So today was the much anticipated milestone in the tedious process known as the nomination process. Normally, I’m pretty oblivious to the pre-convention phase of our quadrennial collective lunacy, but this year was the first time I’ve lived in a state that holds caucuses rather than a primary. I took part–for once on the side of the victor–in the Riley County, Kansas Obama thumping of Clinton féminin, and was very impressed by the energy and dedication of the participants. It was a snowy night, and the parking for the caucus location is miserable, yet many more people than expected showed and took part.
I just scrolled through the CNN results for the many states that held primaries and caucuses today and noticed an interesting trend in the Clinton v. Obama contest. While both were victorious in various primaries, every single state that uses the caucus system went to Obama. While I’m sure an analyst of American presidential politics could explain why this is so in each and every state, I would counter that there is something other than the nature of a given state behind this trend. As I well know, voting in a primary is an easy civic obligation to fulfill. Turnout is light, the ballots are short, so you get in, cast your votes, and get out. It’s three minutes, max. Or, put differently, it’s American democracy as it typically functions, where we never really have to participate and make our choices in private.
At a caucus, it’s more about which candidate can motivate people to spend an entire evening in a crowded public space, being jostled and counted and listening to an odd assemblage of local political personalities, all of whom tend to adopt the rhetorical style of their candidate on the stump and fairly scream into the microphone for the most part. Actually, I’d say it’s not motivation in question, since motivation would require some sort of incentive, but inspiration. You have to be pretty inspired by a candidate to invest so much time in a rather abstract process, not least in a state such as the one I live in, where neither Obama nor Clinton has the best chances in November.
While Clinton won some of the big states, particularly California (or so it appears thus far), I can’t help but think that Obama’s success in the caucuses isn’t somehow an indicator of a growing surge of support among real people who are ready to go to work to get him elected. As I surveyed the Obama block tonight (it was about 820 to 220 for Obama, so a rather large mass), it felt good to look around and see lots of friends and acquaintances. It was a very visual reminder that as a rather left-leaning liberal, one is never really alone in this nation. The red state/blue state dichotomy is a tired trope and ought to be retired. Politics are far too complex to be reduced ad nauseam in this fashion.