Backgrounder: The AP and Quota Populism

June 18, 2016

For the use of the membership only (619 words).

by Craig Ladwig

The Associated Press last week sent out an analysis under the headline “Indiana Minorities Don’t Have Proportional Representation.” The editors there imagine they are doing readers a service by alerting them to the supposed bigotry of the democratic process.

The AP suggests that it is in itself bad that Latinos make up almost 7 percent of the state’s population but less than 1 percent of the Legislature. Our nine-member U.S. House delegation, it is noted, includes no Latinos and only one African-American. The implication is that racism is to blame, that something must be done.

Maybe so. The AP’s view is indeed tempting; Indiana would be a better place if harmony were only a matter of keeping ethnic proportions exact. But what if race is incidental to, say, incumbency. And is it possible that certain individual Latinos would prefer to be represented by Anglos with whom they politically agree rather than Latinos with whom they disagree?

If it were up to me, for instance, I would trade Sen. Dan Coats, although sharing my pioneer German heritage, with Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the women’s advocate and Somali emigrant. Or with Thomas Sowell, the economist, who grew up in a single-parent home in Harlem and didn’t learn that “blond” was a hair color until he joined the U.S. Marines.

In any case, it has been tried before. When the last of the European monarchies collapsed at the beginning of the 20th century the notion of ethnic peoples having a right to nationality — or at least proportional representation — swept the continent.

Previously, kings, who alone enjoyed individual rights, exchanged ethnic peoples as property. If a monarch felt deprived of possessions in one part of Europe, to keep the peace he might be given lands elsewhere regardless of the nationality, language or culture of the inhabitants, all carefully counted in the Associated Press manner. The practice was called, dismally enough, a “transference of souls,” an early attempt at redistricting.

The next set of European rulers, dictatorial ones riding populist waves, demanded change. German borders had to be expanded to encompass all German-speaking peoples (the völkisch movement), Italian borders to encompass all Italian-speaking peoples (the fascia movement), and so forth across the continent.

The foreign-policy term for this, coined by Benito Mussolini, was “irredentism.” It meant the union of an entire ethnic group under one state, which came to be understood as the need to adjust borders by force of war and — to our point here — to impose ethnic-based laws for voting, citizenship, etc.

The resulting nationalism driven by the engines of race and class produced two world wars. The first cost 30 million lives, the second 50 million, and since then 150 “minor” wars have added 30 million.

The historian Paul Johnson reminds us that the Versailles Treaty, the most high-minded of the attempts to embody the principles of ethnic self-determination, created more, not less, minorities — and much angrier ones with more genuine grievances.

England and North America, exceptionally, developed an alternative system for replacing both monarchs and dictators, a set of rights slowly refined over eight centuries that turned government on its head.

It counts an individual citizen not by skin pigment or ethnic origin but as resolutely free, answerable to no king or governor above the common law. Magna Carta, Declaration of Independence, constitutional republic — they have proved marvels of peace and prosperity.

It is hoped that the Associate Press, influential though it may be, will fail to convince Hoosiers that an idealized, impossible, quota-based, numerical democracy is preferable.

— Craig Ladwig


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