These Caucuses Suck

Bernie Sanders won big in Nevada, so hardly any members of the news media herd are focused on how bad the caucus process was (just like in Iowa earlier this month). How about using secret ballots instead?

From Stephen Stromberg of The Washington Post:

Unlike in Iowa, it did not take long to declare a winner in Saturday’s Nevada Democratic caucuses. That doesn’t mean the system worked well — it didn’t. Nevada looked orderly only because Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders’s victory was so lopsided, the networks could call the race with hardly any results.

Some 18 hours after the caucuses wrapped up, results were in from only about half of the state’s precincts — the consequence of cumbersome rules, a jammed reporting hotline and extensive data collection requirements. This mess is what happens when [political] parties insist on running their own private caucuses rather than allowing states to hold primary elections. Indeed, even if the caucuses had worked more smoothly, they would still have been an embarrassing spectacle. They are a terrible way to choose a presidential nominee.

The process I don’t like at all,” said Paul Anthony, a food server attending a caucus Saturday at the Bellagio resort. “I think sometimes this room might intimidate people into not wanting to come vote.”

The Nevada Democratic Party might be surprised at Anthony’s dissatisfaction, given that it tried hard this year to fix its caucus system, offering people more ways to participate. But the party instead proved that the caucus system is fundamentally flawed. One major reason: Peer pressure should have no place in voting.

For all their effort, Nevada Democrats could not fix this inherent problem: There was no secret ballot. At the Bellagio caucus, hotel shift workers had to walk to one side of a large, open conference room, amid a crowd of coworkers, to express their presidential preference. After an initial count, those favoring candidates who had garnered little support could move to a different group. These realigning caucus-goers had to walk to another part of the room with all eyes trained on them, colleagues beckoning them to their side.

It is tempting to make nice with your coworkers, stay with the crowd and avoid sticking out. It is only human to want to satisfy the campaign organizers who may have chatted with you on your way in, who are now observing from the wings. It is all too easy to note the presence of the Culinary Workers Union official attending the caucus…. It is natural to be a little freaked out by television cameras recording your every alignment and realignment.

The campaigns were allowed to have observers on site as long as they were few and quiet, so as to minimize pressure on caucus participants. The Sanders observers were instead many and loud. They packed the corner reserved for caucus observers, cheering, waving at caucus-goers, pumping their fists into the air. After the first count showed strong support for the Vermont senator, one Sanders campaign staffer cried. During the realignment, when it was perhaps most important for them to let the caucus participants make their choices absent outside urging, they chanted “Bernie, Bernie, Bernie” and pointed toward the Sanders side of the room… Sanders surrogate Gilbert Cedillo interrupted a caucus-goer’s speech when he clapped abruptly at the mention of Medicare-for-all.

Don’t scorn Cedillo or any of the other Sanders supporters. They showed up because they are passionate. Blame a system that allowed them into a room where everyday people were just trying to express their preference for who should be the Democratic presidential nominee — a room that did not have a single ballot booth.

The only sensible defense of caucuses is that they allow people to shift their support to a second-choice candidate if their first choice is not viable. But Nevada — and every other caucus state — could offer voters this flexibility through a ranked-choice voting system like the one that Maine has used, without accepting all the built-in problems of caucusing. Let people — in secret — submit a shortlist of candidates in the order of their preference. In fact, the Nevada Democratic Party introduced this year a version of ranked-choice voting for people who wanted to caucus early, the results of which were meshed with the live caucus results obtained Saturday. The party could simply ditch the old system and move entirely to the new one. It would be much fairer….

Voting should not be a performance. No one should feel intimidated, as Anthony rightly worried. Everyone should be able to lie to their coworkers about who they support — or decline to say — and save their authentic opinion for the seclusion of the ballot booth. Anything else is indefensible.

Unquote.

Twenty-four hours after the caucuses began, the Post has results from 50% of the precincts. At least one campaign is questioning how the early voting results were integrated into the caucus results. This is a mess that the national Democratic Party needs to fix. They have two years before the next national election. That is enough time to get it right and eliminate these stupid, undemocratic caucuses.

