Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Last Night I Went to the Caucus......

I grew up in a household that was very conservative and Republican, very Lutheran, in the ultra-conservative Wisconsin and Missouri Synod version of being Lutheran to which Michele Bachmann used to belong kind of family, not people like those far more numerous liberal Lutherans portrayed on A Prairie Home Companion.  My parents were sufficiently politically active, mostly by donations, to hob nob with Republican governors and Congressmen and Senators occasionally, if not regularly.  They were more a recognized name, known, not influential the way really big money is influential.

But the one significant way in which the Republicans of my childhood and early adult experience significantly differed from our current conservatives was that those Republicans were more fact-based, more reality based, and most importantly, for those Republicans being called a moderate, BEING moderate, was not a dirty word.  Supporting organizations and agendas like those of the John Birch Society was considered extremist and even dangerous.  For someone to be an extremist was a very bad thing.

A few years ago, on behalf of an organization for adoption rights in Minnesota, I agreed to go to our local caucus.  The organization was sending people to ask for their support in the legislature to BOTH the Democratic and Republican caucuses.  I was supposed to go to the Democratic caucus while another neighbor was going to the Republican caucus with her husband.  But at the last minute, her husband couldn't go with her, so someone else went to the Democratic caucus, and we both went to the Republican one in our area.  I agreed to speak for our cause, because my friend was very shy about public speaking.

I am not shy about speaking up, not in public, and obviously for those of you who read what I write here, I'm not shy about expressing myself with the written word either.

To my surprise, because of a lack of volunteers for the job preventing the caucus business from moving forward, in that earlier Republican Caucus, I ended up as Caucus Secretary, despite the fact that I considered myself an Independent, not a Republican any longer. 

I did a good job, fulfilling my secretarial duties; I've done meeting minutes many times before for other organizations.  This was not an unfamiliar task, and it seemed to me that for taking up the time of the caucus with a piece of business that was not Republican specific, and to engage the good will of the other attendees, this was a useful, positive contribution.

During the week before the Caucuses, in a conversation with my co-blogger Pen, he mentioned that one of his colleagues had made the statement recently that he hadn't left the Republican Party, that rather the Republican Party had LEFT HIM.  I came to feel the same way, back in the 90's, the first time around for the Nut Gingrich in Congress and the so-called Moral Majority, who were neither particularly more moral than anyone else, or a majority.  I disliked then what I saw as a drift into more far right extremism, and particularly I objected to the injecting of religion, specifically Christianity, into what ought to be a secular government.  I became an independent, and as I have become increasingly dissatisfied with the reasoning and positions and policies -ESPECIALLY the disastrous economic and de-regulatory policies of the right, I have become increasingly a supporter of at least some more liberal positions in politics.  But my roots are still my roots.

As part of a very minor protestant denomination, I had been brought up to believe that any intrusion into religious matters by government, like the so-called faith based initiative, and like that engaged in by the religious right, could as easily end up in the tyranny of religious groups could easily work against smaller groups of churches.  A hypothetical example, which I now deeply regret plays into right wing Islamophobia, was that a religion like Islam, if it grew faster than Christianity - and it is growing faster, world wide - could then force THEIR religious preferences into law, into government, into our lives in ways which would make religious beliefs less autonomous.  Coming as I did from an extended family that had produced over the generations a lot of Lutheran ministers, and church founders and elders,  I was brought up to believe in a strong wall between church and state - a wall buttressed from the church side.

A commenter a few years ago on a conservative blog belonging to a friend of mine and my co-blogger accused me of being a traitor to my upbringing and to my conscience for no longer supporting or being active in the GOP or joining the Tea Party.  I consider the Tea Party to be just another fractious faction of ill-informed and authoritarian conservatives, not a legitimate group that will improve politics.  Too often they personify the worst of the conservatives, not moderates, and not sanity or fact-based views.

So, motivated by nostalgia, by a deep anger at the term 'moderate' having become a dirty word on the right, motivated by a desire to confront the factually inaccurate assertions made over and over by far too many Republicans, especially from those in elected government like my Congressman Chip (or Crash) Cravaack, and with the phrase "the Republican Party LEFT ME" firmly in mind, I decided to attend the local Republican Caucus rather than the Democratic Party or the Independence Party or the Green Party Caucus.

