You know him from TV or film, if not from high school. He was skinny or too fat. He wore his pants too high, and his shirt buttoned almost to his chin. He wrote for the school paper, joined the electronics club.
He didn’t run for class office, or try out for debate.
His impressionable years were highly politicized. Shocking assassinations in the recent past. Marches, clashes with police. The Vietnam war dragged on.
He noticed, however, that beneath all the chaos, all the noise, lay a framework of laws and rules most people accepted. Even the protesters used it to give their arguments ground to push against. Or ideals to invoke.
So he majored in political science. Studied what others found boring. The mechanics of democracy. Party structure, party rules. How people got elected and rose to power.
Computers made everything visible, voting patterns, party affiliations. Easy to correlate with a host of demographic details, age, sex, employment figures in the relevant districts, etc. The tools of marketing transferred well to the job of electing candidates. Easy to isolate your target audience, and then provide the ideas they would respond to.
That way, you’d control the candidate, too—supplying his words, telling him where to say them. You’d have real power without needing to be popular.
Power to change the rules, themselves. Change district boundaries so the opposition loses representatives. So their supporters’ votes no longer count.
Power to restrict voting hours and locations. Limit the numbers of machines in opposition precincts. Require picture ID’s that work a hardship on the elderly, poor people, some minorities and on married women who change their names.
The data showed that fewer voters helped his party win.
Intimidation had its place, too. The threat that voting somehow would make your political views public, thus harming your business, affecting your job. Despite recent changes to the primary election rules, we still don’t declare party preference to register in Texas. But we do declare it, in public, to get a primary ballot. That small distinction can be enough to induce hesitation. Shrink turnout.
After that, what’s left? One more set of rules, the logical next step for the policy wonks and political operatives: Change the U.S. Constitution itself. The ultimate Framework. The ground we stand on.
Thirty-four states need to request an Article V convention. And Governor Abbott has made approving the request an emergency priority this year. (See his State of the State address.)
Wait a minute.
Did you or I vote for that? Did we ever tell Abbott we wanted that? Where’d he get the idea?
From the Texas GOP platform, that’s where, playground of far right true believers and activists. (Have you even read it?) This arcane arena of party rules and pronouncements is where our Nerd is most at home.
When someone can’t win an honest battle of ideas—when he’s given up on appeals to informed reason—all that’s left are these structural tricks. Deflating the football, juicing the bat, dog or horse. Gaming the system. Because our political Nerd of the high pants, drunk on the game of power, will try to win by any means.
We tell our kids not to cheat, but all around them are the spoils of cheating adults.
For every political operative who emerges from the back room—as Stephen Miller and Karl Rove have—there are a thousand others whose names we will never know.
But our children will eat the tainted fruit of their labor.