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Democracy: What A Mess

(Opinion) — If there is a less coherent system than ours for selecting those who govern, it’s probably in “Game of Thrones,” which is such a labyrinth of intrigue that even the author can’t find his way to a finish. I was assured of the incomprehensibility of democracy when I attended the Democratic party caucus in Fremont County last week. And I was reassured by the whole bloody mess.

Wait! Don’t stop reading because you think I’m about to engage in deep debate about Democratic Party politics and policy. Of course not. This is Wyoming, where Democrats have a smaller population than black-footed ferrets. I’m not even a Democrat myself, so don’t worry!

Everyone assumes I’m in the blue tent, including Seamus, the campaign operative who called me up to see if I’d attend the Fremont County Democratic Party caucus on Hillary Clinton’s behalf. Since I’m a sucker for an Irish accent, I said I’d be there. But I’ve been a party chameleon for years, shifting to whichever party has a contested primary. In Wyoming, that often means going red, which, the Fremont County Election Office informed me, I last did in August 2014.

But I didn’t know that on caucus day at Lander Valley High School, so I was red-faced when the ladies at the front table told me I wasn’t one of them. Confused, too, when one asked me, a moment later, if I’d consider running for something.

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I was forced to put on a wrist-band that identified me as a non-voting “other.” Ron Howard, the Fremont County Democratic Party chairman, announced that people like me “may be seated separately” to preserve the purity of the caucus vote. Perhaps in the boy’s locker room, surrounded by coils of barbed wire.

Party officials talked about how liberating it was to be “in a roomful” of “like-minded and rational” Democrats. I let them enjoy their moment, keeping my wrist in my pocket and my outlier status mum. As I hid behind shades in the back of the hall, two party activists came at me from opposite directions. It looked like I was headed for “separate seating”… but they only wanted to ask if I would consider running for something.

Then, as the caucus considered presidential candidates, it turned irrational and yike-minded.

A white-haired participant without a scarlet wristband rose to move that Bernie Sanders be taken off the ballot — because he was not a registered Democrat. (Which he isn’t — he ran for Congress as an independent and self-described “Democratic Socialist,” though he caucuses with Senate Democrats). Following a moment’s confusion Chairman Howard ruled that “Bernie Sanders is already on the ballot, so we’ll just have to move with it.”

And clearly, Sanders had some strong support in the caucus. Stronger certainly than Roque de la Fuente, whose name mysteriously appeared on the caucus ballot with Clinton’s and Sanders’. (“Rocky” is from San Diego and there is a YouTube video of him soaring – well, kind of falling – off a diving platform into a swimming pool wearing suit and tie.)

Sanders supporters excitedly extolled his non-interventionist stand on foreign military adventures, and said he had “risen like a phoenix” to clean up “a toxic mess that my generation has created,” and stop the “moral deterioration” of our society. Wow.

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Clinton’s supporters, with the usual Clinton pizzazz, cited her “undeniable experience,” ticked off her job resume from the time she wore those big glasses and frizzy hair, and declared her “most qualified.” It would have been more exciting if they’d asked for support because “she’s not Roque de la Fuente.”

But, since we’re all Republican here (aren’t we?), why go on about Bernie and Hillary? Because one of them is very likely to be the next president. That’s what one of those behind-the-scenes Republican mojo men who raises $300 million in three days recently told me over a fine wine (just us Republicans talking). He and the other Mojos know Donald Trump or Ted Cruz can’t win, so he’s taking his suitcases full of money to Senate races.

So, take heed of these Democrats. Sanders, for instance. If Wyoming is any indication — and Alaska, Michigan, and Hawaii, strange bedfellows for a Democratic Socialist — Sanders’ appeal extends beyond the Northeast corner of the country. It may not be his promise to break-up the big corporations (a process he could not explain coherently to the New York Daily News) that is earning him support. Maybe in the West his votes against gun control mean more than his opposition to fracking — the reverse of what his progressive national audience wants to hear. But what works best for him, all over the place, is his contention that the status quo is allowing trade agreements, under-regulated corporate greed, and big bags of political Mojo money to strip Americans of jobs, savings and hope.

His is not that different from Trump’s core appeal. And, like Trump, Sanders has no specific prescription for fixing it. What a third party ticket they would make.

It won’t happen, but we can imagine it because our democracy is such a mess that at times anything seems possible.

That mess is one reason Seamus and Hillary’s gang are likely to beat Sanders’ crowd-pleasing insurgency. The messy system slows and frustrates Sanders’ momentum, and in truth there are a lot of Democrats happy about that, just as there are Republicans pleased with Trump’s bumps. Call them the Boring Vote. People who are dull enough to trudge through Clinton’s enormous resume; worldly enough to want to brake incisive, divisive demagogues; and skeptical of the utopian fixes — be they populist or authoritarian — that flash brightly in troubled times, when, as W. B. Yeats once wrote, “the best lack all conviction, and the worst are filled with passionate intensity.” The boring vote will settle for competent and even mildly corrupt management that doesn’t over-reach.

If I lacked a vote at the caucus, it wasn’t going to lack for sustenance at the free food table. But I saw Seamus, across the room, starting to move toward me. I hid the wristband in my pocket, along with, oops, a deviled egg.

