Thursday, September 25, 2008

Mark Stricherz is the author of Why the Democrats are Blue: Secular Liberalism and the Decline of the People's Party (Encounter Books). His stories have appeared in The Washington Post, The Boston Globe, The Chicago Tribune, The New Republic, The Weekly Standard, Commonweal, and Crisis. He lives in Washington, D.C. with his wife and daughter.

He gave a very interesting talk this week at the John Paul II center here in Denver. My problem with it was not his definition of the problem, how seculars are taking over the political process, but with one of his proposed solutions, getting rid of our wonderful neighborhood precinct caucus system.

Here are the comments I just posted on his blog (blog address above):

I was able to attend your appearance here in Denver, thanks for the very thought provoking talk.

It was disturbing to hear you encourage the demise of what is seems is the last place in America that the voice of the common person has an impact, the precinct caucus.

Outsiders still have a chance of getting elected with the caucus system, Mike Miles is an example here in Colorado. He almost won, and his grassroots organizing resulted in the election of our current State Chair, much to the dismay of Chris Gates and the Democratic establishment.

And look at Barck Obama: There is absolutely no way to call him the insider in the primary and to keep a smile off your face.

You say the primary is fairer because more people can vote. If people can’t arrange their schedule to get the day off, do they really want to participate? And in our representative system, we take turns serving. There is no need for everyone to participate; there is just the need that the system be open and available to everyone. Our founders had a deep fear of the sort of direct democracy you seem to envision.

Francis Schaeffer warned that making moral issues like abortion subject to a popular vote of the people in the post-modern pegan society that we’ve become would be a fast track to disaster. The caucus has been an effective tool for pro-life Republicans, there is no reason it can’t work just as well for pro-life Democrats if we develop the political will between now an 2010.

We get a much higher level of accountablity from our representative with the caucus system. When we were distributing literature at one of the state conventions here in Colorado in 2002 as part of our fight against Amendment 29 which would have killed our Colorado Caucus, a man who had moved here from California read the flier and then said to me:

“Yes, I’ll support what you are doing to save the caucus. You people here in Colorado don’t realize what a great system you have. I moved here from California, and out there candidates just hire people to circulate petitions and then run advertisements. Candidates don’t have to talk with the voters. With the caucus, they have to talk with us and we know who is representing us.”

We get better candidates with the caucus system. Most start with participation in their neighborhood caucus, and they learn to use the system to stay in touch with voters after they are elected.

For Catholics, there’s another big reason to support the neighborhood caucus system vs. the impersonal primary exercise: How can we love our neighbor if we don’t know our neighbor’s names? With the decline of what Robert Putman calls “social capital” we need to preserve things like the neighborhood caucus that force us out of our cocoons.

I hope you’ll rethink your position the wonderful neighborhood caucus system, one of Teddy Roosevelt’s progressive reforms and what I think is the full flowering of what our founders intended. We need to encourage more states to adopt it.

1 comment:

  1. John,

    Good to see you at that lecture, however briefly. I hope Mark can reply to your comments.

    Inspired by your energetic caucus advocacy, I've made similar arguments about his position in the past.

    However, I think you're avoiding his key argument about the ways caucus attendance is biased by social and educational status. (If you have hard stats on the educational and economic backgrounds of caucus attendees, that'd be good evidence one way or the other. I think Stricherz might present some of those stats in his book.)

    You write:
    "If people can’t arrange their schedule to get the day off, do they really want to participate?"

    Lots of people in poorer jobs only get two weeks of vacation a year, which they have to use for sick days, family emergencies, and their rare days of leisure.

    Those who work two jobs have even more difficulties in scheduling, as do those with young children. It's almost miserly to dismiss people who can't afford it for not being politically dutiful enough to take a day off.

    An obvious reform would be to make caucus attendance similar to jury duty in its legal protections and token salary. Possibly even make caucus day as state holiday, as some have proposed making Election Day.

    Further, what's the good of having "better candidates" rise through a caucus system if they generally retain not only the virtues but also the blinders of college-educated professionals?

    Also I think neighborhood building can be more effectively done through private social gatherings. At a caucus, you'll only meet one's fellow partisans and the politically-inclined, groups which are cocoons of their own.


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