03 January 2008

The Caucus Race

As no doubt everyone out there is aware, Barack Obama just won big in the Iowa caucuses (the right decision, I think, and a very exciting development, as pundits everywhere are observing). There's been quite the media frenzy in the weeks leading up to the vote, and as always no two news outlets ever seem to agree on things. One topic on which I have heard general consensus is the condemnation of the caucus system. There seems to be a widespread opinion that at worst a caucus is the chaotic, raucous spectacle parodied by Lewis Carroll in Alice in Wonderland, and that at best it is just plain boring. I think that attitude is a shame. In 2004, I participated in the Washington caucus (I was a Howard Dean delegate, I'm proud to say) and loved it. A caucus is politics the way politics should be: a community gathering together to discuss what's important to them and argue about which candidate best represents those interests (I should note that when I say 'community,' I mean it in the sense of a neighborhood, not as the trite platitude it seems to have become). It's true that some particularly vociferous people can drone on about their personal agenda longer than would be ideal (and yes, I realize the fundamental hypocrisy of a blogger criticizing people for long-winded oratories about their opinions) and that the whole process is a much more drawn-out affair than a simple primary. That said, politics is not meant to be some intangible entity of interest only to a few old white men in D.C.; it is a dynamic system that affects each of our lives daily, and it is meant to be discussed not just by congressmen, but by all of us. The beauty of a caucus is that it encourages people not just to pick a candidate blindly because they appear to share many of your values, but to form a coherent argument for why your choice makes more sense than your neighbor's. It's a sad fact that intelligent thought has become less and less prevalent in American politics, and that may account for why the public opinion of caucuses has been on a downturn. It's encouraging to see that turnout for and, by all accounts, excitement during the Iowa caucuses has been unexpectedly high among both republicans and democrats, and it would be nice to believe that rationality is making at least a modest comeback in government (though Mike Huckabee's victory on the republican side tempers my enthusiasm somewhat). Time will tell, but at the very least, the next few months are shaping up to be very interesting. Obama '08!

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