Saturday, April 05, 2008

No I Can't


Stand the process, that is. Will Rogers said he wasn't a member of any organized political party, he was a Democrat. Man, oh man, was he right.

[This is a political rant, but one that's unlikely to offend many, if any.]

At the Washington State caucus in February, I was elected delegate to the next level; the meeting was today. At that earlier gathering, despite the frustrating disorganization and very poor choice of venue, I decided I'd like to keep moving on up -- from the local level, to the district level, to the county and maybe even to the state level. Get a long shot at going to the national convention. Gave a little speech, got selected. But today, I bailed.

"Democracy is messy," said Donald Rumsfeld. His words were uttered while Iraqis were looting their country in the first signs of the lawlessness that was to follow our invasion. In that, and maybe only that, Rummy was right. (Of course, the example he chose was, in fact, anarchy, not democracy. That may be explained by the fact that no one in Bush's executive branch seems actually to believe in democracy, much less recognize it.) I'm no less committed to electing Barack Obama than I was yesterday; but I sure as hell lost any delusions of being able to sit still for the electoral process in the caucus system as I've witnessed it. I expected a long slog, but this was beyond excusable, even if participatory democracy is inherently inefficient. All I can say is, if Senator Obama ran his campaign the way my legislative district runs a caucus, he'd have been toast months ago. Having actually enjoyed the two caucuses in which I'd previously participated -- talking to neighbors who were similarly immersed in politics and at least as well informed -- I'd now be first in line to vote to replace them with direct election. Grassroots is one thing; absolute lack of planning is quite another. (Nor am I sure disproportionate voting influence should go to those able to stick out such tedium. For what, I wonder, does that select?)

With separate tables for various groups of precincts, the sign-in went quite well. But when the ink was dry, it was as if no one had considered anything else. They ran low on ballots. Information packets were, it seemed, randomly filled with papers. People weren't told clearly how to divide up (Hillary supporters on one side, Barack on the other. Delegates here, alternates there.) After sitting a while, we were asked if anyone else wanted to sign up to run for delegate for the next level. I hadn't been told there was a need or a way in the first place. So then I did. For the two candidate groups, all in the same room, there was one microphone, and enough din that it was hard to be heard without one. As people tried to get something accomplished during the wait, it was announced no business could be conducted until the credentials committee counted those who'd signed in, certified them, and designated alternates for those who hadn't showed. Two and a half hours in, still no word from them, except for a call for volunteers to help count (this was after the two-hour mark.) Counters? No one had planned for the needed number? I'd guess the total assemblage was in the three- or four-hundred range, not all of whom were actual delegates. I couldn't figure what was going on that could take so long. But I was surprised to find that the number of delegates assigned to each candidate would no longer be based on the original caucus numbers, but on the number who came today. So, despite about a 2:1 advantage for Obama in February, had, say, 10 showed up today for him and 20 for Clinton, the new distribution would have been reversed. It didn't happen, far as I can tell (I didn't stay for the final accounting, but the numbers in the two groups seemed at least as skewed toward Barack as before, if not more), but it hardly seems consistent with the idea of democracy.

There was an ambitious agenda; the main goal was to elect delegates for the county convention, but there were rules to adopt, votes of various sorts to be taken. Still we waited for the credentials report. And waited. It was announced that there were diabetics who needed to eat. No food was allowed in the auditorium, but there were vending machines. Did people want to leave for food? For how long, until the report? Names of those running for delegate were taped to the walls in lists of about ten; there were about fifteen lists. Each of the 150 people was to have one minute to speak, but there was no beginning in sight, let alone an end. People shouted suggestions, counter arguments were flung. Chairpeople were to be selected for each group before hearing from delegate candidates; people who wanted to chair the groups came forward, but couldn't do anything until the credentialing was complete, even though it was clear who'd signed in, and the job would only last the day. People were called to gather closer, to be able to hear; that left the disabled behind, and there were protests. We'd started at 10:00 am; it was now nearly 1 pm. On the program, it said adjournment would be no later than 4 pm. No way that could be met.

I had an epiphany. There were people in attendance more able than I to stand it, more committed to the process, less annoyed by the carelessness. They should be the ones. The surgeon in me said, this is the sort of planning that kills people. Or at least drives some (me) irreversibly crazy. So, after confirming that leaving wouldn't affect the delegate distribution (it was based on the initial sign-in), I found a magic marker, crossed my name off the list, and slinked (slank? slunk?) out the door. I'll send Barack Obama more money. That I can handle. If the market levels off.

13 comments:

Chris Bent said...

