just kill it already

Okay, first thing — stop predicting the Death of the Democratic Party because the Iowa DNC shit the bed. What happened is still happening in Iowa isn’t because of a flaw in the national party; it’s a problem with the Iowa DNC. But the Iowa caucus system should die.

Second thing — stop with the conspiracy theories, already. This didn’t happen isn’t happening because the Russians or Chinese (and certainly not the Ukrainians) hacked the system. It’s not because of the coronavirus, or aliens from outer space, or some barbarian invasion (although, Jason Momoa WAS raised in Iowa, so…never mind). It was apparently some sort of an app fuck-up, which shouldn’t surprise anybody who’s ever downloaded an app. I’m confident we did it to ourselves. We’re Democrats; we don’t need help fucking things up. Even so, the Iowa caucus should die.

Third thing — if we’re lucky, this will be the very last Iowa caucus. Don’t get me wrong. I love the Iowa caucus system as performance art. It’s messy, it’s archaic, it’s often frustrating, but sporadically entertaining. Participating in the Iowa caucus is like being in an old movie where Mickey Rooney says, “C’mon gang, let’s put on a show!” And every four years, we do. But this should end, and the caucus should be put out of its misery.

Actual scene from the 2020 Iowa Democratic Caucus

It’s politics by amateurs. Dedicated amateurs. Seriously. Everybody I’ve met who runs, helps, or participates in the Iowa caucus is willing to put in a LOT of effort to make it work. At least in their own precinct. Last night, I help set up tables for signing in voters. I was one of eight or so volunteers who signed in the voters, making sure they were registered as Democrats, showing them where/how to register that night if they weren’t. After the doors were closed, I joined the rest of the caucus-goers and participated in the actual voting. When it was over, a lot of folks stayed behind to help clean up, put away the chairs, and fold up the tables before going home. Nobody got paid to do any of that.

And that’s one of the reasons this eccentric practice should die out. It should be run by professionals, not enthusiastic amateurs. Professionals can also fuck things up, of course. I mean, it looks like the problem this year is because of the app used to improve things, which was designed by professionals. But professionals fuck things up in a professional way. Putting a professional fuck-up in the hands of amateurs only compounds the fucked-upedness. The current caucus system should be smothered in its sleep.

Actual scene from the 2020 Iowa Democratic Caucus

You may be asking, “Greg, old sock, how does this caucus thing actually work?” Good question. Also, stop calling me ‘old sock’. It works like this:

  1. Everybody gathers in the middle of the room. Our precinct had about 240 people sitting in folding chairs.
  2. We count off. “One! Two! Three!” and so on. The total number is compared to the number of folks who signed in. If the numbers agree, we move on.
  3. We split into candidate groups. Warren supporters here, Bernie supporters there, Amy supporters over there, and so on.
  4. We count off again, this time within the group. The group totals are added together and compared to the number of folks who signed in. If the numbers agree, we move on.
  5. If a candidate doesn’t get at least 15% of the number of voters who signed in, that candidate is non-viable. Supporters of non-viable candidates can either choose to stay uncommitted or join a viable group.
  6. After this realignment, we count off one more time. The new group totals are again compared to the number of voters signed in. If the numbers agree, that’s it. We can all go home.

I’ve left out a few minor procedural steps, but that’s basically the process. It never goes entirely smoothly. Never. It’s remarkable how people can screw up the simple process of counting off, but it happens every time. Somehow, in some group, somebody will call out the wrong number and we have to count off all over again. Without fail, every time. It’s hilarious. It’s maddening. It’s an effective 19th century process that was quaint by the 1970s. It should have died with Elvis.

Actual scene from the 2020 Iowa Democratic Caucus

Actual results? In our precinct, the first preference alignment was almost evenly split between five viable candidates — Warren, Biden, Sanders, Pete, and Klobuchar each had about 40 supporters, which left about 40 supporters of non-viable candidates. After the realignment Pete took a big lead, followed by a tie between Biden and Amy, closely followed by Warren, with Bernie in last place.

That’s one out of nearly 1700 precincts. It took us about an hour and a half to do that. Considering most of the folks arrived a bit early, and several of them stayed late, the average caucus-goer in my precinct probably spent 2-2.5 hours out of their evening. Not every voter can — or is willing to — piss away that much time. Another reason the caucus system should be strangled with piano wire.

The current caucus system should be relegated to historic re-enactments, like Civil War enthusiasts engage in. It should be nothing more than an eccentric form of political cosplay. I can see it being gamed out in high school civics classes for extra credit. There should be a movie made in which a caucus goer is murdered and everybody who attended the event is a suspect. Jason Momoa could star in it. But the actual living system should be held underwater until it gives up and dies.

I haven’t even mentioned the fact that Iowa doesn’t actually represent the nation in terms of demography. Or that its coveted ‘first in the nation’ status should be shifted to some other more representative state. I haven’t mentioned those things because they’re not specific reasons to kill off the caucus system. But as long as we’re plotting to murder the caucus system, we might as well hide the body by dumping it in the middle of the primary season and hope it’ll go unnoticed.

Again, I really enjoy the Iowa caucus. I really do. But the fact is it’s just too stupid to let live. Democracy is too important for this to be the showcase. The Iowa caucus system needs to die. We need to kill it.

9 thoughts on “just kill it already

  1. I came here to say a few things… but dang it, they are all there. (my greatest concern is with “1st in the Nation” and demographics, though I like the low-fi involvement, and yes, this is not about killing the caucusesiaticity virus.

    one surprise though: it would be cool to put the caucus procedure side by side with the way Cricket is played.

    Liked by 1 person

    • There are curious similarities between the Iowa caucus and cricket. For example, neither allow chickens to be present, and the time set aside from drinks must be established early on and agreed to by all parties involved.

      Like

  2. “Professional soldiers are predictable, but the world is full of amateurs.” – Murphy’s Laws of Combat. Probably applies to politics as well.

    Of course my favorites are Murphy’s Law (If it can go wrong, it will) and Etters’ Axiom to Murphy’s Law (Murphy was a fucking optimist.) Again, can probably apply to politics…

    Like

  3. Love your educational description of the Iowa Caucus. I am commenting, just to make sure I am not permanently banned from commenting. I quoted some of your words….and I don’t think “Akismet” liked them. Hopefully they have forgiven me.

    Like

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