As the Iowa Democratic Party considers reforms to the caucus system, here’s a case for Democrats to “reset our priorities” and get back to basics to make the event about “our caucus attendees first, the nation second.” -promoted by desmoinesdem
Let’s take off the sunglasses; close the makeup trailer; and put the script away. What would the Iowa Democratic Caucuses look like if there were no camera lights, reporters, or news media satellite dishes affiliated with the quadrennial event? The Iowa Democratic Caucuses might be boring, but they would be functional, effective, and ours.
Like many star struck Hollywood wannabe who suddenly reaches fame, Iowa’s Democratic Caucuses forgot who brought it to the dance. Over the past few decades, Iowans have given the Coastal Media some discretion as to how the caucuses function in return for cheap national publicity. Is it worth it?
Today, we have to stop the caucus in the middle of the event to get the numbers to the Party so that it can get the numbers to the media. People get restless and begin to leave. And a Des Moines Register editorial had the nerve to say that members of the editorial board “saw opportunities for error amid … chaos.” Of course they did. If we went back to reporting numbers at the end of the caucus the actual event would run uninterrupted. That was the process way back in the 1980s.
Tip O’Neill wrote that “all politics are local”. That’s what caucuses are all about. Or, that’s what they used to be about. Caucuses are grassroots events that used to take place in neighborhood homes, with cookies and badly brewed coffee. It was a time for people in the neighborhood to determine who they wanted to represent them in party politics for the next two years. It was about drafting a party platform at the bare-bottom local level. It was about determining which residents would volunteer their time to spend a weekend afternoon at the county convention. And all of this business was conducted on sofas, dining room chairs, and window ledges. It was completed in the spirit of camaraderie.
Things are not too much different today. A caucus still has three parts: Choose delegates to the county convention; propose resolutions to build a party platform; and select precinct leaders. But today’s Democratic caucus seems to end after alignment and delegate selection.
Since sometime in the 1990s, and every so often after, I have had someone from the media ask for “raw numbers”. Nowhere in any definition of “caucus” will you find the word “election”. Yet, most reporters seem to want to turn the caucuses into an election, as if everyone understands an election, but no one really knows the meaning of a caucus. “If it’s not a vote it must be crooked. Or, it needs to be fixed so that everyone can understand it.” The best argument of all is: “It doesn’t sound very democratic.” Actually, it is the most democratic method of representation that you can find. If Iowa changed to make the process more understandable, it would be an election.
There is nothing wrong with the Democrats’ version of the Iowa Caucus. It’s not an election; it’s a mini-convention. It isn’t broken; it’s been manipulated by the bright lights of stardom. We need to get back to the fundamental purposes and keep the glitter at a distance. My recommendation is to tweak the procedure slightly: 1) select the permanent chair and secretary; 2) select the precinct committee persons; 3) adopt resolutions; 4) align and realign into preference groups; 5) elect delegates to the county convention; 6) select Platform and Committee on Committee members; 7) Adjourn; and, finally, report results to the County Party.
Just because we have an app to report results, it doesn’t mean we should interrupt the business of the meeting to placate the media. It is hard to believe that an app was developed to report results before anyone dreamt of creating an app to better register voters or an app to move registration lines. We Democrats need to reset our priorities. Our allegiance should be to our caucus attendees first, the nation second.
We don’t have to go back to drinking bad percolated coffee and sitting on uncomfortable dining room chairs, but there are basics that we need to rediscover. The caucuses are ours.