Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Feeling Patriotic

Tonight, the Iowa Caucuses. After three years or more of the invisible primary, it's finally time for the next phase of things, the caucuses and primaries, in which regular citizens get their say. As long-time readers may recall, I have a standard Election Day post, which I'll have to edit more than usual for the circumstances of the day. But as always, I'm feeling patriotic.

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. 


  1. There's something beautifully American about the candidate winnowing process occuring in a bunch of town halls in middle school gyms in the heart of flyover country. Perhaps nothing more perfectly captures the difference between American democracy and the British parliamentary alternative.

    Leave it to a Canadian poet/songwriter to capture how this reflects that America is the cradle of the best and of the worst.

  2. I must admit, however, to not feeling AS patriotic as when it's an election I can participate in. in a very real sense, it's AN election day, but when I can't go to the polls myself, it's not Election Day.

  3. I don't feel patriotic at all.

    We have a process that costs too much, takes too long, and favors tiny populations in small stakes over the interests of the vast majorities that live in big cities.

    My vote, cast in some urban polling place, is just as much an exercise in democracy as anything that goes on in those caucus halls tonight. Indeed, it's more of one, because unlike most of those voters, I'm actually well-informed.

  4. Why does being well-informed (I'll assume for the moment that you are; all I can conclude definitively from your post is that you're arrogant) make your vote more an exercise in democracy? I'd say it's more a function of pure democracy when idiots have as much of a say as geniuses. Restricting voting to the well-informed would make it a plutocracy.

  5. I didn't say we should restrict voting. Only that my big state one person one vote primary with more informed voters is more democratically inspiring than the phony election conducted by bused in voters in Iowa.


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