The chair thanked all the conservatives who turned out last night.  Apparently unless you are deeply and far right conservative, you aren't thanked or welcomed.

There were only a total of 23 people for my community, and most of the meeting it was closer to 19.  There were exactly two people in the room of that number younger than I am, and nearly everyone else was distinctly older than I am.  I was demographically in the middle.  It was a notably very white, and apparently from the comments entirely Christian, mostly protestant group of people.  But then that is to be expected somewhat given the part of exurbia / rural Minnesota where I live.  However, from my limited involvement in the 2010 election recount for the governor's race in the same area, I can vouch for the fact that the participants in the Democratic party spanned a greater range of ages, ethnicities and religious spectrum, and there were a lot more of them.  In the recount, that figure was approximately 4 Democratic volunteers to every Republican volunteer.

We began with letters from the candidates being read, a straw poll vote (non-binding), which had an interesting break down - 2 votes for Gingrich, 5 for Ron Paul, 2 for Romney, and 11 for Santorum.  I would not be surprised if this was similar across the state.  But I think holding such a straw poll is meaningless, and a waste of time for both parties.  In the previous event I attended where I volunteered as secretary, we also discussed the platform and individual planks, and voted on them, which we did not do at this caucus.

I had been hoping for a chance to discuss the party positions, and came armed with printout of fact checking I had done in preparation for challenging some of those positions and assumptions.

The ONLY opportunity I had to do anything other than a yay or nay vote came when the request for volunteers to be election judges came up on the agenda.  The person who was our caucus chair - who was presumably elected before I arrived, the room having been moved from where I had originally been directed - asserted at moderate length that it was very important to have Republican election judges at every polling place because elections had been STOLEN so often in the past by illegal and improper 'shenanigans'.  After a few minutes of this kind of factually inaccurate nonsense about our voting procedures, I raised my hand with a question.

I respectfully but firmly challenged the chair to provide the facts for his claim.

When pushed on the subject, he admitted there were none, that it was just his 'gut feeling'.

I objected, again firmly but quite pointedly, to his opinion being presented as if it were fact, rather than being identified as his opinion.  He still insisted that this was true, but that he had no facts to support it, so he would assert it with the addition of the words 'in his opinion' at the end.

I pointed out that no investigation had proven any such case, and there had been ample and expensive investigations, over and over.  I pointed out that Minnesota was widely held to be exemplary in how we held our elections, and that we had one of the acknowledged experts in the world, Chris Uggens, as chair of the University Department of Sociology who had made extensive studies of the subject.  And I concluded with my own experience as a volunteer in the Dayton Emmer recount where I personally witnessed the meticulous, fair and accurate conduct of that election result.

The chair then asserted that well, maybe the Dayton Emmer election was okay, but the Franken Coleman race wasn't.  I countered with the fact that after six months of investigation and challenge, there was effectively no significant problem with voter fraud, that the Franken Coleman race was evidence that there WASN'T that kind of voter fraud despite his suspicions.  I insisted that such claims be based on actual evidence, not vague gut feelings, and then I pointed out that just last week the REPUBLICAN Secretary of State for Indiana had been convicted of multiple counts of voter fraud, perjury, and theft; so that if the Republicans were going to be accusing their political opposition of voter fraud, the Republicans better have proof first that it wasn't the Republicans who were trying to steal elections.

On every topic that came up in passing for vote, or comment, it was very clear to me that the other people in the room were what I consider to be low-information voters.  They were not particularly aware of current events, and their only knowledge of issues appeared to be from highly ideological sources, not the fact checkers.  Not one of my fellow Republican caucus attendees appeared to recognize the importance of fact checking what they were told, and not one of them at any time challenged the content of the caucus or what they were told there.  No one else there came prepared with anything other than a pen or pencil.

