Thursday, January 3, 2008

Whats the Caucus Ruckus?

Today is the Iowa Caucus. Many people know the buzz of the caucus, but what the HECK is this Caucus ruckus?

Some questions I got leading up to today- democratic process, but what role does the caucus play, doesn't seem to democratic when my candidate doesn't make it? Why the heck are we even thinking about voting now? Or, how about this one, Caucus, is that a sexual term?

Caucus- in loose definition- means a gathering of people, like minded to decide on something. Islamically this process can be understood as coming together for the purposes of Shura. In our democracy, the caucus is coming together to decide on a "party candidate"- Republican or Democrat.

Unfortunately, we only have a two party system. In that system each party's candidates go head to head in the states in order to get the national party's bid for the Presidential nomination. Now in a state like California people who are on the fringe have a better chance at getting the nomination. For example- Kucinich would probably get enough votes from this state to buoy a legitimate campaign, as would an extremist nut case like Tancredo (who is no longer running) because both of them would be able to get the party die hards to come out and vote in an election- the caucus.

At one point these caucuses- correct me if I am wrong- were actually held by Congressional and legislative representatives of either party to elect a party presidential nominee, which to me is not all that DEMOCRATIC, however that began to change as the methods of communication and travel changed.

The reason why we don't normally get the fringe as nominees is because of the Post-Civil War structure of the parties. Again correct me if I am wrong- after the Civil War the nation being split in two needed mending and the South literally had to be cemented back together with the Union. In order to do that the political parties had to take into account what Southern politicians demands were. One of these brilliant idea's was to put together the caucus process so that the Southern states would weed out and present the presidential candidate for party consideration.

That are so many things to criticize about the process but for general history this explanation should suffice. Here is what happens in Iowa and the caucus itself:

Its not the normal primary election California and many other states use. If you want to know how it works, check out this link (What Happens at the Iowa Caucus). These "gatherings of the neighbors" basically elect delegates who would vote for a certain candidate at the national convention- which means they aren't voting for the candidate but rather delegates to represent the nominee of choice.

Why is this whole process important?

For starters read the evolution of the Iowa Caucus at NPR to really get an understanding of the process. However, for a general understanding here is the gist- Iowa is make or break for any presidential nominee. When we have up to eight candidates running, how does one person decide between any one of them? Iowa basically brings the zoom focus on the winners, they become the people you want to dissect. When the primary comes around to your state and you wish to participate, you have a clearer idea of who you want to vote for because since the early primaries the hot seat of media attention has been focused on the winners, often times leaving the losers to drop out and leave the race.

Now if you want to examine the criticisms of this process- aside from the "this is haram brother because it is not part of the Sharia" or the "we don't vote because it is a kufar system" analysis- check out these books:

  • Hull, Christopher C. 2007. Grassroots Rules: How The Iowa Caucus Helps Elect American Presidents. Stanford, Calif: Stanford University Press.
  • Squire, Peverill, ed. 1989. The Iowa Caucuses and the Presidential Nominating Process. Boulder, CO: Westview Press.
  • Winebrenner, Hugh. 1998. The Iowa Precinct Caucuses: The Making of a Media Event. 2nd ed. Ames: Iowa State University Press
And for all the Brown Coats this tid bit fact was really nice to learn about, preserve our minority history!

The origin of the word "caucus" is debated, although it is generally agreed that it came into use in English in the US. According to some sources, it comes from the Algonquin word for "counsel," cau´-cau-as´u, and was probably introduced into American political usage through the Democratic Party in New York known as Tammany Hall, which liked to use Native American terms. (from wikipedia under "caucus" search)


Anonymous said...

wow, thanks for putting this up, its really informative. I have to admit, i wont read anymore on the issue but thanks for simplifying it.

Tommy Pickles said...

1. I've heard quite often that we have a two party system but have never seen a simple explanation of why it is so? Could you please explain this for me?

2. The worst thing about Iowa/New Hamshire being first is that they end up weeding candidates who lose (i.e. Chris Dodd). This is bad because both states are over 90% white, conservative and their economies are representative of the overall US economy

Affad Shaikh said...

Mr. Pickles- your questions are important ones to consider especially as we try to better understand how to be effective in "changing" the system or effecting the structure positively.

1. the two party system is a complicated issue to address in a comment box. Here is my short take, there has always been political investment in controlling the "power of democracy" in the United States. If you see our parties today, once they lock a voting segment of the population (usually minority votes) they no longer remain loyal to that constituency political issues. A good historical example is the African American vote and the democratic party that has abandoned the African American causes for the most part only doing lip service, but they have a guaranteed historical sympathy vote. Recently i would say the evangelical vote is similar situation.

Now it might not seem like that is an answer to your first question, but I think that these sorts of political plays, the electoral system and the sheer size of our nation make it difficult to run a grass roots 3rd/4th/nth party structure without it dying out due to these constraints. I mean the green party was a big disappointment in that I did feel technology had at last shrunk the gaps directly going to the people for democratic power, however the two political parties did a awesome job ingesting the technology and incorporating them with their filters to wield power in the United States (for God sake they made Howard Dean the Dem party chair, and he had a viable shot to be a nominee?!)

2. That is the purpose of the primaries. To weed out- give power to these states (white, agricultural, monied) interests- if we allowed the liberal states, largely diverse in population and economic scale to go first we would be getting "fringe" elements and that would lead to enough discontent to leave the party. The southern democrats are fairly conservative and would easily leave the party, in fact thats exactly what started to happen in the south after the Civil War, they had to be forced back into the party and that was the way it developed.

Just my thoughts. Thanks for your comments.