Tag Archives: Caucus

How the US National Press Is Hurting Democracy Right Now

I am astonished at how utterly ignorant journalists from national outlets are of the Iowa Caucus. If the Iowa Caucus going “wrong” can be the virtual end of the Democratic Party as we know it, and the end of all caucuses, you would think the press would know what they are. The press never notices that the total number of delegates awarded on precinct caucus night is less then the total number awarded by Iowa. You would think that if the caucus results being available a few hours after Chuck and Andrea’s bed time was an existential crisis for democracy, that they would also have noticed that half of the delegates that Iowa will send to the National Convention are not ever awarded on on this fateful evening to begin with. Until the TV talking heads can explain how that works, they should really tone down their rhetoric on what did and did not happen in Iowa.

Here is a piece of information that might be helpful. If the following is new to you, then you didn’t really know what the caucuses are. If it sounds familiar, you probably still don’t know, but at least you have a vague idea. If you read and absorb all of this, you still don’t know because this is a 20,000 foot look at parts of a large and important grassroots system.

There is no such thing as “a caucus.” On “caucus night” there are hundreds of individual caucuses, and although there are prevailing rules, they are independent conversations happening among voters during which several tings are decided, including electing a very large number (maybe thousands?) of delegates to go on to engage in other levels of activity, things like resolutions to shape the party platform, party business, party officers, and so on. Oh, and during the Iowa precinct caucus process, there is the first part of a multi-part process that involves deciding on some of the national delegates. So in that sense, what we think of as the Iowa Caucus is one piece of a multi-part part of a multi part thing. The day Chuck Todd can tell us how that works without screwing up the explanation is the day he gets to tell us what went wrong in any given year.

“The Iowa Caucus” is also not “A caucus” because it is the first of several stages of meetings. The first one is called a caucus, and the later ones are called conventions. But the conventions are still caucuses, and at them, delegates are elected, generally among the larger initial number. I believe (I’m a Minnesota caucus guy, not an Iowa caucus guy, so I many have this muddled a bit) that Iowa ultimately selects, during precinct caucuses, delegates who will ultimately be selected among to operate at the County level, Congressional District level, State level and National level. These are grassroots party activists who engage in several important party activities, basically running the party, thus ensuring that the Iowa Democratic Party remains a grassroots organization with lots of knowledgeable and engaged volunteers.

Here is a common conversation on social media I am having these days:

Other person: “Caucuses suck. They dont’ work. There should just be a primary. The system is broke. Bla bla bla.”

Me: “Which caucuses have you been involved in, I’d love to know specifically what is wrong.”

Other person: silence because they have never been to a caucus and have no clue

Make no mistake. There are people who are involved in caucuses who don’t like them. But, that doesn’t make them right. Most of the complaints they have are invalid for one of the following reasons:

1) There are things wrong with caucus, and things wrong with primaries. You can’t only complain about the one and not the other.

2) Things like “accessibility” and the like are often complained about. That is a factor, but it can be fixed, and good organizing units have fixed it. For instance, the caucus I help run is done at a huge facility that is among the most accessible in the region, and since the facility is capable of handling many thousands of people all day every day, our caucuses don’t stress things like handicapped parking, etc. (Other caucuses are not as good as us, but that is not the problem of the caucus, but a problem that can and should be fixed.”)

3) Complaining about the caucus but ignoring the entire party structure, with conventions, central committees, etc. is like saying you don’t like a person because of their hat. Maybe they have a stupid hat, but their hat is not as bad as your determination that they are a bad person because they have a bad hat.

4) It is said by haters that a caucus limits participation because it is held at a certain time at a certain place. That is true, for some potential participants. But it is also true that the caucus and convention system on balance enhances involvement, and that matters. In addition, as noted several times already, the caucus is part of a larger process. Anybody in Minnesota’s Senate District 44 want to get meaningfully involved in DFL politics but can’t do the caucus? Find me, I’ll fix you up. You can be very involved, influentially involved, meaningfully involved. But not if we have only a primary.

For every complaint about caucuses, I have one countervailing complaint about primaries: You can’t really buy a caucus (no, you can’t), but you can buy a primary. In a time when we should be eating the rich, do we really want to give up the last of our grassroots power?

I’ll just add this to complexity things. Tonight I’m going to caucus with some people over support of a particular candidate for a local race. Two night ago, Iowa had its precinct caucus, and on Feb 25th Minnesota does that as well (though there will be nothing about the presidential race at that caucus). I’m a member of the DFL Environmental caucus, which does not caucus. Recently, the Democrats in Minnesota, whose caucus is in the majority in the house but not in the Senate, formed the House Climate Change Action Caucus. And so on.

Not only is the thing that they call the “caucus” only one part of a larger, and good, thing, but the word “caucus” is a bit like the word “desktop” in that it means many things. Until Chuck and Andrea and the other national reporters can keep all of this straight, and not just some of it, it is irresponsible of them to force changes in our political system because they are annoyed at the scheduling of events.

Falsehood: “Voters are kept from political involvement by the rules”

Voting is not party involvement.

We hear a lot of talk these days about “voters” being repressed in their attempt to be involved in the Democratic primary process. There may be something to that, and it might be nice to make it easier for people to wake up on some (usually) Tuesday morning and go and vote in a Democratic or Republican primary or visit a caucus. But there is a difference between a desire for a reform and the meaningful understanding of that reform — why we want it, how to do it, and what it will get us — that makes it important to do what we Anthropologists sometimes call “problemetizing the concept.”

