My darling wife hates it when I say something like, "Before I die, I'd like to see Berlin, or travel to Amsterdam to see the Rembrandts," or any number of travel destinations on my wish list. Hates it, I suppose, because I'm 74 and "before I die" seems a bit more ominous at my age.
Even though I might be careful not to say it aloud to may wife, my health is good enough so I have some expectation of actually accomplishing some of the items ... For example, this spring I saw Las Meninas, the great 16th century painting of the Spanish royal family by Diego Velázquez at the Prado in Madrid. Strike one from the list.
I am not as sanguine about two of the items on my wish list, but of course we must live in hope. They are:
• Direct election of the president, and
• Eliminating gerrymandered voting districts at all levels.
I have been voting in presidential elections since 1960, always in Illinois, although I've lived for short periods in other states and countries. I've voted both for winners and losers. I voted for President Obama in 2008, so I picked a winner, but if I wanted to vote for Mitt Romney this year, it would be meaningless, because my vote would have little effect in a state that will inevitably be counted in the president's column when the appalling Electoral College meets to cast their votes.
Appalling because it disenfranchises me. I voted for George W. Bush in 2000. But, as we know, Al Gore actually received more votes and, in my way of thinking, should have been president. I could have lived with that, because it would have been fair, just as it is in every other election we participate in.
The only feasible way this can change is with a constitutional amendment (although I understand that some people believe it can be done on a state-by-state basis). Why, since fairness demands it, haven't we had one? The answer is obvious -- the political parties don't want to change the status quo; they don't want to be forced to fight for every vote, no matter whether it's in Democratic Illinois or Republican Utah. Have you noticed the dearth of ads for the presidential race in Illinois? What if the 45 percent of the votes that will likely go to Romney would actually count? Ads would flood the airwaves (admittedly a dubious pleasure). Don't you want your vote to count?
And isn't it time to put a stop to the racial politics that has raised gerrymandering to a high art? Why should an African-American only feel comfortable when he or she can vote for another African-American? Ditto Hispanics. Or white folks, for that matter. If we had computer-generated contiguous voting districts of roughly equal population, then candidates would be forced to seek votes and support from whoever ended up in their district. I might well end up in a district evenly split between white, black and Hispanic voters.
What in God's name is actually wrong with that? The concept that we have to arrange voting districts to cater to voting blocs, thus ensuring that "one man, one vote" is some kind of alternative reality, is both absurd and insulting to all voters.
Again, politicians like to arrange voting districts to suit themselves. In Illinois, after the 2010 census, the Democrats blatantly redistricted to ensure safe seats for as many of their brethren as possible (alas, the Republicans likely would have done the same if they had been in the majority). Predictably, the cowardly federal courts refused to even look at this outrage.
My congressional district has been designed so that only a Democrat can win. If there's a Republican even on the ballot, I've haven't heard about it. Is this "one man, one vote?" And I won't even talk about my lack of choice at the state level. Mike Madigan has taken care of that too.
So, here are two obvious failures in our system that can only be remedied with constitutional amendments. Who will take up the cudgels? It won't be the politicians. How about our great newspapers? How about the Daily Herald, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post? Aren't they meant to serve the public interest? And mine? "Before I die," I mean.
• Patrick Cannon is author who lives in Oak Park.