As anyone on twitter may have observed, there are important battles being waged for the soul of this country and the futures of both major political parties. As angry as the left may be at Trump, sometimes its most vitriolic arguments are actually between the supporters of Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders. (It seems that Trump is not the only one who can’t let go of losing the popular vote to Hillary).
There are important debates to be had about where the Democratic party should place its efforts and the best strategies and policies for the future. Though I disagree with many Bernie supporters on these matters, I can often appreciate their arguments. There is one place however, where I think they are at best misguided, and at worst, dishonest about their aims. This has to do with their vocal support of caucuses.
Bernie supporters, claiming to free elections from the anti-democratic tendencies of the DNC, are actually pushing an election form that disenfranchises. And this is alarming for many reasons. One of which is that throughout the country, the GOP is engaged in voter suppression. Democrats and other activists attempting to actually expand voter participation have pursued multiple strategies including:
- Extended voting hours
- Expanded early voting
- Mail in ballots
Caucuses, great “reform” that Bernie supporters push, actually run counter to all three strategies.
Why would I suggest that caucuses are actually profoundly undemocratic when Bernie, champion of the people, is demanding their expansion? Let me count the reasons.
Caucuses are limited in time- you MUST show up at the allotted time- a Tuesday evening (usually) from 7 to at least 9 and possibly longer. This is not possible if a) you work nights, b) you have young children & cannot afford childcare, c) you do not have a car, and d) you have a physical disability that makes travel hard
Beyond the problems with scheduling, there may be psychological reasons that caucuses are difficult. People with social phobias will avoid such gathering. Introverts may find such an event stressful. Those who are conflict averse, may avoid it as well.
In fact, the caucus process itself- which involves debating others & persuasion- may make those who are lower information voters feel intimidated. Particularly strong personalities and those with aggressive communication styles may sway voters away from their preferred candidate.
Social psychology and group dynamics may act to silence voices that express less popular positions. Thus, the format of the caucus not only disenfranchises by virtue of scheduling, but by the process itself. Rather than advancing a one person/one vote method, caucuses reward those who are more vocal & comfortable speaking about politics.
Since comfort in speaking in public about policy & politics may be linked to education, this once again favors the affluent – i.e.- the ones who DON’T have to work night/have cars/can afford childcare
So one must ask WHY those decrying the undemocratic nature of the Democratic primaries would be advocating forcefully for a profoundly anti-democratic format. The simple answer is that Bernie won in caucuses and lost in primaries.
That’s it. There is no greater moral reasoning. It’s just strategy & base political calculation.
Or perhaps there is actually an elitism to Bernie’s populism. His younger/white/often more affluent voters do well in a setting where they can opine & bully.
More charitably, it may be that they have an idea that the caucus FEELS the way democracy SHOULD work- with people coming together in the public sphere to debate- where the best ideas win out.
It’s a nice idea and probably reflects the way caucuses once worked in the “good old days.” Maybe they think caucuses are like true Athenian democracy. Which is actually kinda true in that Athenian democracy mostly worked for wealthy white men. Everyone else? Not so much.
And just like their were certain codes of address in Athens, the caucus also demands a specific type of discourse. Caucuses tend to favor a particular style of debate that is essentially part of the white patriarchy. This style tends to silence women and minorities whose own styles of communication are deemed somehow unworthy.
This preferencing of white voices and voters can also be seen in Bernie’s dismissal of the results of primaries in the South. It can also be seen in his patronizing dismissal of black support for Hillary- that if they only UNDERSTOOD THEIR OWN INTERESTS, POC would vote for him.
So- despite cloaking advocacy of the expansion of caucuses in the language of populism, Bernie supporters are actually pushing to disenfranchise voters in order to game the system in their own favor. If Bernie wants to do that, fine. He’s a politician and he’s playing a game. But he doesn’t get to pretend he’s pure and above it all.
It’s part and parcel of his usual shtick. The superdelgates were anti-democratic until HE needed them to vote against the popular vote to install him against the wishes of voters.
When Bernie advocates dispensing with identity politics, it’s partly because he is actually supporting an alternate set of identity politics: you know- the ones of white men.
If Berners believe that their ideas & policies are superior & viable in elections, then they shouldn’t fear primaries which allow MORE, note fewer voices to be heard.
They should fight alongside voting rights advocates to EXPAND voting rights through early voting, extended voting hours, and mail in ballots instead of seeking caucuses which are a better tool of voter suppression than any GOP ID law.
If Bernie supporters actually want progressive policies, they should walk the walk. They should put their energies into rallying Democrats, registering voters, & engaging the disengaged.
They should stop trying to reach the poor white trump voter who actually voted on racism/sexism not economics.
Perhaps if they stopped lecturing & listened to women & POC, they would learn that our “identity politics” are actually profoundly economic as well. Structural racism & misogyny limit our economic opportunities while also threatening our physical safety & mental health.
So let’s dispense with the ridiculous fiction about caucuses being more democratic. They’re not. They may even have skewed for Bernie because they aren’t.
Of course, if we could get to a caucus to voice these opinions, we would be drowned out by a chorus of “ACTUALLY.”
(This post was adapted from a Nov. tweet-storm of mine.)
I agree with you. Last year my first caucus experience. Never again.