My friends John Wren and Joshua Sharf recorded half-full and half-empty impressions of Colorado's caucus system after the big night on Tuesday. Before coming to what each had to say, here's my two cents' worth: Though Wren's evocation of progressivism and the 1912 hinge point between TR and Wilson -- both too similar to McCain and Clinton for my taste -- is not persuasive, he's right that caucuses are better than the media- and money-driven direct primary system that Coloradans shied from in that 2002 ballot fight.
But Sharf is also right that the caucuses will remain largely useless, and hence more and more difficult to sustain, unless parties do a much better job of realizing the grassroots gatherings' potential for civic education and involvement.
To be more exact, it's our party, the Republicans, who have to do a better job of that. The Democrats, far ahead of us in para-party organizing and in media/money alliances, would be quite happy to see caucuses fade away in favor of the ultra-progressive direct primary model that Rutt Bridges tried to ram through in 2002.
And now, in the two men's own words...
CELEBRATE THE GRASSROOTS REBIRTH By John Wren
A few critical voices have complained about some of the negative aspects of last night's Colorado Caucus, our ritual every other year since 1912 when the Teddy Roosevelt progressive reforms brought us our current system. Some even call for the elimination of our caucus-assembly system and a return to our pre-1912 ways.
Thomas Jefferson would have preferred that we not have political parties. But he quickly realized that Alexander Hamilton would win every election unless an opposition party was formed. So the two party system that has served us so well for these 200+ years was born. (Unaffiliated voters and 3rd parties have a valid useful place in our system, but it is the two major parties that almost always produce winning campaigns.)
Some say there is no difference between the two parties. This is a sign of health; they are both competing for the majority of voters. Just as supply and demand create an equilibrium price, when the system is healthy Democrats and Republicans create elected government officials who best represent the true will of the people.
The Colorado Caucus is the full flowering of this representative system, but the flowers have wilted in recent decades because of the declining levels of participation and misguided (or devious) party leaders who have tried to bring the system that has been entrusted to their care to an end.
Powerful forces would like to kill the grassroots in Colorado, and return to the powerful elites to their pre-1912 back rooms.
Our caucus-assembly system for nominating to the primary ballot is not perfect. It takes more time, some just aren’t able to attend for various reasons, etc. But these shortcomings are more than compensated for by the fact that it gives the common person a strong voice in our government, something the direct primary just does not do.
People who got involved for the first time last night can now use the leverage of the party system to come back in future years and use the leverage of their party to get on the primary ballot with a fair chance of becoming their party’s nominee in the general election. Doing this without the caucus system is much more expensive, out of the reach of most people.
So the question is this: Is strengthening the voice of the common person worth it? I say yes it is. And 60% of the people in Colorado agreed in 2002 when the question was on the ballot and everyone got a chance to voice their opinion. Let’s not be misled now by the whining voices of a few slackers and the manipulation of the elite.
Wake up Colorado! Celebrate the victory of last night’s massive turnout. Let this day mark a new dawning, the rebirth of the true grassroots in Colorado.
WHAT THE HELL WERE WE VOTING FOR? By Joshua Sharf
A word to the wise know-it-alls who run the Denver Republican Party.
Organize. A little.
For one thing, please try to hold the caucuses in a place where there's some parking. Secondly, the Hillary! posters on the outside of the hall were cute, perhaps a reminder of why we were all there. Oh, we got a better turnout than we did two years ago - my precinct showed 8 voters, compared to 3 in 2006. But then, Denver Republicans are a somewhat more...select...crowd, anyway.
But of the 8 people there, I was the only one who had gone through the process before, and I was the only one who even vaguely understood what the hell we were voting for, and only then because Dick Wadhams was on the show Sunday night explaining it. I'm still not sure I understand the multi-county vs. single-county State Representative and State Senate Assemblies.
There was absolutely no reason why someone didn't stand up on the stage and explain to the assembled the three-tiered Assembly system, and what the Presidential Preference Poll actually meant. The only reason was that the County party seemingly sent exactly one District official, who was clearly overworked.
You want to build the party? Use the caucuses as a chance to educate those who are there about this 19-Century [or early 20th-Century, according to Wren - Ed.] process we continue to use. I have no objections to using it, but when you leave those who do bother to show up confused and unsure what they just voted for, you're guaranteeing they won't come back next time. By turning what should be an exercise in party-building into an exercise in frustration, the party missed yet another critical opportunity to engage what should be its most active supporters.
Cross-posted from View from a Height at JSharf.com and Gang of Four at PoliticsWest.com