As you can probably tell from my earlier rant about Medicare spending I am fairly aware of what is going on around me. And I read enough news to care about what is happening with the elections. That being said, I CANNOT stand the processes which you are describing. It is the same at every level from college council to AMA meeting to State Assembly. One of my favorite quotes of all time..."The bureaucracy is expanding to meet the ever expanding needs of the bureaucracy."

Random question: I might be in Seattle for 1-2 days in June. From your blog I have gathered your approximate Puget Sound location, what would you do in Seattle(and surrounding) if you had one day?

Mike Haubrich, FCD said...

Sid, you should move to Minnesota. We run a tighter ship, and our local party organizations plan for the local conventions and caucuses. Yesterday's convention in my district went pretty well, even with all of the new people involved.

We were done by 1:30. The candidates don't control the process here, they ask us for time to speak.

Anonymous said...

How do they decide who plans the conventions and caucuses? What if you were one of the people organizing it...

Sid Schwab said...

chris: it depends on your interests and mobility, of course. In Seattle there's an excellent art museum, a sculpture garden on the waterfront; there are locks between Lake Washington and the Sound, which are fun to visit: see boats going in and out, watch salmon in the ladders. From Seattle you can take a nice ferry ride to Bainbridge Island, just for the views, about a half-hour each way; you could wander the shops in Winslow, or come right back. Or you could drive north to Anacortes and take a ferry to the San Juan Islands; again, the view is wonderful. There are excellent restaurants in Seattle of all sorts, and several good music venues, like Jazz Alley, the Tractor Tavern, etc. Touristy but sorta cool is a ride up the Space Needle, and wandering around Seattle Center, in which it's found. There are various activities there on weekends, some quite enormous. And, of course, wandering through Pike Place Market is great: an everyday farmers' market with beautiful produce, flowers, meats, corny and occasionally good art, and many places from which to grab a bite, including great bakeries, hum bow, piroshky (don't ignore the other side of the street from the main area of vendors.) You might consider getting a copy of "Seattle Best Places," or other guidebook.

AlisonH said...

I read this thinking, dude. You need to learn how to knit. You can handle any kind of waiting insanity if you're busy using your hands to good and creative and beautiful purpose at the same time (while trying not to be smug that you're getting way more out of it than the impatient others around you).

Sid Schwab said...

I did bring a book. Knitting might have been better.

Patrick said...

Minnesota?

Heck, Sid, move to Idaho!

It's closer, and I can't imagine it takes very long for the Idaho dems to get anything done.

After all, only three or four remain who have not been driven from the state by the lunatics, err, local politicians . . .

;)

scalpel said...

I think Hillary supporters seem to have a valid argument that Obama's slim lead in delegates is not representative of the true "will of the people" given the questionable fairness (and therefore questionable validity) of the caucus process, which seems to unfairly overrepresent unemployed youngish voters.

I get a tingle up my leg like Chris Matthews when I envision the possibility of a Hillary victory in the popular vote, and the Democrats having to revisit their nightmare of 2000 when they never really accepted that their popular vote victory really didn't mean squat. What will they say about that issue this year? The karma is not only delicious, but palpable.

Annie said...

I loved your opening Will Rogers quote. have you ever noticed that the Democratic party website has not stated mission, vision and objectives?

If you can stand it, check the Repub. website - very, VERY clear mission. So clear, you can hear the goosestepping. But they do messaging better than anyone (never mind that the message is bunk).

I think that lack of a clear mission and vision drives a lot of what's weak about the Democratic party. That may also be a factor in why some of the organizational processes are so loose and poorly planned, organized and implemented.

I'll betcha that they could well use the skills of a surgeon, who's used to articulating the mission and vision (diagnosis and treatment) and steering the ship towards its intended port (performing surgery and directing the OR team).

Just sayin'. (grin)

Sid Schwab said...

Annie: it's certainly true that Republicans are brilliant at framing the issues, and that Democrats aren't as much. I think there's an inherent disadvantage: open-mindedness makes for less virulent stances...

Maybe you've already seen this. Rings true.

Annie said...

Maybe a platform plank could be that no politician or candidate is allowed to use Republican framing and terminology (stay the course, the surge, enhanced interrogation techniques, protect America's security, the homeland, etc.) *grin*

Once the framing HAS to be created by the Dems, it has a better chance of being used consistently, has a better probability of selling it to the media, and has a better chance of disseminating it to the public.

Thanks for the LA Times link. I had seen that research, and it would be interesting to see it replicated. Anecdotally, it rings true for me.

scalpel said...

Perhaps "reality-based," "progressive," and "climate change" should go away as well.

Sid Schwab said...

"reality-based" came from the Bush admin, as did "climate change." The former, in the context of saying "We have our own reality now;" the latter required by the admin for its people to use, rather than "global warming." So yeah, we agree; at least on the latter one. I rather like the former.