(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.
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.
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.
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