UNDERRATED

Jonathan Chait makes a compelling argument for the Bush administration’s mendacity in pushing through a regressive tax cut on the federal level (“Race to the Bottom,” June 2). But he left out the major way this tax cut will hurt low- and middle-income taxpayers. Because the tax cut will reduce federal revenue, and thus cut funds the federal government can send to state and local governments, the states will inevitably raise their own tax rates, especially through increases in notoriously regressive state sales and income taxes. After these predictable state tax increases, low- and middle-income taxpayers will end up paying more in taxes than they do today. In a kind of tax shell game, those increased state taxes, paid by the poor and the middle class, ultimately will help fund federal tax cuts for the wealthy.

David C. Sobelsohn, Washington, D.C.

LONG DIVISIONS

Peter Beinart’s claim in TRB that state legislatures get only one chance only to redraw district boundaries is wrong (“Character Witness,” June 2). The North Carolina legislature has recently taken a couple of shots at redistricting. The Democratic Senate majority leader, Marc Basnight, said, “For the judge to say today that the districts he drew last year were not constitutional simply proves what we’ve said all along—that he should not be drawing maps in the first place. Under the Constitution, redistricting is the duty of the legislature, not a judge.”

There are two differences between Texas and North Carolina: The North Carolina legislature was controlled by the Democrats at the time. And the North Carolina Republicans didn’t scamper off to hotels in southern Virginia. Beinart is quite correct that the Texas Republicans’ use of federal resources, including the Department of Homeland Security, was a gross abuse. But redistricting is always a display of raw political power, and invoking made-up norms of behavior won’t change that.

Michael C. Munger Professor and Chairman Department of Political Science, Duke University Durham, North Carolina


PETER BEINART REPLIES:

I didn’t write that “state legislatures get only one chance to redraw district boundaries”—those are Professor Munger’s words, not mine. I wrote that redistricting “occurs once per decade, following the national census. (The exception being when courts invalidate a state’s redistricting plan, thus requiring a second one.)” The exception I outlined is exactly what has happened in North Carolina, where a judge struck down a Democratic redistricting plan and drew his own map, which Democrats are now appealing to a higher court. For judges to strike down legislatures’ redistricting plans as unconstitutional—as happened in North Carolina—is fairly common. For legislatures to override judicially mandated plans just because they have the votes to do so—as Republicans are attempting in Texas—is extremely uncommon and dangerous.


SOCIETAL BLITZ

The editors are correct in arguing that transforming post-Saddam Hussein Iraq into a free society will require a long-term commitment (“Mission Incomplete,” May 26). However, that commitment will require a more extensive brief than mentioned in the editorial. It should be remembered that installing a democratic government in the place of the Baathist state will not be sufficient to safeguard a truly free society for the long-suffering Iraqi people.

Forgotten in much of the prewar rhetoric and post-conflict euphoria is the truth that a free polity is only one step. The other two institutions that together with it are constitutive of a truly liberal society are a free culture and a free economy. These three institutions are interdependent. Consequently, rebuilding Iraq demands a commitment to a program that develops an independent, self-sustaining middle class—historically the backbone for any democratic civil society—by stimulating the native entrepreneurial spirit of its people through market incentives. Requiring even more delicacy and patience will be the task of encouraging—but without imposing—a culture that, in the best traditions of the three Abrahamic religions that first arose on the soil of Mesopotamia, leaves its citizens free to seek after truth, goodness, and beauty by assuring them mutual respect, tolerance, and equality.

J. Peter Pham New York, New York

These letters originally ran in the July 7 & 14, 2003 issue of the magazine.