I got a letter or two back from David Lublin, the guy who wrote that Gadflyer article. He says that I have taken the point way too far. And of course, in a sense, I have.
He says (via e-mail):
Of course he's right about this. There are obviously structural differences between elections not counting at all, and efforts to make them as safe as possible. I still think the latter are seriously undemocratic. But I have overstated the case in my previous post. Of course.
I'm reminded a bit of David Mayhew's point in Congress: The Electoral Connection. They can only stay in power as long as they keep people in their districts satisfied. This means that you have to please your primary and general election electorates to stay where you are. A safe district is really only "safe" as long as you do this. Most representatives want to stay around and do this.
And yet, I still think there is more to be said here, though not with the broad brush I was using before.
I guess I need to think about this some more. Which is always good.
One important question is, what does it take to "please your base"? How hard is that? Does it just mean that if you're a Republican in a Republican district, you have to keep on the right side of all the Republican issues? Sure.
What that does is lock you in to these positions. If you wobble at all, or think for yourself outside the party system, you are only endangering your position, with respect to both party insiders and voters in your district. If a district is split something close to 50/50, then a Republican may pick up as many voters as he/she loses by departing from the party line on one or another specific issue. You have the chance to pick up as many Democratic votes as you lose in Republican votes. (It may not happen that way, but at least it's possible.) But if your district is solidly 60 or 70 percent Republican, then you had better not act up, or you'll be replaced with another Republican who's more willing to toe the party line, in a heartbeat.
Overall, of course, the whole system only lasts as long as the voters can be kept in the mood to follow along with what the parties are saying and doing. A massive revolt could do some damage to the system. But at the same time, every safe district gives the national parties some leeway to screw up, to alienate portions of their base without actually losing any seats.
Still thinking. More later.