should be multiplied by 200, while some rancher in Montana, whose concerns cover far more territory, has just the one vote?
No, citizens, we need a radical overhaul of our election procedures. Instead of an Electoral College based on states, let us switch to one based on counties. With accurate weighting by population, George W. Bush would have won easily, as can be seen from the above numbers. Not by the 21 to 5 factor of sheer acreage: that would be asking too much. Just by the 9 to 8 that corresponds to the county populations.
This reform would have the collateral benefit of stimulating county pride, which has declined regrettably through the history of the Republic as state and federal power has grown. People generally have far more in common with their neighbors in the county than with people at the other end of their state. What are they to me, the bumpkins of Buffalo, the poltroons of Poughkeepsie, the brutes of the Bronx? How can I have any respect for New York State, whose people at large gave 52 per cent of their vote to a creature obviously cloned from the DNA of the late Madame Mao Tse-tung? (Compare the faces.) I would gladly lay down my life for Suffolk County, but New York State? Pah! How do I get a Constitutional Amendment started?