There is no doubt in my mind that at least at the caucus where the primary activity was to elect delegates to the county convention and to participate in a straw poll,  moderates in the Republican party were NOT represented.  Moderate sadly, IS a dirty word among conservatives, and I believe that position will alienate their fellow or former Republicans like myself, like the others who I have heard express the sentiment that they were abandoned by their own party.  So long as the conservatives operate on belief rather than fact, on ideology rather than objective reality, so long as they perpetuate the myths that push the buttons of their voters without regard to what is true, then the Republicans will hurt themselves, and they will hurt the rest of us.

The message conveyed at the Republican caucus was that Governor Dayton was thwarting the Republicans, and that he was therefore somehow stealing what they had accomplished.  The message conveyed was that the right needed to take the Senate, and the White House.  I personally doubt that so long as they are living in the world of right wing crazy land, they will probably lose the house of Representative, lose their state majority, and NOT take either the White House or the Senate.  And that is as it should be, so long as they are fact averse, and promulgate policies which have been demonstrated over and over to result in national crises.  Without moderates, without people who challenge them from within on the facts, what is left are a bunch of very nice, mostly old, fearful, religious white reactionaries who believe what they are told by the likes of Rush Limbaugh and who want to return to life in a fantasy world circa 1950 that never existed.

I could easily have been elected a delegate, or been an alternate.  The caucus barely could produce the six delegates they were allotted, and only two alternates, instead of the required six.  I did not feel that in good conscience I could represent the views of the people in that room, or that they would have been pleased to have a delegate armed with photocopies of fact checking who challenged their policies and positions and most of all, their assumptions and world view.

I AM going to volunteer to be an election judge.  Not for the democrats, but as an independent.

There are few enough of us who are critical fact checkers; I think that would be the designation, since one is preferred if not required, that would best fit my mind set and totality of political experience.  But the next time there is a Caucus night........I might go back to the Republican caucus, armed again with my printout of many pages of fact checks.  It might help, and I don't think it can hurt, and maybe next time I won't be the only one.


  1. I'm glad they didn't chew you up and spit you out.

    It is no surprise to me that the people arre LIVs--I think that is a necessity for this mindset.

    One needs to ignore actual US history and the Constitution to believe the reaction political mindset which has taken over in the US.

  2. How much of a freak show has the 2012 presidential nomination process become? A sizable plurality of Republicans in three states--Colorado, Minnesota, and Missouri--have just voted for Rick Santorum. This is the same guy who as a U.S. senator saw fit to bring up the idea of bestiality, and in particular what he called "man-on-dog" activity, in an interview with the Associated Press. (He freaked-out the interviewer.) I'm fairly certain that he's the only U.S. senator in living memory to have done this in a major press interview. I remember when this happened, at which time I thought, "This guy will never again be considered for, let alone elected to, anything, including dog-catcher." I remember the days when both major parties at least seemed somewhat normal. That belongs to nostalgia now.

  3. Hass, always good to hear from you. You more than most of us, except for Laci, have the perspective of comparing US and UK elections for efficiency, and straight up sanity. There is so far as I know, no comparable primary seasons, and no PACs and SuperPACs in the UK, and the election cycle is enormously shorter than it is here.

    The hardcore hard right were out last night, but it is worth noting that they were out in numbers lower than 2008 and 2010. Numbers SIGNIFICANTLY lower. While Santorum - and he so richly deserves his google namesake term -may very well have garnered a majority vote, but there was still significant opposition. He has huge disapproval ratings, and not a glacier's chance in hell (or with climate change) of winning a general election. He will almost certainly lose the nomination to bigger money and the establishment death grip of the ever-authoritarian establishment right wing conervatives.

    The tea party may be a right wing spoiler group now, but they are pretty much down to the dregs of that cup for any significant power.

    And while there is serious antagonism to Romney over his religion, there is equally still an anti-Roman Catholic faction among conservatives.

  4. Doggone, yes, I agree with you on those points. Still, we've got ourselves a freak show right now. The saving grace is that it is at present one with less-than-stellar attendance across the nation.

  5. Good grief. Dog Gone chooses the moment when the GOP seems bound to nominate a Mormon or Catholic for the office of the presidency to denounce them as religious bigots.
    You need an editor. Badly.

