Long live the Iowa caucuses, the quintessential expression of electoral democracy in America.
Despite what cable news networks’ talking heads and politicians in both parties are saying, what this country needs is more presidential preference caucuses, not fewer.
Those talking heads and politicians are apoplectic over the Iowa Democratic Party’s reporting debacle Monday night as the party’s officials convincingly portrayed themselves as a confederacy of dunces.
The state party “had one job and they blew it at a critical time in the election — criticism should not be mitigated,” said CNN’s otherwise whip-smart Chris Cuomo.
On Tuesday morning, the otherwise widely respected Senate Democratic Whip Richard J. Durbin called the caucuses “a quirky, quaint tradition, which should come to an end.”
Because as “we try to make voting easier for people across America, the Iowa caucus is the most painful situation we currently face for voting,” the Illinois Democrat said.
“People who work all day, pick up the kids at daycare, do you think they’re headed to the caucus next?” Mr. Durbin explained. “Of course not. We’ve got to have a means for people to express themselves that is reliable, unfortunately the caucus system is not.”
Nonsense, Mr. Durbin.
“The Iowa caucuses are dead, dead, dead,” said David Axelrod, the otherwise wise campaign chief for President Barack Obama.
Let’s hope that for all your brilliance, Mr. Axelrod, you’re wrong. You and others among the political elite don’t understand caucuses. The political elites repeat the vacuous mantra that it’s every citizen’s democratic duty to vote.
The opposite is true.
Every citizen who chooses to vote has an obligation to know as much as humanly possible about a few things: the candidates’ policy views and the practical implications of carrying out those policies; the history of the American nation and the state and community in which the voter lives; and the basic worldview of both major political parties.
People who don’t know, but vote anyway, muddy things up and make the election results meaningless.
All that the New Hampshire citizens who vote next Tuesday in their Democratic primary need to do is show up at a polling place for a few minutes, mark an electronic ballot and trundle off to work or home.
All they need to know is their own names and the address of the polling place.
The only other thing they need is to hear a voice in their head say, “Vote for somebody — anybody — or feel guilty.”
In glorious contrast, Iowa caucusgoers must bundle up and trudge to a school, church, public library or somebody’s home. And they must do this on a cold night — if you’ve never experienced February after dark in Iowa, you don’t know what “cold” is.
The Iowa caucus voter must be prepared to spend an hour or three hours or the rest of the night with other citizens who prefer candidate A or B. But maybe they will settle for candidate C, if A or B doesn’t get enough votes in that particular caucus to qualify as viable. Or spend time in another corner of the same school gymnasium or firehouse with like-minded candidate C supporters, some of whom might settle for candidate D or F.
And they must negotiate with knots of fellow citizens in other parts of the room who favor some other candidate. And they must actually argue the case, the policies and the rationale.
This requires mighty motivation — the kind worthy of having a republic and keeping it.
No Iowans will put themselves out that way without first knowing the candidates, their policies and the implications.
You can’t use the political parties’ traditional “walking around money” to pay drunks and the “homeless” to go spend hours arguing with highly motivated, knowledgable citizens at a precinct caucus.
Iowa caucus votes aren’t muddy, or meaningless. They matter the way the founders of our republic meant them to matter.
“As precinct caucus results started coming in, the Iowa Democratic Party ran them through an accuracy and quality check,” state party chairman Troy Price said in trying to explain why the candidates had to hustle off to New Hampshire late Monday night or at dawn-thirty Tuesday without knowing how they placed in the first-in-the-nation caucuses for which they had spent a year preparing.
“It became clear that there were inconsistencies with the reports,” Mr. Price said. “The underlying cause of these inconsistencies was not immediately clear, and required investigation, which took time.”
OK, feel free to beat up on the chairman. Take your anger out on this Price who clearly is not right.
But his mangled management won’t sink the republic or the Democratic Party or any of its presidential dreamers. Mr. Biden or some other candidate may have lost some hoped-for, post-Iowa major-donor financial transfusions. Or gained momentary respite.
It’s ridiculous to say anybody crashed and burned because of state party foulups, and certainly not in the way it was legitimate for former Sen. Rick Santorum to say Iowa Republican Party incompetence caused his instant post-caucuses demise.
The Iowa GOP had declared Mitt Romney the 2012 caucuses winner by nine votes, reversed itself and said it couldn’t declare an official winner. Still later it decided Mr. Santorum won by 34 votes.
Too late for the Pennsylvania lawmaker. The initial bumble let Mr. Romney, father of Obamacare in Massachusetts, use his unwarranted Iowa momentum to win the GOP presidential nomination. But he went on to lose to Mr. Obama that November.
Smelly stuff happens. It’s wrong to look the other way. But that doesn’t mean you throw out the you-know-who with the you-know-what.
Mr. Sanders got it right. He said Tuesday that Iowa Democratic voters did their job but the state party erred. He let it go at that.
A temperate socialist — at least in this instance.
But then, as MSNBC’s “Hardball host Chris Matthews said hours before the caucuses, “Bernie Sanders is not going to be president … I’m not happy with this field … They have to find a candidate for president that can beat Trump.”
Can’t blame the caucus system for that.
Actually, if you’re part of the political elite, you can, and will, blame democracy’s finest embodiment.