Last night I went to my first-ever caucus. As an observer. My home state has regular old boring ballot boxes, and since I happened to be in a caucus state, I couldn't pass up the opportunity to see what all the fuss was about.
I somehow imagined people sitting around a living room with glasses of port and trays of modest, homebaked cookies, reclining with neighborly good-humor while debating the merits of each candidate. When I learned it was to be held in the local high school instead, my mental image changed to a standing-room only crowd holding high-decibel heated arguments and spitting when an enemy candidate's name was mentioned.
Raucous caucus! Heck yeah!
It was neither raucous nor...Well, it was a caucus, so it had that going for it. We all sat around clustered into precincts while the invocation was given, stood to say the Pledge of Allegiance, then listened as mild yet convicted citizens rose to endorse each candidate one by one, thusly.
What Each Candidate Has Going For Him:
Ron Paul - National defense, stop policing the world, get gov't off our backs
Rick Santorum - Walks the walk, a good guy
Newt Gingrich - Knows how to get things done in Washington
Mitt Romney - Most likely to win (which, in a way, means, "he'll get the votes of moderates," which, in a way, means, "he's the candidate least like a true Republican," but it wasn't quite spelled out like that)
Everyone was extremely civil, referring to Obama as "the current President," which I thought was rather nice considering the acridity that's been plaguing the primaries.
My first thought about the caucus was, "Wow, this is fantastic." A chance to meet neighbors for the first time, a place where politics can be discussed openly and unabashedly. In a ballot box state such as mine, you can conceal your party alignment forever, if you want. There's never a need to tell anyone if you're a Republican or Democrat, and most people are too polite to ask.
But here there are no secrets. You see who's with you; you see your local party more or less in its entirety. There's something old fashioned and wholesome about it, something that stirs up ideas of town hall meetings and patriot pioneers gathering underneath shade trees to debate the topics of the day. Suddenly voting isn't a lonely slip of paper, but democracy at its finest, a chance to sit shoulder to should and divide opinions before reuniting as one community. It made me feel involved, even though I was just an observer.
My second thought was, "Holy cow, all of these people are crazy-go-bats." Many parts of the night felt as though they were scripted by a comedian trying to poke fun at every Republican stereotype under the sun. There were people dressed in tricorn hats and red colonial uniforms. There was the celebrating a local candidate for the fact that she loved her guns (this raised many cheers.) There was the (joking?) reference to the fact that our country might not exist in another two months thanks to the current president. And there was the overwhelming assumption that everyone in the room was completely on the same page, a true-blue dyed-in-the-wool Republican walking lock step with all of the party's flagship issues.
Not so much.
There's something inherently wrong, I think, with the mentality of, "I don't care who our nominee is, so long as he beats the current president." Democrats are just as guilty of this as Republicans. Such a statement is a declaration of narrow-mindedness. To assume that the incumbent represents the worst of all possible candidates is a prejudice that would be heartily tested if one of the Republican B-listers somehow made it to November. I might buy, "Any of the four current nominees would be better," if this mantra hadn't already been initiated three years ago, long before there were any Newts or Mitts or Ricks to attach to the abstract.
Uncomfortable as the uber-Republicanniness made me, I realized that I would have been just as repulsed by its equivalent Democratic counterpart. I feel liberal when I'm with conservatives, conservative when I'm with liberals.
This made me feel better. This is why I am a moderate. This is why I detest labels and pigeonholes, and would be perfectly happy (except for not getting to vote in primaries) if I was not attached to any party whatsoever.
Or as one speaker last night described it, "a person who refuses to take a stand."