I didn’t vote yesterday. I wanted to. I went to the polling place with the intention of voting. It just proved impossible. The lines were too long, parking nonexistent, access inaccessible. For a Democratic primary, in Utah County, in Utah. In Provo.
I always vote. I can’t think of an election in my lifetime when I haven’t voted. School board bond issue votes, I’m there. Every municipal election, every county caucus. And in past years, I’ve attended the Democratic caucus meetings in Utah County. They were usually held in an upstairs room in the Utah County Library. Maybe a hundred people would attend. Usually, I would be elected a precinct captain, because I was the only person from my precinct to attend. I was a completely worthless precinct captain. I never had the faintest idea what I was supposed to do, and nobody ever contacted me, at all, ever. Back in the day, that was the Utah County Democratic party. Moribund. (Consulting a thesaurus) declining. At death’s door.
Last night, we were told the caucus began at 6:00, at Dixon Middle School. Driving there, my wife wondered what was going on; where all the traffic was heading. There was zero parking, not for blocks and blocks. We finally got close enough to Dixon to see the line, and it stretched forever. Even if I’d brought my wheelchair, it would have been impossible; the door people were going in was handicapped inaccessible. I am physically able to walk a block or so, stand for ten minutes or thereabouts. There was no way. I later heard that people waited in line for hours, that polling places ran out of ballots, that the party was completely unprepared.
It’s really quite astonishing, to see the way people are responding to this race. This morning, I went grocery shopping, and got to chatting with the check-out clerk; asked if he’d been able to vote. He said he’d tried, but he had a test in one of his classes this morning, and just didn’t think he could spare the hours in line. The bagger said she’d voted with her boyfriend: took three hours. The woman behind me chimed in: “you thought the Democratic caucus was nuts, you should have been there for the Republican one. I waited four hours!” A woman in another line weighed in: “We were visiting my sister, in Sandy. She was going to vote, and then we were going to a movie. Hah!” And then we all laughed. The whole thing was nuts.
Whenever I talk to anyone about this election, that one word keeps coming up: nuts. This election is nuts. Certainly, it’s unlike anything I’ve seen in my lifetime. Our choices last night were, from right to left: Ted Cruz, an ideological extremist who wears, as a badge of honor, the fact that he’s genuinely and widely loathed. Donald Trump, a reality TV star, who extols, in his rallies, violence towards protesters, and whose views are xenophobic to an extreme. Essentially, they represent the ghosts of conservative ideologies past: Cruz, the John Birch society, and Trump, the Know-Nothings. Moving leftwards, there’s Hillary Clinton, the velcro candidate. If Reagan was teflon (nothing stuck to him), every hint of scandal gets attached to her, like burrs. Finally, Bernie Sanders, a 74-year old democratic socialist. Oh, yes, there’s also John Kasich, who gets an unearned reputation for moderation by just sounding, very occasionally, like an actual human being.
Those are our choices. Nuts. That’s what the Republican field looks like, winnowed down from the seventeen varsity letterman of their very deep bench. Remember when the putative favorites were Scott Walker and Jeb(!) Bush? And when the Trump joke was how he’d hired actors for his announcement speech, so there’d be someone, cheering, in the room? How long ago that all seems.
Watching the folks queuing up to vote last night, I was astonished to see how many of them were young. Bernie supporters, I think; he did win last night, in Utah. That’s been the pattern so far in this election. Bernie sweeps up the young folks, while Hillary does well with minority voters. Utah has lots of the former, very few of the latter, so of course Bernie did well. And it’s really awesome.
Had it been possible for me to vote, I would have voted for Hillary. But if Bernie Sanders is the nominee, I will cheerfully campaign for him, send him donations, make phone calls, vote for him. What scares me about the Bernie phenomenon is not that his followers won’t vote for Secretary Clinton, if she’s the nominee. It’s that the enthusiasm and excitement Sanders generates seems, so far, to be Bernie-centric. There’s so much work that needs to be done. This shouldn’t be about a single candidate. I mean, sure, Presidential election years mean a lot of work, and a lot of passion and excitement and fear. And then the election’s over, and guess what? There’s even more work waiting afterwards.
Republicans have figured this out. Conservatives have. Right now, the headlines are about disarray and confusion on the right–Trump’s upset a lot of apple carts. But I take my hat off to the conservative movement. They’ve done a much better job than progressives have at organizing at the grass roots level. There’s a reason Republicans do so well in local elections, in races for state legislators and city council members and county commissioners. Conservatives know what they want to achieve, and are willing to wait, with infinite patience, to organize and persuade and inform and build coalitions. We, on the left, can’t come close to matching it. President Obama did build a tremendous infrastructure for winning national elections. Then come the off-years and we lose more ground.
Just one example, of many, is ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council. Last year, the US Congress passed 120 bills. State legislatures passed 29,000. ALEC writes templates for legislation, models for what a bill might look like, an immensely helpful shortcut for state congresspeople. They’re all conservative, of course. And of course progressives are fond of attacking ALEC, as nefarious and malign, as evil incarnate. As my son is fond of asking, though, is this: why isn’t there a progressive ALEC? ALEC’s not doing anything illegal, or unconstitutional. They’re just really effective.
So, if you’re a Bernie-phile, and you want to change society in positive ways, then get involved. Run for office. Work within the system. This isn’t, and shouldn’t be, about Bernie vs. Hillary. This is about creating a political system that actually helps poor people effectively.
I sucked as a precinct captain, and that’s on me. But to that long line of people waiting for hours outside Dixon Middle School last night, let me say this. I’m thrilled that you voted. I’m delighted that you’re engaged in the political process. Use that energy and commitment, help make the world a better place to live in. Do a better job than I did, than my generation did. Don’t stop with one vote, in one election. Keep going.