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.

civic duty

This is one of the first things Dr. Christine Basey Ford said on Thursday:

“I am here today not because I want to be. I am terrified. I am here because I believe it is my civic duty to tell you what happened to me while Brett Kavanaugh and I were in high school.”

Civic duty. I’m a big believer in civic duty, though it’s pretty much an outmoded concept these days. Civic duty is the notion that citizens owe some fidelity to the government, and in return that government helps and protects its citizens.

The government really asks very little of us. Pay our fair share of taxes. Vote. Obey the law. On rare occasion, serve on a jury to sit in judgment of a legal matter involving our community or a fellow citizen. That’s about it. Some of us accept more civic duty than is required. We serve in the military, we work for the fire department, we help out in natural disasters, we volunteer to feed the homeless and help the poor. We alert the authorities to information they need. Sometimes we oppose the authorities when they overstep their power.

“[I]n early July 2018. I saw press reports stating that Brett Kavanaugh was on the shortlist of a list of very well-qualified Supreme Court nominees. I thought it was my civic duty to relay the information I had about Mr. Kavanaugh’s conduct so that those considering his nomination would know about this assault.”

Civic duty requires an element of sacrifice. That sacrifice is why so many people try to avoid their civic duty. People try to avoid paying taxes, find ways to shirk jury duty, can’t be bothered to vote. They praise the military, but shun actual service because it can be dangerous, and doesn’t pay well, and disrupts their career plans. They blame the poor for their poverty and ignore the homeless. They turn away from the victims of crime or condemn them for being victims.

“My motivation in coming forward was to be helpful and to provide facts about how Mr. Kavanaugh’s actions have damaged my life, so that you could take into a serious consideration as you make your decision about how to proceed.”

Civic duty requires a sort of quiet heroism. It normally doesn’t call attention to itself. It usually doesn’t promote itself. In general, it simply involves the acceptance of the responsibility necessary to be a good citizen, and whatever sacrifice that entails.

But sometimes civic duty requires actual courage, actual sacrifice, actual heroism. Sometimes it demands more than a person wants to pay, more than it’s reasonable to pay. Those are times when we discover how sincere and genuine a person’s dedication to civic duty is.

Dr. Ford did not want to expose herself and her family to what she knew would come if she made her allegation against Judge Kavanaugh public.

“This was an extremely hard thing for me to do, but I felt that I couldn’t not do it. My hope was that providing the information confidentially would be sufficient to allow the Senate to consider Mr. Kavanaugh’s serious misconduct without having to make myself, my family or anyone’s family vulnerable to the personal attacks and invasions of privacy that we have faced since my name became public….

In August 2018, the press reported that Mr. Kavanaugh’s confirmation was virtually certain. Persons painted him as a champion of women’s rights and empowerment. And I believed that if I came forward, my single voice would be drowned out by a chorus of powerful supporters. By the time of the confirmation hearings, I had resigned myself to remaining quiet and letting the committee and the Senate make their decision without knowing what Mr. Kavanaugh had done to me.”

Here’s the thing about civic duty and civic engagement. You don’t do it for yourself. You do it for others. You don’t do it to improve your social status — most civic duty is pretty low status stuff. You don’t do it for money — civic duty doesn’t pay well at all. You don’t do it for attention — most civic duty is ignored except in times of crisis, and if you get any attention at all, it’s almost always negative attention.

“[M]y greatest fears have been realized and the reality has been far worse than what I expected. My family and I have been the target of constant harassment and death threats, and I have been called the most vile and hateful names imaginable. These messages, while far fewer than the expressions of support, have been terrifying and have rocked me to my core.”

You accept your civic duty because you care about things. You care about your community, your neighborhood, your town, your county, your state, your nation, your entire world. You accept your civic duty because it’s the right thing to do. You engage in civic duty to protect public values, sometimes to make a change, sometimes to prevent a change, but you always do it because it’s your responsibility as a good citizen.

“It is not my responsibility to determine whether Mr. Kavanaugh deserves to sit on the Supreme Court. My responsibility is to tell you the truth.”

Dr. Christine Basey Ford is a good citizen. She’s a hero. She’s told her truth, whether you believe her or not. She’s been willing to accept the sacrifice of her decision. No matter what happens from this point on, she deserves our respect.