What do history's most notorious despots have in common with many of the flag-waving, patriotic politicians of our day? Both groups rise to power through the exploitation of fear, which has become a societal plague. There have been widespread casualties. We need an antidote. Feardom offers its readers a much-needed immunization.
photo credit: RichardJackson
As Senator Bennett’s non-existent chances for re-election make themselves more apparent, one question is increasingly taking shape: does Utah’s caucus system produce delegates who actually represent the base of voters?
A variety of polls have been produced in the past few days portraying delegates as a radically differentiated group when compared against the voting base of their party—Republicans especially. These results are being used to plant the idea that elected Republican delegates are out of touch with the base, and by voting on candidates and altering outcomes that the general voting public does not have the opportunity to participate in, these few activists are hijacking the democratic process and producing outcomes that the base would not themselves approve of.
In a segment devoted to this topic on Sunday, KSL anchor Bruce Lindsay posed a question as to whether Utah’s caucus system was “good for democracy”. The question is a poor one on many levels, not the least of which is the glaring fact that this country is (or once was) a Republic. That journalists, political commentators, and the public at large do not understand this key point does not make it any less true. The answer to Mr. Lindsay’s question is a simple one: no, the caucus system is not good for democracy—but neither is a bicameral legislature with 535 individuals claiming to represent the will of 300 million. Democracy, once widely understood to be the “tyranny of the majority”, is a system we should neither be promoting nor idealizing.
With regards to the apparent difference between the voting base and the delegates, the plain fact is that anybody can affiliate with any party, and participate in their caucus system. Subsequently, anybody can run to become a delegate in said caucus meeting, and thus be entrusted by those in attendance with a position of representation. Thus, the elected delegates are chosen by a body of voters who have overcome the first (albeit very minor) level of battling apathy by setting aside two to three hours on one evening during a two-year cycle. In so doing, caucus attendees have already distinguished themselves from the voting base.
As this very low standard of participation is open for all, the masses supposedly not being represented have nobody to blame but themselves; those who claim they are not being represented have failed to take the most basic of steps in pursuit of that alleged goal. One cannot demand representation without affirming on what issues he or she would like to be represented, and so claiming that the 3,500 GOP state delegates do not represent the Republican base is not an indictment on the caucus system or the delegates themselves, but on the hundreds of thousands who either are unaware of what a precinct caucus is, or chose not to attend theirs.
When viewed through the perspective of what a representative Republic is, the caucus system is a state-based implementation of the same principles. Primaries, whether open or closed, are subject first to a process that helps ensure that candidates seeking the party’s nomination adhere to its ideals. As candidates only have to initially appeal to such a (relatively) small group, it increases the opportunity for citizens with not-so-deep pockets to compete with those whose access to cash seemingly knows no bounds. It increases the opportunity for candidates to be vetted more thoroughly by in-depth questions in cottage meetings, debates, and one-on-one conversations, whereas a primary reduces the political dialogue to mostly sound bytes and limited debate.
Perhaps the most important aspect of the caucus system, however, is the trust it places in the delegates themselves to help create a favorable outcome in harmony with the party’s platform. I was elected in my precinct and given the responsibility of representing those in attendance, and by extension, all registered Republican voters in my precinct. I field phone calls, read literature, study the issues, and in total, invest at least 30-40 hours per week researching, discussing, and acting on political issues. Chances are extremely high that the entertainment-addicted Republicans on the other end of the spectrum have nowhere near the understanding of issues that can only be gained through such an investment of time and energy.
This is not to say that such individuals do not deserve representation, nor that I, as their elected delegate, should pay them no heed. Just as I should keep my state and federal representatives in check by communicating with them, offering my insights, asking questions, etc., so too should the Republican voters in my precinct seek to inform or persuade me on issues that matter to them over which I have control through my vote.
The system is not broken—our general commitment to civic duty is. Republican state delegates are not extremist activists out of step with their base—the base is out of step with the party’s platform. Having such a small group influence or determine the outcome of nominations does not create an imbalance—it tempers the passions and deception which can so easily influence the masses.
A specific example is in order.
Among likely GOP primary voters in Utah, Senator Bennett polls fairly well. A recent Rasmussen poll found that when pitted against his top four challengers (Mike Lee, Tim Bridgewater, Cherilyn Eagar, and Merrill Cook), Bennett led the pack with 37% support. However, when the polling is done amongst state delegates who will be deciding his political fate at the May 8 convention, the tables turn. Delegates are far more hostile to Bennett, ranking him either third or fourth in most polls behind his main challengers.
Pundits are shocked, and thus we have the caucus system being questioned to analyze why something like this could be happening. Few such talking heads ever raise the most obvious point, namely, that when people take the time to study Bennett’s record as the delegates have done, they will also become convinced that he should be removed from office. Instead, we get pathetic questions speculating as to why the delegates are not simply regurgitating the uninformed opinions and will of the Republican base.
Placing the party’s nomination process in the hands of elected representatives who dedicate a great deal of time and energy to fulfill their duty is a wise move. It is not without its problems, and the caucus process itself could be improved. But at the end of the day, those crying foul about a group of delegates who do not represent the voting base are focusing their ire in the wrong direction.
Had the actions of a limited few been always subjected to the will of the majority, this country would have never asserted its independence, let alone had the audacity to begin to form a new Constitution. To say, then, that Utah’s caucus system should be made more “democratic” to more accurately reflect the will of the base is to infuse the political process with ignorance and inertia to such a degree that the eventual outcome is a byproduct of opinions shaped mostly by propaganda, sound bytes, and well-funded individuals.