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June 03, 2008


It's weird how the conventional wisdom got changed. It used to be that insurgents didn't like caucuses becausse they were seen to favor party stalwarts. But now that the insurgent won but overwhelming the party stalwarts with floods of eager participants, caucuses are being smeared as undemocratic becuase supposedly don't allow enough participation!

I don't mind a discussion of reforming the process but I don't think the discussion shuld be based on an acceptance of false assumptions pushed forward this year in reaction to this year's events.

Another fasle assumption we should beware of is all that crap about how one can judge the electability of a candidate by the candidate's performance in swing states.

Bottom line: if reform is needed, don't do it as a reaction to this year's events. That just makes new problems for later.

Is it news to anyone that Clinton will concede the nomination to Obama tonight? It's up on Yahoo!

Maybe, Publius, you didn't read all the comments, but you have utterly failed to address the major downside of primaries, which is that they require cooperation of the state, which, among other things, removes the schedule from control of party. For instance, if NH had a caucus instead of a primary, it's silly law that demands that it be first would simply be N/A instead of a serious obstacle to timing reform. Other states (e.g., Michigan, Florida) frequently have incompatible agendas with party as a whole and might (Florida) even be trying to undermine one or the other party.

Some states simply refuse to fund or enable the holding of true primaries (which would then get turned into a modified primary run by the party that will look an awful lot like a streamlined caucus). Should we write their voters off?

And in some states, caucuses really aren't that problematic -- their rules for basic voting are streamlined, though they are more complicated if you want to be a delegate. Maybe studying those states and trying to ensure that they are the norm rather than the exception for other caucus states would be helpful, such as holding caucuses on two weekend days, enabling mail-in voting, and other reforms that remove artificial barriers to participation.

Anyway, it seems to me that you don't have very detailed knowledge about the subject of election law or caucuses, so I am significantly discounting your opinion on the optimal process for nominating candidates.

Is it news to anyone that Clinton will concede the nomination to Obama tonight?

believes it when i sees it.

(i think that's the 5th time i've typed those words in the past hour)

There are trade offs both ways with the caucus vs. primary voting systems. Most of these were covered in the previous post but here are the important points:

Cost: Primaries are an order of magnitude more expensive than caucuses. This was brought out most clearly in the debate over the Michigan re-vote.

Participation: This is a double edged sword for both sides of the argument. On the primary's side, more people can participate more easily; however, it also makes messing with the other side's process much easier (see "Operation Chaos"). On the caucus side, participation is more difficult and involved, but it is harder to monkey with and it draws the active party members together.

Candidate benefits: In a primary system, you have a list of names on a ballot, you pick one and you are done. In a caucus system, people get up and talk about their candidate. You learn about their positions and reasons for voting for them (much more than a bunch of 30 second attack ads). It doesn't do away with the effect of money and name recognition, but it helps expand the message of the lesser known candidates.

Control: Primaries have to be run by the state's Secretary of State. They are also at the mercy of the state legislature. Caucuses still face some of that, but due to their organic nature, if the state party needed to it could rent Elks lodges across the state for a few hours to hold it.

Organization: In primaries, it is just a matter of making sure all the ballots are available and printed/counted properly. The nature of caucuses though is much more disorderly and, as Ron Paul's supporters have done in a number of states, subject to potential mob rule.

In my opinion, both systems have a place in the process of picking a party nominee. I would never stand for this to be the case in a presidential election, but in private parties (remember, as much as they would like you to think this, the DNC and RNC are not government entities) they both have a purpose. In large states like California, Florida, Michigan, and Texas, the cost disparities grow smaller while the organization issues greatly expand. In smaller states (or states with smaller party presence) that doesn't hold and the benefits of caucuses become more pronounced.

The best way would be some sort of compromise system -- either something akin to Texas's "two-step" (although I think the caucuses should come first, if just for the benefits it could give to the new candidates) or what other states do with absentee and proxy voting.

The main thing that needs to be done to fix this system is to set FIRM rules on when and where the voting can happen - none of this "maybe they'll count, maybe they won't" bs. And the super delegates, while they serve a purpose, should not be 1/3 of the necessary delegates. I can understand one or maybe two hundred, but when more than 800 of the 2100 needed delegates are outside the will of the people, the system doesn't look fair to the voting public.

"Brien Jackson has a thoughtful section-by-section reply to my post on primary election reform."

Could I get you to read, if not respond, my responses if I post them on my own blog, then?

Could you perhaps clarify whether or not you do read all, or any, or however many, comments to your posts here on ObWi? Since you rarely respond, it's impossible to know if you even read them, save on the very rare occasions you show up in comments even to your own posts, and it would be useful to know if you're going to read a response, when writing a public comment in response to a post of yours, or whether it's a waste of time and one should just stick to discussing things with the participants in comments.

(Obviously your time is limited, and so you can only afford such time as is available and convenient and not stepped on by higher priorities, for blog comment reading, let alone replying, of course; I'm just asking if you might offer a few words of clarification as to what you do or don't read, by way of ObWi comment threads, if that's okay.)

