Monday, March 7, 2016

Why I Hate The Caucus (non)System And Why The Saunders Campaign Was Almost Certainly A Big Loss For The Left

I have been participating in Democratic caucuses since the 1960s. first as an observer, then as a voter and I can tell you that I have gradually grown to hate caucuses, passionately.   They are anti-democratic, cumbersome, the rules change from time to time in the most annoying way - I'll get to the rules for the one in Maine yesterday which were the worst I've seen yet - and the results are not necessarily the results because the whole thing goes, not to delegates to the national convention but to the state convention which has its whole lists of downsides, as well.   I remember many years when a. we couldn't get enough delegates to send a full delegation, b. those who said they would go as a delegate or an alternate didn't end up carrying through.  The whole thing as a democratic process is a mound of frozen manure in late winter.

Turnout for caucuses is almost certain to be less than for a primary, certainly if, as has always happened in the past, there was no possibility for participation by those who could not, physically, be in the caucus location.   Maine's caucus for the first time anyone remembers, this time, used paper ballots as well as being physically able to stand up for your candidate.   For the first time there was a possibility to cast an absentee ballot, though most people who were familiar with caucuses didn't know that until they were there.   I am a fairly active democrat and read the news and I didn't know it.  The whole thing took twice as long as it usually does, especially as many of those who came either had never been to a caucus and had "heard how it's supposed to be done"  the several versions of that I heard are nothing like it was ever done before in my experience.  That it was gotten through without more complaints is due to the experience and practicality of the people running it - they thought this years process was nuts, too - and their putting a lid on those who wanted to grandstand and make it even longer.

I came prepared to not stand up for either of the candidates but was sorely tempted to by the annoying grandstanding and paranoia by a few of those on the Bernie Sanders side.  I was tempted to go stand with the Hillary Clinton people because they didn't do that.  Whereas the ones I heard said they would support any Democrat if Clinton lost the nomination, many of the Saunders people explicitly said they wouldn't.   And then there was the paranoia.  There were dark mutterings against "the powers that be" meaning either the person running the caucus ( he followed the rules as they were given to him ) or by the state committee who came up with the lame brained process.   No, I pointed out several times, all that showed was that someone on the committee came up with the idea and wore down any resistance out of sheer ego.   That's the nature of the thing and the petty side of committee politics.  I suspect that the people who held that view have never been on a committee that ever did anything. .

The news this morning said that a Democratic legislator is going to introduce a bill instituting a primary system in Maine, we had one for a couple of years matched with a caucus - which is a long, boring example of that kind of bureaucratic B.S. just mentioned but the law was repealed.   Instead of getting rid of the damned caucus they got rid of the primary that should have replaced it.  For some reason, my former legislator told me, some people in the state party wanted a traditional convention which a primary would have made moot.  Considering the fact that we've had few Democratic governors and the success in lower offices is spotty, that's not producing what the whole thing is for, election wins.

Ah, yes, winning elections.  If I had a dollar for every time someone discounted the importance of winning the election and putting Democrats in office over some lame-brained assertion of principle or pseudo-idealistic pose yesterday I'd be able to give quite a bundle to the candidate of my choice.  I won't say that it was the Bernie Sanders supporters who came up with just about all of that, well, yeah, I just did say that because, in fact, that's where most of it was said in my hearing.

I like Bernie Sanders a lot better than I like a lot of his supporters.  A number of those I heard yesterday weren't Democrats but were Greens who switched their affiliation for as long as Sanders remains in the race.  I heard some of them talk about how they expected to vote for Jill Stein in November.  To them I say go to hell. I was afraid of something like this happening when Sanders declared, I am afraid that in November I will wish he'd never done it but we will see.   If the wort happen it will do nothing to move the agenda of the left forward, if the Republicans win the presidency or retain the Senate it will bury that agenda deeper than it is now.


  1. Afraid of what happening? If they are Green they weren't going to vote for an opportunistic hack like Clinton. I will vote for the opportunistic hacks the lesser of two evils, so I disagree, but there is a chance that if Sanders won he'd bring in voters like this.