We can start with the statement that in the primary system, “Voters should not be kept from involvement by rules that make it impossible for them to engage in the democratic (small “d”) process.” That sentence seems reasonable, even important, and is essentially a call for open, instead of closed, primaries, or in some cases, for replacing a caucus with a primary. Continue reading Falsehood: “Voters are kept from political involvement by the rules”

How Bernie Sanders Lost Nevada Four Times

First, Sanders lost Nevada because Hillary Clinton won the caucus.

Then, the Sanders campaign put their ground game into effect, in an effort to overtake Clinton during the nearly-unique-to-Nevada process that allows for changes in pledged delegates at later caucuses. But he didn’t get enough delegates to achieve that. The Sanders campaign does get credit for getting more delegates than they had before, of course.

Then, at the State Convention, Sanders had enough delegates in place to gain a couple of more delegates and possibly tie with Clinton in the end. But the organizers for the Sanders campaign failed to ensure that all the delegates to that convention were totally on board with what they needed to do in order to be credentialed at the event. Of the thousands of delegates at the convention, a handful of Clinton delegates failed to be credentialed (an expected number) but something over 60, initially, of the Sanders delegates were not legit, so they could not participate. A few of those managed to get credentialed by clarifying their information, but most did not. I’m not 100% certain of this, but I think that had they all been credentialed there would have been enough Sanders delegates to win one more delegate.

The fourth failure is complex, and mainly philosophical. First, Sanders supporters around the country are complaining a lot about how the Democratic Party process is an insiders game and ignored the will of the people. This is odd, considering that the will of the people leans strongly towards Clinton. In any event, the Sanders campaign playing the ground game in the middle of the Nevada process was inside politics. This sort of inside politics is perfectly normal, legal, expected, and what you have to do if you want to win. But by complaining loudly about the Clinton campaign doing this sort of thing, and then doing this, Sanders lost a moral high ground. The fact that this particular moral high ground does not exist to begin with means that this is merely an annoyance, but it is annoying.

Another part of the fourth failure is the cacophony of Sanders voices complaining about getting screwed in Las Vegas (I’m sure they weren’t the only ones that evening). This is a problem because it engenders bad feelings among democrats, but the accusation is based on nothing. What really happened is that the Sanders campaign tried to grab a couple of more delegates, but owing, I think, to too many people involved being ignorant of how the system works, failing to do as well as they might have. This same ignorance has led to unfounded complaints about what happened at the Nevada convention. This whole thing, this fourth way of losing, has given people whoa are getting tired of the Sanders followers more of a reason to call for Sanders to drop out of a race he has already lost. That loss may be more important than the small number of delegates that the Nevada Sanders campaign organizers failed to get.

A few points for those not fully aware. First, the numbers of delegates at the convention is very large, and the number of delegates who were not credentialed is very small, a fraction of a percent. Second, yes, this convention was chaotic, but guess what: they are all, always, chaotic. What happened at this convention was mostly pretty normal, though the Sanders antics did make the event run way more over time than usual. Another thing that was a bit unusual was that they were allowed to go over time by three hours. That is fairly remarkable. Usually, a extended event (caucus or campaign) shuts down much sooner.

Both campaigns had people involved in counting delegates, credentialing delegates, and running the meeting. This was not a case of Sanders people all on the floor and Clinton people running the show. Rather, both Clinton and Sanders people were involved in all aspects of this convention, and both Sanders and Clinton people, for the most part, acted properly during the event. I think it was just a small number of Sanders people who were causing all the extra raucous, and later complaining about it.

When considering the events in Nevada, remember that no two caucuse systems are alike, and the Nevada system is probably much less like the others than any. People are calling for a revision of the Nevada system, to not allow so much changing around of delegate pledges after the initial causus (though that has nothing to do with what happened Saturday), but actually, this system is better for the campaign process and for democracy. First, candidates have to demonstrate that they are willing to do more than just show up for a few days of stumping and buy a few ads. They have to be involved at the state and local level the whole time. Second, if there is a shift in the opinion of party mebmers as to who should get the state’s delegates, this allows for that adjustment. In this case, the adjustment mainly indicated a shift towards Clinton and away from Sanders. Thus, the Sanders people are a bit upset. Understandable, but just part of the process.

By and large, a lot of Democrats (both Sanders and Clinton supporters) are deciding to love or hate a the process, or a particular part of the process, based on whether their candidate won or lost. Please stop. In fact, estopp. You signed up for the game, this is the game, these are the rules. Feel free to suggest changes in the rules, but you can’t issue a complaint when the rules are followed but you didn’t get your way.

The Plank’s Constant

… continued …

In the US, political parties have what is called a “platform” which is a list of assertions … “we want this” and “we want that” sort of assertions. The “platform” is made up, quaintly, of “planks” with each plank being about one issue. Like for my local Democratic Farm Labor party unit, one of our Planks is to get the damn road fixed over at Devil’s Triangle, a particularly bad intersection down on Route 169. That’s a local plank, but if we go to a party event, and a gubernatorial candidate is answering questions, she or he is expected to know what the heck is being talked about if someone brings up “Devil’s Triangle.”

Continue reading The Plank’s Constant