I Did the Reading, So Now I’m Sharing

I read too many articles on the internet about politics. Instead of having one subscription to a high-quality newspaper that used to land on our driveway every morning, I now subscribe to three quality newspapers that I read online. I also visit a number of websites that offer interesting political news and commentary. All you need to give them is your time (although that, of course, is more precious than your money).

Ordinarily, I wouldn’t spend so much time reading about politics, but I want to understand what the hell is going on, i.e., why America is so screwed up. And after I read something, I sometimes feel the need to share. This reading and sharing might be a big waste of time, but it feels like something I should do.  

This explains why I read three long-ish articles in the past few days that I’m now going to mention and very briefly describe. Then I’m going to share a funny video. And then I’m going to share a little good news for a change.

The first article I read was “Donald Trump and the Rise of Tribal Epistemology”. The title isn’t quite accurate, because epistemology is the philosophical theory or study of knowledge. The title should really be something like “Trump and the Rise of Right-Wing Propaganda as a Source of Supposed News for Millions of Americans and the Ill Effects Thereof”. Another title might be “Here’s Why Our Country Is So Screwed Up: Many Americans Don’t Trust the Only Institutions We Have That Do a Fairly Decent Job of Describing Reality, and Is There Anything We Can Do About It?”. I recommend reading the whole thing, which isn’t really seven million words long, despite what the author says.

A link in that article led me to a 2016, pre-election article called “The Rise of American Authoritarianism”. It’s about people with authoritarian personalities, and how they aren’t necessarily bigots or stupid, but how they tend to be afraid of strangers and change, and when they’re especially afraid, they look for “strong” leaders who will protect them by building walls, putting people in jail and blowing things up. There are more of these authoritarians than you might expect and they’re the strongest supporters of the current President, for obvious reasons (“I alone can fix it”).

An interesting point is that the social scientists cited in the article don’t identify people with authoritarian tendencies by asking them about politics. They ask them about child-rearing, posing questions like these:

  • Please tell me which one you think is more important for a child to have: independence or respect for elders?
  • Please tell me which one you think is more important for a child to have: obedience or self-reliance?
  • Please tell me which one you think is more important for a child to have: to be considerate or to be well-behaved?
  • Please tell me which one you think is more important for a child to have: curiosity or good manners?

Authoritarians tend to answer these questions differently than the rest of us. Furthermore, they supposedly tell the truth when asked about raising children, which they might not do if asked about politics.

Another point made in the article is that many people have authoritarian tendencies, but those tendencies only come into play when these potential authoritarians are sufficiently scared, and sufficiently scared by people whom they think are dangerous in some way, either dangerous to their physical persons or to their preferred way of life. 

The importance of the fear factor leads to the third article, “How Fox News Changed American Media and Political Dynamics”. I confess I didn’t read the whole thing, because it was too depressing. It was written two years ago by a former Republican and is mostly historical. It describes the undoing of the Federal Communications Commission’s Fairness Doctrine, the rise of right-wing talk radio and the amazing success of Fox News, the result being that your authoritarian cousin and your potentially authoritarian plumber are convinced that liberals, scientists, the “mainstream media” and other lowlifes are out to destroy America. That makes your cousin and your plumber very angry and/or very, very afraid. 

So here’s the funny video: Randy Rainbow singing “Covfefe: The Broadway Medley”! If nothing else, watching it will mean that, for four glorious minutes, you won’t be reading about politics on the internet. 

I’ve watched this video many times, because, aside from the pleasure of watching and listening to Mr. Rainbow, and hearing those wonderful melodies again, if you do anything for four minutes, over and over again, it does add up. 

Lastly, the good news:  “Nevada Is Considering a Revolutionary Healthcare Experiment”. The Nevada legislature has passed a bill that would allow anyone in the state who doesn’t have health insurance to buy in to the state’s Medicaid program. Details need to be worked out and the Governor might not sign the bill, but it’s an encouraging sign that America might turn the corner one day.

“Covfefe, I just met a girl named Covfefe…”