Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Glenn Beck's Common Sense

Glenn Beck's Common Sense: The Case Against an Out-of-Control Government, inspired by Thomas Paine
by Glenn Beck

Talk radio and Fox News host Glenn Beck has emerged from relative anonymity over the past year. Beck is a talk radio veteran who quietly worked his way to the third most popular radio talk show outside the major media spotlight.

In addition to his shows, he has published a flurry of books, including the novel The Christmas Sweater and the more recent Arguing With Idiots. See more about Beck in this post:
Conservative of the Year: Glenn Beck

Common Sense is, as the name says, a case against our out-of-control government. It covers efforts of the left to remake America, the massive and expanding government spending and national debt, the income tax, the "perks and privileges of the political class", and some history and initiatives of the progressive movement, both historical and modern. It also reproduces the original Common Sense by Thomas Paine.

I really wanted to like this book. Sure, most of Beck's positions are pretty much right. But the book was clearly a rush job. In several places, the book is sloppy with facts in ways that don't undermine his overall case. This is odd, as this author hasn't noticed similar problems with Beck's other efforts.

For example, on page 67 the book states "The presidential election of 2008 was truly a repeat of the presidential election of 1912, in which America was really only offered a Progressive Republican and a Progressive democrat as candidates." But 1912 was famously a three-candidate race, with progressive democrat Woodrow Wilson and former Republican President and Progressive Party nominee Teddy Roosevelt challenging somewhat progressive Republican President William Howard Taft. One understands Beck's point, but analogies can only be pushed so far.

More serious is his criticism of gerrymandering, saying on pages 50-51 that "Americans want elections that are open and fair, but the gerrymander is designed to make sure that doesn't happen. How? It's simple: by artificially carving out election districts that favor a particular incumbent or political party." That's true as far as it goes, but the examples he uses don't support the point.

The first example he cites is one of the worst gerrymanders, Illinois' 4th congressional district represented by democrat Luis Gutierrez. The district is anchored by two Chicago neighborhoods, one Mexican and the other Puerto Rican. They are joined by a long circuitous strip that winds around the majority black 7th district. But the 4th district was not created to protect an incumbent. Quite the opposite. When it was created in 1992, it was created as a new Hispanic-majority district designed to have no incumbent, so that a Hispanic would be elected. The district is solidly democratic, but that's true of all the Chicago districts, so partisanship isn't really an issue here.

The third example is Arizona's 2nd congressional district, represented by Republican Trent Franks. Its story is even stranger. It runs from the suburbs of Phoenix along the west of Arizona to the Utah border, and then has a narrow strip along the Grand Canyon to a roughly rectangular patch of land in northeastern Arizona. The bizarre shape of the district is explained in its Wikipedia article.

The odd shape of the district is indicative of the use of gerrymandering in its construction. The unusual division was not, however, drawn to favor politicians. Owing to historic tensions between the Hopi and the Navajo Native American tribes and since tribal boundary disputes are a federal matter, it was thought inappropriate that both tribes should be represented in the U.S. House of Representatives by the same member. Since the Hopi reservation is completely surrounded by the Navajo reservation, and in order to comply with current Arizona redistricting laws, some means of connection was required that avoided including large portions of Navajo land, hence the narrow riverine connection.
Yes, incredibly the district was drawn explicitly for the purposes of segregating races. Unfortunately, Beck makes only passing reference to racial gerrymandering that is the real explanation of the examples he cites.

While most of Beck's efforts have been worthwhile, this one would have benefited from better editing.

See also: Books in Brief (An Inconvenient Book)

No comments: