Why We Can’t Have Nice Things

Obama Administration

In the last post I said I wanted to see the Senate gun bill vote calculated by number of people represented. Well, Jonathan Cohn and Eric Kingsbury have worked it out

If you assume, for sake of argument, each senator represents half of his or her state’s population, then senators voting for the bill represented about 194 million people, while the senators voting against the bill represented about 118 million people. That’s getting close to a two-thirds majority in favor of the measure.

And this is why we can’t have nice things. Ian Millhiser and Adam Peck write,

… a voter in Wyoming enjoys 66 times as much representation in the Senate as a voter in California.

As the least populous state, Wyoming makes out like bandits when it comes to Senate representation, but they are far from alone in enjoying such a windfall. A voter in Idaho (population 1,595,728) counts as almost 24 Californians. A voter in Nebraska (population 1,845,525) counts as nearly 21 Californians. And a voter in North Dakota (population 699,628) counts as more than 54 Californians. Indeed, if you add up the combined populations of Wyoming, North Dakota, Alaska, Idaho, Nebraska, Utah, Kansas, Arkansas, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Kentucky, South Carolina, and Alabama, that still adds up to over 3 million fewer people than live in the state of California. That also adds up to 26 senators, all of whom opposed background checks.

As I recall, the original idea was that senators represent states, not people. But, functionally, I don’t think that’s been true for a long time. This imbalance in representation is doing serious harm to the nation in many ways beside leaving us more vulnerable to gun violence. Although rural citizens may flatter themselves as being the “real Americans,” it’s urban areas that drive the nation’s economy, not to mention culture and the innovations that will keep us from sliding into Third World territory. Increasingly, it feels to me that the more conservative parts of the country are just so much dead weight.

Share Button


  1. Paraquat  •  Apr 18, 2013 @9:42 pm

    I understand your point – conservatives tend to be somewhat over-represented in the Senate. But I think the biggest problem is this 60-seat supermajority thing is the real culprit. I don’t understand how it can be constitutional. The US constitution doesn’t require a 60-vote supermajority, it just seems to have evolved out of nowhere. It’s a rule the US Senate invented itself with no constitutional basis. I guess we can be grateful they didn’t make it a 90% supermajority.

  2. A Conservative Teacher  •  Apr 18, 2013 @10:03 pm

    Paraquat, I disagree- I’m disappointed that the House doesn’t run like the Senate does. The desire to pass legislation that everyone agree’s to is a principle that serves local and county government well, and in poll after poll citizens say that they trust and believe in these local governments more than at the national level. The desire to jam through legislation that 49% of the nation- or even 30% of the nation- bitterly opposes on justified grounds sounds like you strongly support the tyranny of the majority over minority rights. Of course some legislation will need to be passed by majority- but you don’t want that, do you- you just want to jam through your views and beliefs and make people give you their liberty, their property, and their lives to serve you and your wishes. You’re a tyrant, plain and simple.

  3. maha  •  Apr 18, 2013 @10:37 pm

    Conservative Teacher —

    “You’re a tyrant, plain and simple.”

    No, you’re the tyrant. Of course we don’t have a purely majoritarian government, but your argument is that the Right gets to rule no matter how elections turn out.

    Pathetic. Didn’t I ban you awhile back, btw?

  4. Stephen Stralka  •  Apr 18, 2013 @10:19 pm

    For one thing, the discrepancy wasn’t quite as great at first. In the 1790 census, the population of the largest state, Virginia, was 12.65 times greater than the population of the smallest state, Delaware (747,610 to 59,094). Now the population of California is about 66 times greater than the population of Wyoming (38,041,430 to 576,412).

    Of course, I’m not really sure what you can do about it short of dissolving the Union. Changing the composition of the Senate would require a constitutional amendment, and I don’t see how you’d get three fourths of the states to ratify it when more states are over-represented in the Senate than under-represented.

    A slightly more viable way to correct the imbalance would be to break up some of the larger states, since Congress has the power to do that. But it still seems like a long shot when we can’t even fix the damn filibuster.

    Maybe the thing to do is to get people from the big blue states to overrun the little red states. Can we find 600,000 liberals in California, New York, and Illinois to descend on Wyoming? The future of the nation may depend on it.

  5. Stephen Stralka  •  Apr 18, 2013 @10:30 pm

    Conservative Teacher: I’m a tyrant too, by the way. If by “tyrant” you mean someone who objects to Republicans’ abuse of the filibuster. You’re kind of missing the point here, too, since we’re talking about the Senate’s failure to pass something that about 90% of the public supports. And when you talk about 30% of the population bitterly opposing something “on justified grounds,” who says what’s justified? Why should 30% get their way over 70%? Tyranny of the majority is bad enough, but tyranny of the minority is even worse.

  6. Paraquat  •  Apr 18, 2013 @10:52 pm

    An afterthought just occurred to me. For all it’s flaws, at least the system of electing senators is not subject to gerrymandering. That gives it one big advantage over how we elect the House. It might be argued that the House is even more stacked than the Senate – you have liberal states with conservative legislators. Thanks to computers, it has become trivial to draw congressional districts that are custom designed by the Koch Brothers.

  7. paradoctor  •  Apr 18, 2013 @11:51 pm

    paraquat; in effect the Senate is already gerrymandered.

  8. Dan  •  Apr 19, 2013 @1:05 am

    I remember back when…

    ..the courts would get involved and throw out attempts at gerrymandering and make the state governments do their jobs.