    What I am sick of is the self righteousness of mainstream Democrats. They have convinced me that third party voting does no good so I am a lesser of two evils voter,but I am not going to,pretend that someone as dishonest as Clinton on human rights issues deserves enthusiastic support. You seem to know something about the Israel Palestine issue. What do you think of her pandering to Netanyahu or her support for Israel during the Gaza War? Or her support for the Iraq War, her support for the Libyan intervention and her desire to support "moderate" Syrian rebels? It's not some weird accident that she is friends with Kissinger. Sanders isn't perfect either, but he's not nearly that bad.

    Here is what I hate about election season--while they last they turn otherwise liberal,people into apologists for the cynical opportunists that seem to rise to the top. Yes, we have a lot of mistaken idealists who think that voting for Stein is going to accomplish something. You seem more angry at them than at a system which gives us Kissinger's best bud as our progressive champion.

    1. In American politics as they are we get the lesser or greater of evils, that's the ugly truth of it, it has been the ugly truth of it for the entire time the United States has been in existence. Lincoln authorized the mass lynching of Indians in Minnesota during his term in office, he did lots to enable the growth of corporations, he was a corporate lawyer before he became president. FDR did all kinds of things to try to get around the obstruction of the Supreme Court that was pretty bad, not to mention things like the internment of Japanese-Americans and his continually having to deal with Southern politicians within the party. And Truman, Kennedy and Johnson did some pretty awful things both to get to the place where they could be elected and as president.

      Those are the only real choices we have, no one in the world cares about votes cast for never-will-be-elected candidates or non-voters stand for principle, if they cared about such things then they would have had an effect on real life politics by now, those kinds of stands have been being made for well back into the 19th century. In terms of politics, they are entirely meaningless. That is also a hard truth of political life.

      I will write a longer answer to your points when I have the time.

  2. One other thing--the whole schtick of "I am the clear thinking pragmatist and you wild-eyed lefties are stupid scum" is self-defeating if you actually want to persuade some of them to come to your side, but it works great if the idea is to express tribal superiority which is what much of political debate is really about. If pragmatists were really pragmatic, they would grant the legitimate criticisms made of the Democratic Party and treat the potential Stein voters with respect and try to win them over, but what I see most of the time on both sides is a lot of posturing and insults. About the only person I've ever seen do ths right is Chomsky--he would admit all the flaws of the Democrats and in fact often wrote about them, but he would then say that for the sake of people on the margins he ad t support the lesser of two evils if his vote was in a state where it might matter. No grandstanding, at least when I read him, and more important, he acknowledged the validity of the critiques.

    Most defenses of the Democrats utterly ignore the criticisms and think they refute them by pointing to cases where there is a serious difference between the Democrats and Republicans, Fine, and that's why I will vote for Clinton if I have to,, but honest people would do more than this. Political hacks won't.

    1. I don't think voting for the least bad candidate who has a realistic chance of winning office and actually doing something better than their opponent isn't pragmatic, it's realistic idealism.

      The Greens and independent lost any respect due to them when they decided to run spoilers in presidential elections in 2000 and 2004 and other spoilers who had no chance of winning. That has happened several times in my state, Paul LePage is the governor of Maine due to spoiler candidates of that kind. The absolute last straw was when the Greens ran a senatorial candidate in Pennsylvania with the financial backing of Republican fat cats.

      All of those candidacies have not moved things left, they have enabled Republicans in many cases and discredited the left within the Democratic party. The only way that could work is for the Greens or others to gain enough seats in the legislative branch of the federal or state governments to swing the control of the body (something which Sanders was able to do as Senator due to the crazy rules of the Senate) or to have an influence on legislation due to that power. But that only works within limits and only in some cases.

      That Greens have not been effective in building power of that kind in any state after three decades of existence proves that they are not realistic and are unwilling to make changes in their basic structure that would make that a possibility.

      I went to one of the early organizing meetings of the Greens in my state, it wasn't ten minutes into the meeting that I knew it was not going to go anyplace because they insisted that all decisions had to be made on a consensus basis. Consensus doesn't work in politics, the exigencies of politics favors those who act, sometimes fixing problems with what they do later. It doesn't favor those who won't act out of some ideal which is not agreed on or is unattainable. The Greens have chosen a road of futile inaction and ineffective postures. It's no wonder that they aren't taken seriously by people who understand what they refuse to. They should have learned that in the past three decades.