While I have long supported Utah’s caucus and convention system, I’ve made no secret about my concerns. As with freedom itself, our caucus and convention system requires enlightened people. When the people aren’t enlightened, the system breaks down.
We need to be careful in our analysis of the caucus and convention system. We need to be discerning. The biggest mistake we can make is to confuse the honest voice of the people for the politics of marginalization just because we don’t like the winners and losers. Many people think the 2010 Republican senate race, when 18-year incumbent Bob Bennett lost at convention, was stolen by “Tea Party” activists. In truth, Utah Republicans were simply and justifiably concerned about President Obama’s progressive agenda and felt Bob Bennett was the wrong guy to stand up to it. A statewide Republican primary, followed by a general election, propelled Mike Lee to the United States Senate – not just the Republican convention. Senator Lee’s election in 2010 was the honest voice of the people, not a coup d’etat by a small group of unrepresentative crazies.
This was the first mistake by the Count My Vote supporters – they mistook the honest voice of the people for a systemic failure inside the 2010 convention. Actually, that systemic failure occurred after the 2010 convention.
In 2011, the state Legislature passed the immigration law. By that spring’s state convention the crazies raised their ugly heads and began to have sway with the delegates – not that those voices weren’t heard in past conventions, they were. But immigration policy seemed to bring out the worst in them.
It was during those weeks and months that I sat down with a couple of the founders of the Count My Vote strategy. After being involved intimately with the construction of the new immigration policy, and watching how the voice of the people supported the new policy overwhelmingly, I wasn’t about to let it all fall apart just because of a few crazies who had a systemic hold on part of our political process at the state Republican convention. Of course, exercising power where they have it, the crazies used the convention process to oppose the new immigration policy. That’s the right of party delegates. Likewise, it was my right to challenge the crazies. If that challenge meant my support for Count My Vote, so be it.
However, as the challenge to the crazies began to take shape, I realized that the Count My Vote strategy over-shot the mark – it initially sought for ways to minimize the influence of the crazies (to make their voice at the convention more reflective of the voice of the people) but that strategy soon changed to try to nullify the influence of the caucus and convention system entirely. At that point, I was out.
In hindsight, given this most recent state Republican convention, the legislative compromise crafted two sessions ago through SB 54 seems altogether enlightened.
Utah’s caucus and convention system, at its best, should be an environment of studied, rational, prudent and principled debate. Four thousand partisans shouldn’t be able to decide Utah’s political fate for three million people. But four thousand partisans can, if disciplined, establish principles, a sound course of action and reasonable arguments to defend our freedom. For me, that is what’s special about political parties generally and our unique caucus and convention system specifically. But when Republican delegates lose that discipline and begin to resemble the zombie apocalypse they are no longer constructive or helpful to the broader citizenry in Utah politics.
If the central idea of the caucus and convention system is to select good people to promote sound public policy and civil debate – in other words, to select our better selves to set the tone for political discourse in Utah – the system has lost its savor when the crazies take over.
Freedom benefits from civic participation. For decades, Utah has chosen a path for enlightened participation – the caucus and convention system. But over the past decade the system has hardly produced enlightenment. We know that crazy is as crazy does and crazy often responds to a challenging issue exactly opposite to what will fix the problem. Republican crazies have chosen retrenchment, exclusion and purity tests. It only made everything worse. Hence, Count My Vote.
Perhaps in the angry era of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders, enlightened civic participation isn’t possible. I don’t see it getting any better. And so, in the face of this civic decline, I lean toward opening things up. For me, in this situation, civic participation is like free speech. The way to combat the crazies isn’t by doubling down on isolation and exclusion, it’s by broad inclusion. Yes, enlightened civic participation will suffer from the dilution of unenlightened masses. But when we haven’t achieved enlightenment inside the very system designed to promote it, perhaps the only way to reclaim it is to cleanse the inner vessel and try again.
So, as much as I don’t like the Count My Vote form of political chemotherapy, there are not a lot of alternatives to remove the cancer of the crazies.
Originally posted at KVNU For The People. Reposted with permission.