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In which John Green seeks to explain why the United States congress has become so astonishingly inefficient that it can't even reach a compromise to avert disaster, and why--thanks to clever redistricting--most congresspeople are now incentivized not to work seriously on policy. Along the way there's a bit of historical context, a lot of frustration, some screaming, and a celebration of the beginning of the 7th year of the vlogbrothers channel.

Thanks for sticking with us, nerdfighters. (And thanks for reading the entire dooblydoo!)


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A Bunny
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Good morning, Hank. It's Tuesday.

So, Hank, today marks the sixth anniversary of Vlogbrothers, but more importantly, last night the United States Senate threw the worst New Year's Eve party ever that ended with a compromise to avoid the so-called "Fiscal Cliff" of increased taxes and decreased spending. The centerpiece of this compromise is to make the really hard decisions in a few months. So, Congress!

John from the future here. Quick update: when making this video I naturally assumed that the House of Representatives would also agree to the compromise, so as to avoid intentionally throwing the nation into a recession but it turns out I may have been overly optimistic. CONGRESS!

By almost any measure, the last two years have seen the least effective Congress-ing in the United States since at least the 1850's, which as you might remember, led to a Ken Burns documentary. Hank, in the last few years the US Congress has only passed 219 bills, which may sound like a lot, except almost all of those were to name Federal buildings after war heroes. I mean, don't get me wrong, I am happy that there is now a post office named after Revolutionary War general Nathaniel Woodhull, who when ordered to say "God save the Queen" instead said "God save us all" and then got killed. But that's it Hank, that's all they've done! I mean the famous do-nothing Congress of the Harry Truman era passed more than 900 bills!

So Hank to understand why the legislative branch has become so incredibly ineffective at legislating, we need a quick history lesson. The original American government was founded on the Articles of Confederation, and that government really couldn't do anything. So we eventually had to ditch the articles and write the Constitution, which created a Congress that could do, you know, just a little bit. So the United States Congress, like a lot of rich people, lives in two houses. There's the Senate, which has two members from each of the fifty states, who are elected to six year terms, and then there's the House of Representatives, where people serve two-year terms, which means they're basically always campaigning. Each state gets a certain number of representatives based on population, so like Hank in Montana you just have one, because no one lives in Montana. Here in Indiana, we have like nine. And vitally, each state legislature draws its own lines for where the Congressional districts begin and end. And Hank, I think that turns out to be one of the central reasons why Congress can't do anything.

Hank, my congressperson here in Indianapolis is Andre Carson. He's a Democrat. My across the street neighbor, however, is represented by a Republican named Dan Burton. Is that because we live in different zip codes? No, we live in the same zip code. It's because the houses across the street are more expensive, so they redrew the district to include those houses because they figured they'd vote for Republicans. And Hank this kind of thing is happening all over the country, like according to analysis by Nate Silver, in the last twenty years, we've gone from 103 swing districts, that is districts where either party has about an equal chance of winning, to 35 swing districts. And today, because of the way state legislatures draw these maps, most congressional districts are so-called landslide districts, which means they are at least 20% more Republican or more Democratic than the American population. Hank, if you're Democrat Andre Carson or Republican Dan Burton, you're going to win your general election by like, thirty percentage points. So in most congressional elections, the race between the Republican and the Democrat is not a race. The only race, the only thing these people have to fear, is a primary challenger, another Republican or another Democrat coming in and saying "You're not radical enough." So why would you compromise when compromising can cost you your job?

Hank, 2012 was an amazing year for us: you co-created the Lizzie Bennet Diaries and SciShow and Crash Course, VidCon doubled in size, my book The Fault in Our Stars was published and has so far spent fifty-one consecutive weeks on the New York Times bestseller list. Why are these things happening? Because government! Also, Nerdfighteria. Government, Hank. There's a reason why no popular YouTube adaption of Pride and Prejudice has emerged from Somalia: they don't have a government, they don't have roads to facilitate commerce, or public schools to teach kids, or investment in telecom to make this happen.

So Hank, Congress was designed to suck at doing stuff. And they do, but they have to work together just enough to cover, you know, the basics and we've always gotten there but now I'm a little worried. Now Hank, people won't lose faith in America's ability to govern itself all at once. It won't be an event, it'll be a process, but if it happens it will be much worse than going over any fiscal cliff. So remember the next time you vote, the most important election might be for like state Congressperson or whoever's gonna draw the line to decide whether my neighbor and I should have the same congressional representation even though we have different incomes.

Hank, I'll see you on Friday.

PS Hank, who would've thought we'd be doing this for six years? Thank you, American government, for running well enough that I can make videos in my basement for nerdfighters. That sounded creepy, but it's not.