Democracy and moderation

Utah, I’ve learned, is one of two states in the US that used a particular caucus system for selecting candidates for the general election. Each precinct’ party members get together and select not candidates for office, but delegates to a convention to choose candidates. It’s an unusual system, and attendance has been falling off in recent years.

This year there’s been a lot of pressure from numerous directions to get involved. My work has run a motivational campaign, and our church leadership has been encouraging us each Sunday for the past month to attend one of the two party caucuses. So I decided I ought to go (interestingly enough, my church in saying “you should go” did more to motivate me than my company, who has been bribing us with schwag).

I figured it would end up being more like the HOA meetings I used to run in Boise, and in some ways they were. Everyone was interested in being a delegate to the state or county conventions. No one was interested in being the precinct chairman, vice-chair, or secretary/treasurer. A recommendation to link the elected officials and delegate status was quickly shot down.

But that’s where the similarities ended. When it came to selecting delegates everyone was interested in what was going on. They came up with a list of hot-button issues they wanted each nominee to talk about so we could know how they thought. And that is why I’m glad I went. It was clear that there were party extremists in attendance. I’m pleased to say that with one exception we did not elect those people. The more moderate nominees got the votes, but I have to wonder if it might have been otherwise if we hadn’t had so many people show up. We had close to 90 people at our precinct caucus. Four years ago there were 14.

That’s the big risk in politics. If the moderates don’t show up we surrender the battleground to the extremists which, in either party, are the last people who should be given power. I used to not care about the primaries, and I’m starting to realize that was a mistake. I figured it didn’t matter until the general election.

No so. In an increasingly polarized two-party system, the primaries/caucuses are the difference between showing up on the battlefield with a bazooka or a harmonica. As much as the parties like to think they’re all that matters, the national elections, at least, are still decided by the independents and moderates. If the extremists are allowed to control the nomination process then we end up with elections like…well, like every one of them I can remember in recent years, where both candidates are so out of touch with the center that we lose no matter what.

So it’s time we moderates took back the parties and started putting up candidates who can actually appeal to the center. In a small way, that’s what I was able to do at our local caucus. Granted, that’s not always easy to do, depending on how your particular state runs things. The Utah method is quite unusual, but I intend to be more involved in the future, because while in the over-all picture it may not count for much, my voice did count. Four out of the five delegates are the people I wanted. More importantly, only one of them was someone who I found frightening.

And that was worth sweating it out in the French classroom at the local junior high school for three hours.

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