Monday, February 11, 2008

Getting raucous at the caucus (and afterward)

The Washington State caucuses were held on Saturday, and though I’ve lived here for more than eight years I’m a little ashamed to say the experience was a new one for me. But apparently I’m not the only one. I was told there were 35 participants at my precinct’s Democratic caucus four years ago. This year, there were more than 100.

In Washington, the Democratic primary is meaningless; delegate designations happen at the caucus. With Hillary and Barack in such a tight race, and each attracting such a passionate following, it was no surprise to see a large turnout.

The caucus is an odd process, and one that feels very old school. You show up, sign in, stating your preference or “undecided” (which is treated as though it were a living candidate). Each precinct then puts forth delegates for all parties receiving enough votes and based on the size of the precinct (my precinct—the storming 1330th—has six delegates).

Once the delegate breakout is assessed based on sign-ins, individuals are allowed to speak briefly about their candidate of choice, one speaker per candidate. Our lone holdout for Dodd used his time to encourage us to stay involved for the long term, noting, “Real change doesn’t happen at the White House level.”

Then the large group is physically divided into sub-groups by candidate preference and individuals are allowed to attempt to sway other citizens to their way of thinking. This being Seattle I saw almost no attempted coercion, though I’ve heard there was some at other spots in the city. In the end, our final delegate numbers were the same as the started: Obama 4, Clinton 2.

An informal poll of other precincts at my location looked to be about 3 to 1 in favor of Obama. The state went for Obama roughly 2 to 1.

But the interesting thing about the day was how retro it all felt. I half expected Patrick Henry to take the stage. Part of me kept thinking, there’s got to be a better way. (And as someone whose mother won’t tell anyone who she’s voted for, not even my dad, the public grouping of people based on their candidate choice was surprising.) But another part of me thought it was awesome. Out in the public space! Arguing with your neighbors! Standing up (literally) for your beliefs!


I don’t want to get into offering my political views here* but I do want to mention the concern I have for something Hillary said earlier today. According to CNN’s Political Ticker, Clinton dismissed the results of the weekend, arguing that “caucuses are ‘primarily dominated by activists’ and that ‘they don't represent the electorate, we know that.’"

I’m all for keeping your eyes on the prize and staying positive, but this comment rubs me the wrong way. It may seem like an insignificant phrase, but that tiny “we know that” feels like a common device used by many in politics (I won’t pretend it’s only the Republicans) to openly discount facts they don’t like. Discussion averted!

Seeing these comments today reminded me of something Obama said on 60 Minutes last night when asked if his version of change is change from both the Bushes and the Clintons. Obama said, “I think that there’s a difference, obviously, between the Bushes and the Clintons, but I do think that Washington is comfortable with itself, and I think the Clintons are part of that.”

And further, when asked about the difference between he and Hillary, Obama said, “I think Senator Clinton accepts the rules of the game as they’re set up.” Given how displeased many Americans are with how the game’s been going, I cringe to see signs of it exposed in Clinton.

I’m starting to wonder if Hillary’s going to declare Mission Accomplished on her campaign later this week.**

* Or do I?
** It’s also very possible that I’m making a bigger deal out of this than it’s worth.

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