  6. Terry, apparently you didn't attend YOUR Republican caucus - when does Hawaii have theirs, btw? Or if you did, that caucus was significantly different not only from the one I attended in MN, but the other Republican primaries and caucuses reported on around the country.

    In Iowa, Michele Bachmann had a significant number of conservatives among the religious right who objected to a woman - ANY woman - in a position of authority over men. It was part of why some of her campaign defected, it was why she was told to quit running.

    I never said that ALL Republicans were religious bigots, but the very few votes that both the Nut Gingrich and Romney received is evidence that there was significant religious opposition to their religious views. It is in significant part only because of the endorsement of Santorum by the fundie wing nuts that met in Texas that Santorum did as well as he did in the Minnesota Straw Poll - which is what that vote effectively was. It is also why Ron Paul came in second in MN - because he is a baptist, not a catholic.

    Religion is playing a really strange, sad role in the GOP nominee race this year.

    The ONLY reason that the conservatives will even consider nominating someone whose christianity they question - Romney - or a roman catholic is that they only have weak candidates from which to choose.

    A case in point. The wife of the chair of our particular meeting came to the caucus late, dressed in traditional nun's clothing.

    She and the chair hastened to point out she wasn't a real nun, that she was in a play, in the role of Mother Superior, for the Sound of Music, and didn't have time to change.

    I was left with the same impression I had at the governor's race recount - these are lovely, dear, kind people, who have some very factually inaccurate ideas and who are driven by emotion and ideology in a bad way.

    Moderate as a descriptive term for republican should not be a bad word.

    But it is. And that simply means fewer republicans are welcome, the doors to the tent are closed to all but a relative few who are more extreme ideologues.

    That is nothing of which to be proud.

  7. Terry,

    REAlLY? That's what you take from this?

    The point of the post was entirely something else, but I guess if you want to miss the point and focus on what you've cherry-picked, ok, let's go there.

    First, DG pointed out that Rebublicans WERE, in her prior experience, intolerant. Is her experience false?

    Second, she points out that Republicans ARE intolerant of Islam, is that false in your eyes? I've had discussions with folks like you who have said things as basely incohate as that Muslims "like" terrorism - that they are a culture of violence. Were such utterances not said?

    But the point is Terry, even while some, but not a majority, of the Republicans seem to now be ready to nominate a Mormon, the question you should ask is why? Is it because he's a Mormon? Is it because he has the money and backing to fund a campaign? Is it because the goofey nature of the Mormon faith, including absolute intolerance of abortion rights, and subordination of women's rights, now jibes with what the Republican party has become?

    Furthermore, please remember that MANY Republicans don't like and won't vote for Romney quite simply BECAUSE he's a Mormon. Would a Mormon receive the same bigotted response in the Democratic Party? I think not. He/she might very well not be popular if he/she believed in things like baptism after death, but otherwise, their faith would be irrelevant. That's what true tolerance looks like. It was the Democrats NOT the Republicans who first elected a Catholic President, who elected a Black President, who elected a Muslim to Congress. Your claims of burgeoning tolerance come on more as "johnny come lately" than some sort of awakening and reflection of progressivism.

    Lastly, the deepest and greatest irony is simply this, John Kennedy was piloried by the likes of the John Birchers and Barry Goldwater to affirm he wouldn't "take his orders from the Vatican." A quite bigotted and intolerant stance, YET, now the same conservative movement wraps itself in the Catholic cloth and pushes an agenda driven by that VERY SAME VATICAN, and it does so because being anti-abortion energizes those who would otherwise sit on the sideline - it "gets out the base."

    Consequently, much like embracing Mormonism, the recent "dawning" of tolerance in your party of choice seems like nothing more and nothing less than a marraige of convenience and FAR from representing some sort of religious Detente. Such a suggestion is laughable. Let me know when you elect an aetheist.

  8. Terry, apparently you didn't attend YOUR Republican caucus - when does Hawaii have theirs, btw? Or if you did, that caucus was significantly different not only from the one I attended in MN, but the other Republican primaries and caucuses reported on around the country.

    Dog Gone, I didn't attend a Republican caucus because I am not a Republican.
    The last Republican elected mayor on my Island was Harry Kim. I think he was a Budhist.
    The last GOP governor Hawaii had was a Jewish woman named Linda Lingle.
    You need to work on your bigotry.

