I do love Election Day.
And the Iowa Caucuses are especially fun, an Election Day with it's own, completely different set of rituals. No day-long coverage of voting, of course; the caucuses begin at 7PM local (Central) time. Entrance polls, instead of exit polls. The caucuses are really made for the cable news networks, which can put cameras right there and give live coverage to the proceedings; even more than that, they're a perfect fit for C-SPAN, which of course doesn't break away for the boring bits, and as you might guess I love the boring bits. The wonderful thing about the caucuses is that in the end they are all about ordinary citizens organizing themselves politically.
You know, most of my academic work and interests are all about how small a portion of democracy is occupied by today -- I think democracy is found in the complex workings of elites within party networks, and in Congressional committee rooms, and in interactions within issue networks, and in White House showdowns between the president and a reluctant Senator...all those things, to me, at an intellectual level, are democracy just as much as today's events. But nothing beats the rituals of Election Day. Hey, I even like the annoying and useless "What Does It All Mean" stories, as long as I can restrict my intake enough. I love watching the spin (but reporters: see Brendan Nyhan's excellent article). I love the weather stories. I love how we have have a verb just for tonight; they're not voting for a candidate, but caucusing for a candidate. I love the part we don't get tonight: "viability" and the Democrats' practice of having people physically move around the room in support of their candidate. I'm one of those people who could easily do without the National Anthem, and the Pledge doesn't do much for me -- and I really dislike the Selig-imposed 7th inning GBA. But then today comes around, and I know that I'm a very patriotic citizen of the USA.
And this isn't just any Election Day. The Iowa Caucuses are overloaded with symbolic value, and more-or-less rightly so. This is the first step towards choosing a president...hey, it may be Article II and all that --in other words, we're really not supposed to think of these folks as potential kings -- but in practice, we do, and tonight we get to watch ordinary folks choosing their own not-king. In YMCAs, in their homes, in other very ordinary places. And any Iowa eligible voter can get involved and, potentially, change his or her political party, just like that.
So I've said more and I may get around to even more about the actual justifications for how democratic all of this is, but symbolically and ritually, it sure feels like democracy in action to me. Which leaves me, again, feeling patriotic.