Thanks for any response (would it help if I posted this query on my blog, instead?).

We shouldn't get confused about the difference between choosing a nominee and a general election. There's nothing wrong with primaries, but they don't really do anything in terms of building your party. With a caucus you get names and addresses of the active doers who are the strength upon which you build to win the real election. In terms of building upon the Fifty State Strategy, we'd be better off if all states had caucuses - and a primary too, if they want.

gary - this has been a semi-obsession for you for months. i honestly don't know what to say. I have two small children, research agenda, etc. I need to keep up with news and telecom trade press. I read tons of blogs to stay on top of news. And it takes a long time to write posts. My time is just stretched thin at times. something has to give.

Look, I don't respond much, but I usually read the comment threads even when I don't respond. And I would love to contribute more, but my time is limited and i really enjoy reading the back and forth without injecting myself into the discussion. i am continuously amazed at how much i learn in the comments -- and how laser-like people focus in on the weak points of an argument.

so my lack of commenting is not a sign of lack of interest.

but i do grow weary of hearing about it all the time from you.

As for this post, I assume this is a newer, lesser-known blog and I wanted to give him a link (much like I was given links when i got started). that was the purpose -- not to weigh in on all the comments in great wonky detail (barbara).

believe me, i thought about writing a new post aggegrating all the good ideas, but I have a writing project due Thursday and I couldn't.

so seriously, i don't understand why you keep harping on this. i'd put the ObWi community up against any other blog on the internets. you don't need me in everyone to benefit from a rich, informed, smart discussion.

Not everyone can be Steve Benen. :)

"But the burdens on voting are a dealbreaker for me with respect to the caucuses, despite their benefit in helping smaller, grass-roots candidates get recognized."

With a mandatory mail and internet option for voting for your presidential nominee of choice, what "burdens on voting" are you talking about? As per my many responses on this topic?

"Look, I don't respond much, but I usually read the comment threads even when I don't respond. "

That's all I ever asked. Thanks. My only "obsession" (I've asked, what, 3-4 times, if that, over the past year or so since you've been here, until the last week?) was having a clue as to what you did or didn't read.

As I've said each and every time, of course reading comments has to be a low priority for you. Of course.

Let alone that of course you have little time for responding. I've never dreamed of suggesting otherwise, let alone done so.

"As for this post, I assume this is a newer, lesser-known blog and I wanted to give him a link (much like I was given links when i got started). that was the purpose"

Kewl. And thanks muchly for the response!

"In terms of building upon the Fifty State Strategy, we'd be better off if all states had caucuses - and a primary too, if they want."

Exactly that, too.

gary - i don't have time to respond right now. again, i honestly don't understand your hostility.

sorry - i didn't see your latest post. i thought you were responding to mine with the burdens point. comment retracted

"Look, I don't respond much, but I usually read the comment threads even when I don't respond. "

That's all I ever asked. Thanks.

To make sure I'm absolutely clear: now you've finally answered the question. So I'll never have to ask again.

That the answer was obvious to you all along didn't meant that it was obvious to anyone else, unless, of course, their mind-reading equipment is in better shape than mine.

So now I know: you "usually read the comment threads even when I don't respond." That's all I was ever trying to get an answer to.

If you were impatient with my asking on a handful of occasions over the course of more than a year, you could have stopped my asking by answering at some earlier time. It was hardly a complicated question, after all, nor did it require more than eleven words to respond to.

But now we're done. Wonderful. There is much rejoicing throughout the land.

"again, i honestly don't understand your hostility."

Huh? What?

What "hostility"?

I haven't the faintest hostility towards you. Never have.

It's not a good idea to project imaginary tones into neutral words. No matter that a lot of people do it all the time, and only careful readers do not.

So far as I know and can see, you're a fine fellow, and an excellent contributor here. I've never had a shred of "hostility" towards you. And I think I'd know.

Gary, I think you are confusing intent with projected tone. Your projected tone is regularly quite hostile to all sorts of people.

That may not be your intent, which is why people give you huge amounts of leeway on it, but the projected tone coupled with what seems to other people to be fairly regular demands can come off as other than what your stated intent is.

"Your projected tone is regularly quite hostile to all sorts of people."

Um, neutral words are objectively neutral words.

I mostly write without tone, and people often project into that absence of tone.

As well, I come from a writing environment where it's common for people to engage in wordplay, and teasing over it, and that's seen as hostile by people who come from a different interactive writing/reading tradition, and so often misinterpreted, due to projection.

I do have a vastly higher baseline for friendly sarcasm than most people, due to family history, but it's usually clear to me at least in retrospect when that's been the problem, and other than that, no, a lot of people project non-existent tone into what they read. One sees it all over the internet, and anyone who has any experience with professional editing, or even just reading slush, knows just how small a percentage of even eager readers actually know how to read carefully. It's a relatively rare skill; this didn't used to be a problem before the rise of mass use of p2p writing, but now, with the internet, it is.