  9. I don't think I'm demonstrating any bigotry here, certainly not the religious right's bigotry towards candidates.

    But if you have something more to add, please do.

    I'm trying to remember if it was your comments about leaving the GOP or KR's that inspired my attending this year's caucus.... I'm fairly sure it was one of the two of you.

  10. I've never been a member of the GOP, Dog Gone.
    As noted, the "religious right" is in the process of selecting a candidate that will be either a Catholic or a Mormon. In 2008 they selected John McCain, a man of no well known religious feeling. In 2000 & 2004 they went for Bush, a practicing Methodist (same denomination as Hillary Clinton). In '96 the GOP nominated Dole (unknown denomination). In '88 and '92 the GOP nominated Poppy Bush (Methodist). I'm not even sure what denomination Reagan belonged to. I've heard he wasn't much for church-going.
    Carter & Clinton were Southern Baptists. Obama attended a racially segregated UCC church that explicitly tied religious belief to political action.
    G.W. Bush never mentioned Christ or Christianity in his National Prayer Breakfast speeches. He talked in general, ecumenical terms about God and the Creator. In Obama's last National Prayer Breakfast speech he quoted New Testament scripture and linked it to specific policies he favored.
    What is a bigot? A bigot is someone who characterizes a person or persons based on opinion and prejudice. A bigot, for example, would characterize the Catholic Church based on the actions of a few pedophile priests, but would not characterize public schools based on the action of a few pedophile teachers.

  11. So, Terry, you're admitting that you don't know anything whatsoever about the accuracy of my observations since you've never been to a GOP caucus?

    I've been to more than one.

    It is not only my observation that there is significant resistance to both roman catholics and to mormons on the right, btw.

    It has been a fairly objective and independent observation by others, which I believe takes it out of the realm of personal bigotry.

    So long as there are protestant denominations, which include the teachings of the Wisconsin and Missouri Synod Lutheran churches, with which I know you to be familiar, that espouse the pope to be antichrist, we have bias and prejudice by the right to the extent they conform to their religion -- and the more extreme religious right does TEND to conform more than moderates.

    Now I can go down a long list of why the religious right has demonstrated bigotry towards other religions, but the rampant Islamophobia, for example, displayed by the right is a perfect example.

    The only reason the religious right supported any of the candidates at all that you mentioned - to the extent that they did - was an expectation of accomodation. They clearly believed that even if they were less than thrilled with those candidates, they were better than the alternatives to give them their way in pushing religion into government, forcing their religious bellefs on others.

    Given the cotnext of the low turn out, and the high disapproval ratings combined with the low approval ratings, there isn't all THAT much support for any mormon or any roman catholic candidate, or any female candidate either.

  12. Terry, not everyon who attends the caucus is a member of the GOP in the sense of any formal kind of membership.

    It was particularly interesting to note that the caucus avoided the reference TO republicans, and consistently used the word conservative instead - as in thank all you conservatives for coming, we need conservatives to donate, we need conservatives to volunteer.

    It appeared to be because of their conscious effort to embrace tea partiers who did NOT want to be called Republicans.

    But there is more to who is nominated than genuine support or even real religious tolerance on the right for the people you named.

    No one at the caucus seemed pleased with the slate, no one seemed to disagree that it was a weak group from which to choose.

    Anyone on the right who truly believes the current candidate surging, Santorum, could win more than the states won by Goldwater is kidding themselves.

    Anti-contraception is not a winning position. His other positions are not winning ones either for a general election.

    The right has been hijacked by extremists. There is no validity to moderate being a dirty word, or secular being applied to government. They're being hijacked by the antiabortionists as well - and you can see how well that plays in a less isolated and extremist group by the Komen foundation keffufle. Anti-gay isn't playing the way it used to as a turn-out-the-base wedge issue either.

    The right has gone so far right, they're no longer just beyond the horizon, they're falling off a cliff. The Tea Party appears to have largely gone cold, while the 99% have larger numbers, apparently, than the Tea Party ever had.

