Here we go again. Teeth are being gnashed. Hands are being wrung. People are whining about how unseemly, uncouth and unAmerican the very thought of a presidential caucus is compared to a nice aseptic primary.
As the Legislature dithers on this topic, it warranted a story on the front page today in the Las Vegas newspaper, including the absurd claim that some presidential campaigns are threatening to skip the Nevada Republican caucus due to fears that the libertarian-leaning party is stacked in favor of Rand Paul, son of Ron Paul who finished second in 2012. (Side observation, the story warrants the front page in print, but I defy you to track it down online. It is relegated to the “Today’s headlines” bone yard.)
Assembly Bill 302 would change the presidential caucuses of the two major parties to primaries in February, though why the Democrats need bother is another question entirely.
Senate Bill 421 would move all statewide primaries to the last Tuesday in February of even-numbered years, which would mean candidates would have to file a year before the General Election and make the general election season run from March through October. Hopefully, that is going nowhere fast. That is more politics than even I could stand.
The paper quotes Republican state Sen. James Settelmeyer of Minden, a co-sponsor of SB421, as saying his constituents “didn’t feel they had the ability to speak freely or felt intimidated by the process,” and that voting “is a private thing, and I don’t believe the caucus is private.”
No, the political parties nominate their candidates. They should nominate them in whatever way they choose without interference from the state or funding by the taxpayers. And, by the way, the Australian, or secret, ballot was not widely used in this country until the late 1800s.
After attending the Republican presidential caucus in 2012, I reported that it wasn’t exactly a well-oiled machine. There were long delays, breakdowns in communication, misfires and miscues. In fact, 20 minutes into it I sent out a tweet or twit or whatever saying: “GOP organization — an oxymoron.”
Yes, people complained that they actually were required to publicly vote and actually talk to other human beings about politics. You’d think they’d been required to mud wrestle each other.
Back in 2008 Democrat Dina Titus, now in Congress, promised to introduce a bill to change from presidential caucuses to primaries in Nevada. “This notion of neighbors getting together with neighbors to talk about politics, that’s just not Nevada,” she said. “What I found in my caucus is that the meeting didn’t lead to collaboration, cooperation and a good discussion. It led to hostility. It’s too complicated.” And she was a professor of political science — another oxymoron.
I used that quote in a column in which I talked about Columbia School of Law professor and election law expert Nathaniel Persily saying, “The move toward primaries has transferred power away from political parties to the media, who are then in a position to describe someone as having momentum.” I agreed.
In fact, state law has the two major parties permanently ensconced, while other parties must fend for themselves in conventions or caucuses to select their candidates. The Democrats and the Republicans should do the same. Perhaps, with real competition one of them might be overtaken by Curmudgocrats or the Latter-day Whigs.
It is time to scrap the idea of primaries and caucuses. Bring back smoke-filled rooms with ward heelers arm wrestling and cajoling and making deals. Maybe then we would get candidates who stand for principles instead of hollow platitudes and slogans appealing to the widest possible range of slack-jawed dullards too simple minded to express an opinion in public and actually have to defend it.
Actually, I think Thomas Jefferson had the right idea:
“I am not a Federalist, because I never submitted the whole system of my opinions to the creed of any party of men whatever in religion, in philosophy, in politics, or in anything else where I was capable of thinking for myself. Such an addiction is the last degradation of a free and moral agent. If I could not go to heaven but with a party, I would not go there at all.”