    Ah, those were the days!

  9. justme277  •  Apr 19, 2013 @1:13 am

    For a conservative teacher, you sure seem to have a lot to learn. “Make people give you their liberty, their property, and their lives to serve you and your wishes”??? WTF?
    How you reached that conclusion based on Paraquat’s comments is anyones guess. That would be like concluding from the comment that Paraquat’s favorite color is fushia .

    And when you reduce your argument to calling someone a name, well it is just disturbing to think you may be trying to teach anyone anything. Right away it destroys what ever your argument was in the first place and frankly it makes you look kinda creepy that from Paraquats short comment you made up the entire character that you depict.

    If you actually are a teacher I feel sorry for your students.One can only imagine how you perceive them and how it effects their education. Sad.

    Maha, your piece is spot on( as always) but what would be a solution? How could we fix this?

  10. c u n d gulag  •  Apr 19, 2013 @5:52 am

    Hopefully, A Conservative Teacher teaches gym, where the worst that can happen, is a student under his charge sprains or breaks a limb – not, a mind.

    So, ACT, you simpering imbecile, according to you, when over 90% of the people agree with us Liberals, WE’RE the tyrants, because WE’RE inflicting OUR view on guns on the remaining 10 or so percent?

    Wouldn’t ‘Rule By the Less Than 27%” be, an ‘Idiotocracy?”
    Hint: That, ACT, means YOU!!!

    FSM, I’m tired of these Authoritarian Conservatives.
    Call them what you will – stupid and/or ignorant, racists, mysogynists, xenophobes, homophobes, morons, imbeciles, suckers, marks, tools, fools, plants, bobo’s, idiots, etc., they’re always in a “Rush,” willing to stand up, and scream and shriek, “STOP!!!!” to progress.

    If it was up to @$$holes like A Conservative Teacher, we’d still be living in caves. determining our mates with how big a wooden, or flesh, club, a man wields.

    And, somehow, ACT, no matter how proudly you wave your ignorance/stupidity in public, I suspect you’d be pretty damn low in the ‘peckering’ order.

    ACT, you’re lucky that breathing is an involuntary reflex, because if we humans needed to think to breathe, your mother would have had to call EMS a few minutes after you left her womb.

    In the words of that immortal American philosopher, Bugs Bunny:
    “What a dope!
    WHAT A MAROON!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”

  11. Buckyblue  •  Apr 19, 2013 @6:08 am

    Well, that’s the only conservative teacher I’ve ever heard of. Well, not really but pretty close. The conservative teachers I know at least know how to use their brain. Should we start making a list of conservative legislation that has been jammed down our throats, even without majorities and little public support? Here in WI it’s called Act 10 which took away public employees right to organize and have a say in their job. Majorities clearly said they did n’t want it, but the state leg and The Wanker jammed it thru anyway. There was one republican state senator who opposed who is now being primaries by some tea bagger. Hope it gives His seat to a dem. rampant Gerrymandering at the state level resulted in over 200,000 more votes for democratic state assemblymen and state senators (400,000 if you add the two together), yet repugs still control both houses. The Assembly by a 60-39 advantage. Tell me who the tyrants are again? And when, or if, ,dems ram something down your throat it is something that will almost always help people. Obama jammed Obamacare down our throats so that we could all have access to healthcare. Wow, what a tyrant.

  12. joanr16  •  Apr 19, 2013 @10:39 am

    Unhappy Pepto-Bismol, aka Teacher Can’t Punctuate, clearly wants no government, and therefore is perfectly happy with the status quo.

  13. gene108  •  Apr 19, 2013 @10:56 am

    As I recall, the original idea was that senators represent states, not people.

    Et Tu Maha? Jumping on the repeal the 17th amendment wagon like many right-wingers?

    I find the logic behind their thinking to be very warped. They believe you’d not have the EPA without the 17th Amendment and federal environmental laws overriding state laws, for example.

    In theory the idea of the Senate was to serve as a buffer between the wishes of the people and the wishes of the people’s “betters”.

    Since, in practice, the wishes of the people of a state, their legislature and governor shouldn’t be divergent from that of the Senators, I’m not sure what purpose the repeal the 17th amendment crowd is aiming at, besides being misled by a few billionaires, who’d be happy to be able to have political decisions in the hands of a few rather than the many.

  14. maha  •  Apr 19, 2013 @11:40 am

    Et Tu Maha? Jumping on the repeal the 17th amendment wagon like many right-wingers?

    I’m suggesting no such thing; merely stating a historical fact. I have never in my life supported repealing the 17th amendment and consider the idea to be nuts.

    I hate people who read things into what I write that don’t come anywhere close to what I actually said. First, learn to read. Second, get the hell out of my blog. Thanks much.

  15. Swami  •  Apr 19, 2013 @2:34 pm

    It seems to me that discussing representation is just an exercise in futility. Politicians are bought and paid for before they ever arrive in Washington, it’s the nature of the game..Shouldn’t the discussion be about the odds of having your interests align with most well funded lobbyist?

    Well, to be fair, there are some politicans who are true to their beliefs and honestly want to serve America, but there is an abundance of dirtbag opportunists also..Some of them would make Judas Iscariot look like a choir boy.

    About this blog

    About Maha
    Comment Policy

    Vintage Mahablog
    Email Me

    eXTReMe Tracker

      Technorati Profile