Then it occurred to me that he might be approaching not to throw me out, but to ask me, with a Hillary-esque inevitability, would I consider running for something? After all, we both knew that at this messy caucus, I couldn’t vote as a non-Democrat, but I could run. For President.

Unfortunately, Seamus walked right by me — heading for the free food. And so Wyoming Democrats will have to look not to me, but to Roque Del Puente, for salvation.

— Columns are the signed perspective of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of WyoFile’s staff, board of directors or its supporters. WyoFile welcomes guest columns and op-ed pieces from all points of view. If you’d like to write a guest column for WyoFile, please contact interim editor Matthew Copeland at [email protected]

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About the Author

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Geoffrey O’Gara is a writer and documentary producer based in Lander, Wyoming. He works for The Content Lab, LLC. His column, Weed Draw, is named for a remote vantage in Wyoming’s Red Canyon. He is the author of What You See in Clear Water: Indians, Whites, and a Battle Over Water in the American West (2002), and A Long Road Home, Journeys Through America’s Present in Search of America’s Past (1989), and several other books. Contact Geoff at [email protected]

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5 Responses to Democracy: What A Mess

  1. Sam Fetters May 31, 2016 at 8:59 pm #

    “I was assured of the incomprehensibility of democracy when I attended the Democratic party caucus in Fremont County last week. And I was reassured by the whole bloody mess.”

    “But I’ve been a party chameleon for years, shifting to whichever party has a contested primary.”

    Voters have no one but themselves to blame for the mess, your statement above is evidence. What good does it do to vote based on contention, rather than issues/actions? Anyone basing their decisions along party lines is a fool, and ignoramus. Accept responsibility for your own actions before blaming the system, for you are helping to sustain that broken system.

    Americans, on average, spend over 5 hours per day, each day, of passively watching television. Over 84% of Americans are connected to high speed internet. The Average American has 3 connected devices, yet they can’t be bothered to spend some time researching candidates to make better choices, they must (usually) vote along party lines. Entertainment has become more important than knowledge.

    Voters refuse to research and acknowledge a candidates past actions, attitudes, dealings, etc. and further refuse to hold that candidate responsible for current actions. Special interest is the only winner, and the system becomes further corrupted.

    Partisan politics is but a ruse, a cleverly crafted sham created solely to distract the mindless masses. Politics is now a mere spectator sport, much like professional sports. Each side is eager and busily casting blame on the other side, while not only blissfully ignoring the shortcomings of their own, but cheerfully rallying them on, and continually feeding the broken machine.

    We will continue being presented low quality candidates because people will continue legitimizing the faulty system. America is losing its greatness because its citizens continue to settle for mediocrity. By continually choosing simply between the lesser of two evils, we are still settling for evil.

    Doesn’t America deserve better? Better will only come when the citizens start holding their own accountable first, and demand excellence from their “leaders”, and the processes determining those “leaders”.

    People are more interested in the parties (food, festivities, celebration, etc.) than the true legitimacy of their own political party.

    I recommend anyone and everyone read the book “A Republic No More” by Jay Cost. Our government is the complete opposite of what most of the Founders intended. We have become as corrupted as the Monarchy they sought to break free of.

    Change begins with oneself first, not in admiration of another faulty, power hungry, self-serving political candidate.

    Baggs, Wyoming

  2. Mary Flitner April 26, 2016 at 3:28 pm #

    I’m always interested in your take, Geoffrey. I am completely confused with what I think about or democratic process, this go-round, and find many of my Wyoming moderate friends feel the same way. We have all voted for individuals in both parties, at different times, and are deeply offended by this hard-line radical positioning we’re forced to accept right now.

    Greybull, Wyoming

  3. jason_burge April 22, 2016 at 3:35 pm #

    He’d answered the banks correctly the very first time they’d asked about breaking up the banks–when they threw in the Fed he was flummoxed–and later straight up agitated when they were trying to roll him and basically cast him as an anti-Israel Jew. The New York Daily News is one step from the National Enquirer. Can’t wait to see what regime change wars Hillary walks us into, as her resume isn’t something that her supporters actually look into. Her wikileaks emails are straight up disturbing when looking at the Middle East–refusing to meet with Constitutional Democracy supporters in Libya because “The Old Guard” (her language) wouldn’t approve. What a great ambassador for democracy she was. Why did we spend $100 million on patriot missiles in Libya again if the real powerbrokers were still in power at the end of the day? Hardly boring. Heck, she also keeps us entertained with her moral gymnastics on issues near and dear to her heart (side by side video reels of the words from her own mouth and she has the audacity to tell everyone that they are twisting her words?). I understand the caution about Sanders movement–but anyone willing to say that the status quo is boring, hasn’t been paying attention. It’s what gives us the beheadings on the nightly news, the refugees, the fear mongering. Hell, it’s an adrenal drop a minute over Hillary’s way.

    Laramie, Wyoming

  4. Richard Garrett April 22, 2016 at 2:08 pm #

    Only thing messier than our democracy is a deviled egged pocket. But its a close call.

    Lander, Wyoming

  5. Joseph Quiroz April 19, 2016 at 10:32 pm #

    Boring….. Could we be a party?
    Kind of like the ring of that.
    What do we want? Boring.
    When do we want it? Boring.
    What was I saying? ……

    Lander, Wyoming

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