Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Diversity in the Senate

A few days after Senator Paul Sarbanes of Maryland said he was retiring, former NAACP President Kwesi Mfume announced that he was running. I'm glad to hear that he is running because I believe that we need more diversity in the Senate, which currently has only one African American senator. I am not saying that we should elect him for the sake of diversity; rather, I believe that a more diverse Senate will be more responsive to a broader swath of the population. Whatever the controversy over majority-minority districts (whether congressional lines should be drawn to form majority black districts that is likely to elect black congressmen), it is important to have at least some African American representatives who can respond in a nuanced way to concerns that many African Americans may have that white representatives might not quite be able to pick up on, whether it is by building coalitions that include more minority groups or appearing on Sunday talk shows. In short, even if Kwesi Mfume's voting record would not differ materially from that of other Democrats, his election would work to make the Senate a more responsive institution.

13 Comments:

Blogger bum said...

i really don't buy into the importance of diversity but i understand your point. i think its kind of tragic that we need to have diversity in order to better represent our nation. i guess people can't be elected just to represent for the betterment of all people. diversity is a great idea and does present a more representative nation but the point that we do need it is a a bit dissapointing to me.

3/15/2005 11:58:00 AM  
Blogger The Critics said...

Mr. BUM, your statements in the past have usually been lucid and intelligent. However, today, you've seemingly contradicted yourself. "[I] really don't buy into the importance of diversity"... AND THEN "diversity is a great idea and does present a more representative nation". Hmm... I'm confused. Which is it, you support or dont support diversity?

Anyways, poys has a valid point. However, I find his charge of diversity is tempered by the fact that blacks make up approximately 13% of the population (http://www.asimpleclick.com/govcensusblackfacts.htm), yet as POYS said, there is only one African American senator in the Senate. Compare that with the number of Jewish senators and how many consituents of the U.S. are actually Jewish (approximately 2%). A recent study showed that the "average American thought that America was 18% Jewish" (http://www.counterpunch.org/brenner10242003.html). What percentage of the U.S. Senators, are actually Jewish? Perhaps are we Jews an overrepresented minority?

3/15/2005 12:48:00 PM  
Blogger putonyourspecs said...

You raise a valid point about proportional representation on the basis of race, ethnicity and other traits. My analysis was in the crude; that is, I do not believe that there needs to be proportional representation in the strict sense that if 2% of the population is Jewish, then no less and no more than 2% of the senators must also be Jewish. Rather, I believe there should be a minimum number of the senators from all different backgrounds so that people from all diverse backgrounds can said to be represented in some sense. I would like more than a single senator from one particular background because groups are not cohesive and one person can hardly be said to speak for a group. Justice Clarence Thomas and Kwesi Mfume are two very different African Americans, for example. I acknowledge that we will never have perfect representation of all types of individuals, but I like more representation rather than less, and by any mark, Mfume's election would increase diversity in the Senate.

3/15/2005 12:55:00 PM  
Blogger The Critics said...

And here we have POYS' liberal bias peeking through. I have to disagree on "a minimum number of the senators from all different backgrounds"...

How can you truly require something like that? If we need one more black senator, or asian senator and we take from their ranks instead of someone who has greater qualifications for the job and was elected by the populace, then we would make a mockery of the election process.

You can certainly encourage people of different heritages and backgrounds to run for elected positions, and hopefully a number of them will succeed based on their qualifications, NOT based on their heritage and backgrounds. Having a diverse background is a "side effect" if I may be colloquial, but the true merit of a United States senator is to be qualified for the job.

Another thing, having a diverse background is something that is proximate cause to the effect. We want Senators and Congressmen who are diverse, but more importantly, we want them to be leaders of their community, people who can faithfully serve and represent the people of their state. To mandate a minimum representation is another story.

Moreover, as my friend Ashley astutely comments, where do you factor in varieties in ethnicities? Asians are not one single race. You have Vietnamese, Korean, Chinese Japanese, et cetera. In her own words, you're "oversimplifying" the argument here. You cant truly mandate anything, you can only step back and hope the election process pushes the cream to the top. As I said before, sure, encourage them to run, hopefully, it will work out for the best.

3/15/2005 01:14:00 PM  
Blogger Ha ha hit him again said...

POYS raises an important issue here, one that has been the subject of much debate in the political science literature. With political polarization increasing, almost all Democrats - both blacks and whites - have similar voting patterns on most issue. As a result, I think a strong case can be made that the key for blacks to be represented is the election of a Democrat, no matter what race. But such an analysis might be too simple. Some have argued that the creation of black districts, particularly in the South, has in fact contributed to the political polarization we are now observing.

Packing blacks into a few districts necessitates their removal from others. These districts were for the most part held by the Southern "moderates," many of whom lost their seats in 1994 when the GOP took back the Congress. By and large, these moderates had voting patterns closer to Republicans than to liberal Democrats, which might suggest that they were not serving their African American constituents well in any case, and nothing was lost by their defeats. The major problem with this argument is that the Democrats lost control of the House, and with it the political agenda. Even if these "moderates" didn't vote with the liberals, they still were important insofar as they allowed for Democratic control of the House. Moreover, should the Democrats ever control the House again, two blacks - Charlie Rangel and John Conyers - would assume the chairmanship of two key committees: Ways & Means and Judiciary. So, the emiprical case becomes a bit more cloudly, with the need not only to consider how the voting patterns of white and black legislator differ, but also how these districts play into the larger issue of partisan control of the House.

