The Iowa caucuses have come and gone, and so pass, for another four years, the throes of our state’s love-hate relationship with national politics. The fickle gaze of the national political eye turned to New Hampshire and now, to South Carolina—how mean will they get?
County fairs, greasy spoons and ethanol quit serving as novelty fodder for national political correspondents, and go back to being regular parts of our lives. Most of us won’t forget that our rural lives symbolize homespun American values, but national political commentary will again let us forget how unrepresentative we truly are of this diverse, urban nation.
For those of you who haven’t already memorized the details of the caucus process, Republicans and Democrats do it differently. Democratic caucus-goers show up at the appointed location on caucus night. Each campaign stakes out a corner, and caucus-goers literally move into their candidate’s corner. Then they try to gain other supporters, from undecided caucus-goers, or those supporting a candidate who doesn’t have much support.
As you can imagine, this can lead to some pretty heated debates on political issues that actually affect people’s lives. For example, this year, many caucus-goers got a crash course on the burden of student debt from young Bernie Sanders supporters.
Eventually, the candidate’s supporters are counted and converted into a representative number of delegates, and everybody goes home to watch TV.
The Republican caucus doesn’t exactly look like a November polling place, either. On caucus night, representatives stump for their chosen candidate before voters cast their “presidential preference” ballots. There’s not as much give and take in the Republican caucus process, but it’s still one of the most exciting political events I’ve experienced.
I’ve experienced the Iowa caucuses from both sides now, from Republican and Democrat, and I have to cast my preference, for process, firmly with the Democrats. Nowhere else in our political life are we expected to stand up and loudly proclaim what (or rather, who) we believe in. Nowhere else is sacrificing your anonymity the cost of democratic participation.
I am not advocating that we do away with election by secret ballot. There are dang good reasons for the privacy of those ovals we fill in at the ballot box — any public vote is, admittedly, subject to intimidation.
However, I believe there should be a place in democracy to stand up and be counted, for the same reasons that we make you sign your name when you submit a letter to the editor. When you sign your name or stand in your candidate’s corner, you are accountable for your words and beliefs. Furthermore, the Democratic caucus process forces voters into the spirited political discussions they might shy away from, fearing conflict with family members or business partners. We have all experienced “Iowa nice”— the caucus process makes Iowa accountable, to our neighbors and to the nation.