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Running to the Center

Juliet Eilperin’s excellent “Running for Their Lives” (November Atlantic) vividly describes the growing “hyper-partisanship” of American politics. But in addition to legislative redistricting reform—whose effects wouldn’t be felt until after the next census—America’s fifty states should enact a far more innovative reform: they should abolish the partisan political primary.

Instead, states should give every voter in every district an identical primary ballot, regardless of the voter’s party registration—or lack thereof. No party would be guaranteed a nominee in November. But every candidate—including minor-party candidates, or outright independents—could compete, from the beginning, for all voters. The top two vote getters would then advance to the November general election—again, regardless of their party affiliations.

Partisan elections aren’t mandated by federal law or the U.S. Constitution. And since the U.S. Supreme Court has declared state political parties “private organizations,” why should all taxpayers continue to finance these members- only nominating contests? Especially when they’re so poorly attended: primary- election turnout during the 2006 cycle has hovered between 10 percent and 25 percent of registered voters in most states.

Party leaders and extremists, of course, would hate an open primary. It would dilute their disproportionate influence, by which the politics of the passionate periphery frame the policy agenda, and the vicious tactics of personal destruction increasingly dominate both our campaigns and governing chambers. For most voters, though, politics is broken—and it’s time to change the rules.

Phil Keisling
Beaverton, Ore.

Religion on Trial

In “Prophetic Justice” (October Atlantic), Amy Waldman describes the intrusion of Islam into recent court trials and concludes that “such a thorough judicial disquisition of a religion has no modern parallel in America.” She is incorrect. Substitute Wicca for Islam and you have a description of what the Neopagan Witchcraft community of the United States has been going through for decades. From the infamous murder case of the “West Memphis Three” to innumerable child-custody disputes going on all over the country, Wiccan beliefs are put on trial almost every day. Jurors know little about Wicca and cannot distinguish between the accurate testimony of a defense expert who is dismissed by the prosecution for being a practitioner and the biased testimony of a prosecution “expert” who is a born-again Christian with an anti-Wiccan agenda.

The backlash against the American Muslim community since 9/11 has drawn America’s attention to just how unfairly we can treat a religious minority. America’s Wiccans, victimized and persecuted for decades in the land of “freedom of religion,” are wondering why it has taken the public so long to notice this.

Donald H. Frew
Berkeley, Calif.

How Bad Is Bush?

Jonathan Rauch is right that it will take time to fix the horrendous mistakes of George W. Bush (“Unwinding Bush,” October Atlantic). But some of his statements seem open to serious challenge. For example, he writes that Ronald Reagan “rebuilt U.S. strength.” Isn’t the contrary true? Reagan gave us increased deficits and national debt, greater domestic income inequality, and a shift of the relative tax burden from the very rich to the middle and working classes.

Rauch writes that “Carter’s weak leadership drained American confidence and prestige.” Yes, the Iranian hostage crisis cost Jimmy Carter a second term, but to accuse him of “weak leadership” does him an injustice. Carter gave us strong environmental legislation; deregulation of the trucking, airline, rail, finance, communications, and oil industries; the Camp David accords; the Panama Canal treaties; full diplomatic relations with the People’s Republic of China; and the negotiation of the SALT II treaty.

Rauch also suggests that “the [Iraq] gamble might still pay off.” What has he observed that the rest of us have not? By all accounts Iraq is a quagmire, one into which we are falling deeper by the day. If it is a “gamble,” the odds of success are virtually nil.

Finally, Rauch estimates that the unwinding of Bush will take “more than a decade, but less than two.” Given the damage that Bush continues to wreak on international institutions that took half a century to put in place, and rule-of-law principles that took centuries to evolve, I think that even five decades is a conservative estimate.

L. Michael Hager
Washington, D.C.

An Army of Everyone

In the excerpts from the Aspen Ideas Festival (October Atlantic), the historian David M. Kennedy is quoted as follows: “Another asymmetry of very troubling proportions, it seems to me, is [in] the nature of today’s armed forces; 42 percent of today’s Army enlistees are ethnic or racial minorities—42 percent.”

Kennedy should be aware that the census shows that among U.S. residents under age forty, nonwhites are approximately 40 percent of the population. Since most members of the military are under forty, the “nature of today’s armed forces” does reflect the population at large, rather than a disproportionate number of “minorities.”

Mike Burns
Bakersfield, Calif.

Advice and Consent

I realize that Ryan Lizza’s profile of Barack Obama (“The Natural,” November 2004 Atlantic) was first published in 2004, and republished recently only on your Web site, but I write for the sake of historical accuracy in your publication. I join Lizza in celebrating our senator, but your author should not have attempted to diminish my Senate election as a “fluke” without checking the actual voter numbers. I won a primary election against an incumbent senator. In the general election, I won more votes in Illinois than did Bill Clinton, with 2,631,229 votes to the president’s 2,453,350. “Bill Clinton’s coattails” is therefore not an accurate description of my victory in that election. I remain the first woman and the first African American elected statewide by the people of Illinois, and the only woman of color to have ever served in the U.S. Senate.

Carol Moseley Braun
Former U.S. Senator
Chicago, Ill.

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