    The right is continuing to alienate those potential voters by refusing to accede to the desire by a clear and large majority to make taxation more fair by raising them on the richest 1-2%. Wealth and income inequality is going to be a far more central and significant issue than gays or guns or god in this election.

    I went to the caucus in part because the current crop of candidates is proposing the same militant neo-con position that got us in the current deficit problem - going to war without paying for it through taxation. They are tied hand and foot by their biases, which are not well-supported by the larger electorate.

    And the base has some real problems with the current bunch of candidates on the basis of religion, regardless of who they nominate. If you don't believe that I suggest you look closer.

    The candidates who are running are the candidates who have some big money behind them, not grass root populist movements or widespread popular support.

    While the Nut Gingrich was correct when he noted that a majority of those on the right don't like Romney, they clearly like the Nut even less. I'd be surprised if Santorum could win PA without dumping buckets full of money he doesn't have.

    More people don't like these candidates, whatever superficial measure you use - and what you noted was a superficial indicator.

    The very small turnout was the bigger indicator than who has been nominated. The lack of enthusiasm was the other.

    Add to that the hypocrisy of the MN GOP having been fiscally irresponsible, having spent money they don't have, and having stiffed counties......they'er going to have a very uphill battle to gain support from those parts of MN, or from MN outstate generally.

    So you can repeat the list of candidates in the past all you want.

    It doesn't change my point, Terry, or invalidate it. You weren't there. I was. You've never been at any of these caucuses in the past, for a comparison. I have.

  13. Terry,

    Help me out here, what bigottry exactly are you claiming Doggone is evincing?

    Is it that she's bigotted because she pointing out the religious bigotry of the Republican Party? If that's your assertion, you need to look up the word bigotry, it means to have a bias against a race, culture, or religion (that's off the top of my head). Disliking or being mistrustful of a group of people based on their political stance and affiliation is hardly bigotry, it's called reacting to experience. Further, DG didn't, as would be reqiured for a true bigotry, say ALL Republicans are a certain way. She said, in her experience, many of those she's run into are.

    So, since you're not stupid, we'll assume you didn't mean that - because it's not bigotry to feel, based on experience, that a group of people have reflected a pattern of intolerance. I'll assume you know the meaning of the word.

    Let's go further. Are you saying DG is herself bigotted based on religion, if so, that's laughable on it's face. She has never, and I've talked to her a great deal, never, not once, uttered even the merest hint of comment which would convey that as true. Entirely the contrary in fact, she's exceptionally eductated about the world's various religions and has shown great interest and appreciation for the differences and values. Quite different from the wontonly bigotted comments I hear from the likes of say, Newt Gingrich.

    Now, let's deal with some reality here.

    First, in the 1970's, more than 80% of Jews in the US identified as Democrats. Why was that Terry, why do you think in a nation where Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson routinely THEN and NOW (for Robertson) call Jews "Christ Killers", why would they be mistrustful of the religious orthodoxy that IS the US Evangelical movement, the same movement that switched from Southern Democratic affiliation to Republican, and the same movement which now essentially dominates the nominating process, at least in the south?

    Why would blacks identify as 90% plus Democratic today, personally, I can't imagine it when the NATIONAL front runner for the Republican nomination at the time (Gingrich) refers to Barack Obama as the "food stamp President" a basely race-baiting commment intended as red-meat for the bigotted wing of the Republican Party.

    How about when the Kentucky GOP state treasurer (if memory serves) circulated a picture of all the presidents (or a cartoon image of each), with Obama as a pair of white eyes on a black field.

    Why would Keith Ellison, the first Muslim member of the US Congress, why on EARTH would he feel the Republicans weren't a good home for him, I mean, when they INSISTED he be sworn in using a BIBLE - I mean, of course ALL of that speaks tolerance, certainly NOT bigotry, and obviously DG's observations are clearly off base.

    Holy crap man - do you understand you live in the most liberal state in the country and THAT's why you have elected budhists and Jews from your party? Please tell me which state in the south elected a Budhist or Jew? Lyndon Johnson wasn't wrong when he said the Democrats lost the south because they backed the voting rights act, he was only wrong about how long - it's been far longer than a generation - and doubtless will continue.