I’m thinking seriously of attending my Democratic caucus here Saturday. Washington has been a caucus state as long as I’ve been here (1974). They added a “beauty contest” primary a few years ago, but even then most delegates were selected via caucuses. In the last legislature, under financial pressure and seeing an opportunity to drown the baby in the bathtub, the political parties killed the ballot primary for at least this year, so the caucus is all we’ve got.
My view of the caucuses is that they offer a whiff of process to the faithful, but through the dense layering of post-caucus day maneuvering, the party machinery eventually controls the delegates. The link above explains how the process works here in Washington. My own preference is to have a ballot primary - I believe it provides a more transparent method of selecting delegates and, truth be known, I prefer the “drive-by” participation method of casting a ballot and heading for the beach as opposed to showing up at a meeting on Saturday morning, drinking bad coffee and eating stale cookies, and suffering the querulous ravings of my esteemed neighbors.
I’m in Baghdad Jim McDermott’s district, and my precinct is extremely left-leaning. The yard signs that dominate our landscape say either “Impeach Bush” or “Support Our Troops - Bring Them Home”. I swell with pride when I see this, and am glad I live here. However, I fear that, in the caucus atmosphere, this political vein has the potential to generate rants about the Sandinistas, the Salvadoran death squads, the Gulf of Tonkin resolution, Quemoy and Matsu, the Rosenbergs and maybe even why Trotsky had to be sacrificed for the good of the Revolution. All of these topics may be interesting in their own rights, but have nothing to do with how to, or whether we should, anoint the next Bill Clinton from among Dean, Kerry, Clark or Edwards. From what I’ve seen on the street here, Kucinich may get a good run in our precinct.
The only caucus I’ve ever attended before was in 1980. Our precinct’s political makeup was a little less lefty at that time, as the WWII generation was being edged out of the housing stock by 20-something boomers. Still, a lot of us decided it would be great sport to declare ourselves Republicans and swamp the caucuses in support of John Anderson. Just to fuck with the machinery. I remember finding the evening both amusing and exhausting. I remember one of my fellow carpetbagger attendees spent the entire evening wearing a bicycle helmet with a flashing red taillight. I sincerely believe he simply didn’t realize he was wearing it. Our Republican hosts were cordial and patient with us, bless their white-shoed, leisure-suited hearts. The precinct ultimately went for George Bush, as I recall.
This year, however I see enough flux and indecision that I think I want to participate. I passionately want Bush and this most venal and cynical regime out of office. I don’t watch any television news, and I haven’t put the time into reading enough about the candidates to form a defensible liking for any of them yet. I’m studying Susan the Human’s generous compendium of candidate analysis by bloggers. My tendency is to support the strongest environmental candidate, so I will also review the League of Conservation Voters analysis.
I may also try to drag my 22-year old son into the process. I still shrink at the thought of devoting a perfectly good Saturday to this effort, but then I look at the effort Rayne is putting in, trying to bring enthusiasm and honesty to a political theatre still affected, just a little, by the shadow cast by a watery grave in the Meadowlands and the brutish machinery that created it, and I’m goaded to consider it.
And don’t get me wrong about Jim McDermott. If I were to design a voting machine to do my bidding in Washington, the lurching and lightning-scorched being that emerged from my basement would look uncannily like Jim McDermott. It’s just that, given an almost permanent appointment to Congress from my district, the guy has frittered away the opportunity to be a real liberal leader with the gravitas to shape policy by instead engaging in a series of dipshit stunts.