The Senate, of course, is a different game because of statewide constituencies. With Maryland being a blue state, and without any star Republicans emerging so far, Mfume should be in good shape if he happens to win the primary. A more difficult test case will be Harold Ford in Tennessee, if Frist makes good on his pledge to step down. Ford is not a typical black Democrat either - more moderate than his colleagues. Perhaps this raises a more general point about whether descriptive representation is even good enough. Does anyone believe that blacks are meaningfully represented by having Clarence Thomas on the Supreme Court?

3/15/2005 01:16:00 PM  
Blogger bum said...

random comments:
mr. law you are right. let me restate more clearly what i meant. i don't think increased diversity should mean a more successful government. in other words, elected officials should be working for everyone, we shouldn't need diversity in order to make sure others are represented. my idea is a utopian idea but then i guess if we were in a utopia, things would balance out naturally and there would be a diverse government in place.

but as i do live in the real world, i understand and agree w/ poys point about increased diversity. i still think its sad we need it (refer to paragraph above) but thats just the way this country is.

i know this is just me, but i always have considered jewish people to be part of the white population. i am not jewish but as an outsider i look at jewish people as purposely seperating themselves from the white population not vice versa. i wonder why? again, i am not jewish so i don't know if its the other way around but thats just this bum's perspective.

i bring up that point because i think jewish people are well represented in government because i consider them white.

lets not forget half of me - the latinos! latinos are now the biggest minority in this country. how well are they represented in congress?

3/15/2005 01:18:00 PM  
Blogger bum said...

just saw some of the other commments. while i find some interesting and others i want to confront the commenter about in person, i think we can all come to a consensus that we still have a serious racial divide problem in this country.

correct me if i am wrong, but it sounds like we are debating the neccesity of people of all different backgrounds being in government or they will not be fairly represented (not race wise in government but rather the elected officials won't work for their needs). are we saying that different races have different needs so we need to have all races represented?

*pardon my grammar - i am at work and more often than not i can't read over what i am saying w/o getting caught*

3/15/2005 01:24:00 PM  
Blogger putonyourspecs said...

In response to JTerpsLaw's comment about my desiring at least "minimum representation" of the various backgrounds, I never meant to suggest mandatory minimum quotas. I meant this comment in the sense only that more diversity is better than less in terms of representation.

As for Ashley's point, she's absolutely correct, which is why I never even tried to specify which minorities should get representation or not and said that we will never have perfect representation of all individuals.

3/15/2005 01:25:00 PM  
Blogger The Critics said...

I'd reply to all of the points made by others but I'm working on a Motion for Summary Judgment due Friday and I simply have no time for this lively banter.

While Mr. HIT HIM makes some valid points, I agree that his argument would be too simplistic. There are plenty of conservative republicans, most notably Clarence Thomas as Mr. HIT HIM aptly noted. I think, if anything were to be done, perhaps the key might be to change election policies to allow minority candidates a greater chance at the prize. We have minority rules in the House and Senate to ensure that there is no "mob rule" and that the majority doesnt overwhelm. That is likely the problem here, as the majority of most constituents are white individuals who seek to elect likewise candidates. Those minority candidates usually are forced to rely on their minority numbered constitutents and often end up losing out.

Finally, and this is my last comment for the day, I merely meant Jewish people to be an interesting point-counterpoint between Mr. POYS' argument, not that I was seriously considering religious Jews as separate from the mainstream, as Mr. POYS has insinuated in the past (see http://putonyourspecs.blogspot.com/2005/03/politics-of-difference.html, "Jewish people formed their own cultures quite distinct from the white Christian culture"). Rather, I was focusing on the misrepresentation afforded to Jews. I personally believe that Jews have risen to certain positions of prominant authority and power because of their heritage. Before the Holocaust, Jews were far greater in number in prominent positions as they are now, but the current numbers are greatly increasing, such as the nomination of Mr. CHERTOFF to head Homeland Security, etc.

3/15/2005 01:51:00 PM  
Blogger Ha ha hit him again said...

To answer bum's question, I don't know if all races need to be represented descriptively, or if all races have different needs. Blacks are clearly a special case, not only because of the history of discrimination, but also because they have consisently voted as a cohesive block. Since 1964, around 90% have voted for the Democrat for president. As others have shown, this holds true among all subsets of blacks - even higher income blacks still tend to vote Democrat. (Only at the very, very top of the income range is there some movement toward the Republicans). Other racial groups - Hispanics and Asians, for example - are much more diverse in their political preferences. Blacks continue to view their As Michael Dawson has argued, blacks continue to see their private interest in terms of group interest (i.e., the interest of all blacks rather than their own individual interest), and so long as that is the case, the system of representation must acknowledge that fact.

3/15/2005 01:52:00 PM  
Blogger bum said...

hit him again - can i get a citation where you got your stats? not questioning them (even though i find them dissapointing), i just find them interesting and would like to look at them in more depth. is it from that dawson fellow? if so - what is the title of his book...maybe i will stop in at barnes and nobles on the way home today and pick it up.

3/15/2005 02:16:00 PM  
Blogger Ha ha hit him again said...

The cite is Michael Dawson, Behind the Mule: Race and Class in African American Politics, Princeton University Press, 1994.

3/15/2005 02:34:00 PM  
Blogger bum said...

i was looking for it cited using mla format...j/k. thanks dude :)

3/15/2005 02:47:00 PM  

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