Hogan's Alley

Thursday, January 03, 2008

The Iowa Caucuses - The Most Un-Democratic Process

Tonight the talking heads and fingers of cable news and the blogosphere would have us believe that an event of great significance, the Iowa Caucuses, will display to the world the greatness of the American Democracy. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Tonight a few of the citizens of the 30th most populous state in the nation, with just under 3 million residents, will come together in groups, abandon the central notion of the free ballot and openly declare their preference for a Presidential candidate in their respective political parties.

Ann Althouse would have us believe that there is nothing sacred about the secret ballot. Perhaps she is blinded by her own need to expound her opinions. Like all of us in the blogging biz, Ann is almost compulsive about stating who and what we stand for. And we don't care who knows. What we bloggers have in common is a position in life that insulates us from any of the possible consequences of our bloviating. No one can reach out an sanction us for what we think. "Sticks and stones...etc." Those of us who are concerned about such sanctions take the precaution of hiding behind what we hope is true anonymity.

Christopher Hitchens, on the other hand, bemoans (correctly in my opinion) the Tammany-like nature of the Iowa process.

Think about the process of the caucus. Although slightly different in each Party, the process at its essence is that each attending citizen must declare, in front of his neighbors and the world, who he or she prefers as their party's nominee for President of the United States. No sacred adherence to the privacy of the secret ballot for these hearty Iowans. No, each person must acknowledge in front of his friends, neighbors, employers, relatives, local government officials, law enforcement officers, clergyman, potential business associates and ex-girl friends, who they prefer.

How much passion for one's candidate it must require to risk offending someone on whom you depend, but who doesn't share your passion for Candidate A. Conversely, what a delicious way to stick it to a politically passionate adversary. In all probability, the truth is that the low turnout at these events is due in large measure to the complexities of risk and reward that factor in to a public pledge of allegiance. It is more than disinterest and cold, snowy weather that keep most Iowa voters home.

Thus those who vote in Iowa's Caucuses are different from most of their fellow Iowans. They are immune or inured to the effect that their political views will have on their lives. So in a state that is as non-typical of the bulk of the American population as you can get, we anoint a unique, and somewhat bizarre subset of that population, to speak for America. The victors in this process win as the result of a twisted mix of people's assessment of them and their positions and the byzantine calculus of the interpersonal interplay in the caucus rooms.

If you have been paying attention to the internet, the print media and the TV newscasts, you would begin to think that this process is somehow sacred and beautifully and uniquely American. It is unique, but it is hardly beautiful, anymore than the perversion of big city political machines or elections held under the sway of near-dictators seeking the cover of an electoral victory. It is, in fact an ugly thing. Its celebration by the media, and the constant flow of political operatives, is a function of politeness, for the best of them, and the blindness by the fans of political gamesmanship for others. For the worst of them it is simply an excuse to pad their expense accounts, have a few weeks away from the dull run of family life and continue to be able to pay their bills.

And what are we delivered as a result? We in the lowly states that must follow the charade in Iowa and the more proper primaries in New Hampshire and South Carolina are left only with the survivors of that process. Regardless of who you like among the starting batch of candidates, the one thing you can count on is that you will not get to cast a meaningful vote for the likes of Tancredo, Dodd, Hunter, Kucinich, Paul, Biden and others. All of these will have been washed out of the process by residents of some of our most rural states. Who will have pulled out of the race by February 5th, when the big states get to vote? Suppose for a moment that Clinton or Obama, or McCain or Giuliani are forced out of the race by then? How will the millions of voters in NY, California, New Jersey, Massachusetts and other large states feel? Will they not have truly been deprived of the exercise of the fullness of their right to vote by the historic vagaries and injustices of the process itself? I think that they will.

I for one will find nothing to celebrate in tonight's process, regardless of the outcomes.

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