I only hope that the new generations of readers/writers will have a much higher percentage of people who clearly understand how, say, precise use of a semi-colon, or an ellipsis, can completely change the meaning of a sentence.

I do hope you read my previous link; if not, please do! And then, if you have time, when you have time, please read the Chip Delany essay I linked here, for some examples of the difference between careful reading and writing, and sloppy reading and writing.

Thanks muchly, Sebastian!

Chip ("Samuel R.") Delany's About Five Thousand Seven Hundred and Fifty Words is here. I only wish everyone would read it, and learn to read more carefully!

Apologies for any unintentional thread-jacking, by the way. Publius's topic is important, and I apologize for any distraction; if anyone wants to reply to the last couple of comments, I strongly suggest doing so in the last open thread, and, say, how about a fresh open thread, since the last one is long since gone off the sidebar, and this month's new archive won't include it?

How about maybe having one open thread on the sidebar at all times? Would that be a problem?

(That's not a "demand"; it's a suggestion and a question.)

I think we sometimes forget the fact that political parties are social organizations that belong to their members. Any discussion of nominating process requires a look at how differences in the processes change the institutional structure of the party itself.

Primaries tend to move control of the parties to the state and national levels by placing this process in the hands of elected officials--often from another party (see Florida)--rather than party activists and intellectuals. This limits the role of parties as the institutional structure for collective action. States often hijack them, since political parties cannot pay for them without taxpayer help. Since the state apparatus controls the process, it becomes a tool for protecting incumbents (or at least existing political arrangements) by closing the system to new organizations. If the state, for example, pays for Republican or Democratic primaries, it should pay for Green or Libertarian nominating elections as well.

State-run primaries also create mandates for participation by non-members and a normative argument that they somehow belong to "the people" and should not be limited to party members. Parties become more hierarchical and less networked, affiliation less salient, and activists lose their power to socialize others into the party. Political parties thereby generally lose salience outside of election campaigns. Primaries remove the socializing aspects of the periodical gathering of dedicated party activists, e.g. platform development and relationship building.

Candidate selection processes that depend on activist support, on the other hand, reward those who work the hardest to form the normative perception of the party and bring new members into it. Some criticize caucuses as closed systems that leave some citizens without access to the process. In fact, many of the people we intuitively think caucuses ignore--the aged, the poor, the disabled--could participate if political parties performed their primary function: facilitation of collective action. Party members would help their fellows join the festivities. Instead, their influence on the party and its platform is diluted by primaries they do not control.

National elections may call for this sort of nomination process and the political parties it gives us. But we should remember that Democratic electoral success (mostly) ended when the Party moved to democratize the candidate selection process. Republicans have maintained a more unified party, arguably by using oligarchical campaign fundraising and winner-take-all primaries to keep control of candidate selection in the hands of party leaders. Indeed, the McCain candidacy would appear to be the exception that supports the thesis: name recognition and the failure of the Republican establishment to select a candidate early (see 2000) seems to have given them a nominee who will have difficulty keeping the GOP together.

In a sense, Nader's "tweedledee-tweedledum" argument contains a grain of truth. Candidate selection based on broad-participation primaries has given us two political parties--and two parties only--that strongly resemble each other.

(Sorry for the long comment. If anyone cares, I will have more to say about this on my own [mostly neglected] blog tonight as well.)

a lot of people project non-existent tone into what they read....careful reading

Gary, are you familar with the proverb, "if three people tell you you're drunk, go home and lie down."? If a few people take offense where you gave none, that's life. If it happens on a regular basis, though, it may behoove you to take repsonsibility for the way your message is coming across.
There is no objectively reasonable communication style, there's just what works and what doesn't.

But I'm not telling you what to do, just responding to a flaw in your reasoning.

I like the idea of rotating the first primary state by whoever had the highest voter turnout in the last presidential election. Curiously, if this system had been in effect over the last 40 years, Minnesota, Maine, and Utah would have been the only three states to go first.

Otherwise, finding the state with demographics most similar to America at large, and holding the primary there would be interesting, although that state might be too large for the retail angle to come into play.

There are many different forms of caucuses, so that it's not possible to dismiss them all as imposing "burdens" on voting, an certainly not the same burdens. They're not all like the Iowa example.

Take "firehouse caucuses" in the Democratic Party in Virginia, which are just like regular voting except run by the party instead of the board of elections. They typically take place on a Saturday afternoon, impose no more burdens than regular voting, and in some ways fewer (no photo ID required, e.g.) Currently they're used more for assigning delegates to the Congressional District conventions than for presidential voting, but it need not always be so.

It's the choice of the local party committee to hold a firehouse or an assembled caucus, which latter is the one publius appears to mean when he uses the term.

Until there are serious structural changes in the ways campaigns are financed, I'm opposed to making primaries the universal, exclusive method for choosing presidential candidates. They heavily favor the campaigns with the most money.

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