Cynic Duty: Thoughts on the Washington State Caucus

With Washington under heavy campaigning pressure after an indecisive Super Tuesday, conscientious objector Caitlin Boersma gets wrapped up in the presidential race and finds that, in spite of all the enthusiasm, it still comes down to slogans rather than issues.

This is the second presidential election that has at all interested me, and the first in which I’ve been old enough to vote. I’ve never been comfortable with the idea of being enamored with one particular candidate, or even with a specific party for fear of being manipulated, but if I haven’t caught election fever, I’ve at least come down with a cold.

On the Friday before the state caucus, Democratic candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton made an appearance at the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma for a political rally. My housemates and I woke up early and skipped morning classes to wait in line for our chance to see her. Barack Obama was also making an appearance at the Key Arena in Seattle that day. Many hardcore fans skipped the Clinton talk in order to see their preferred candidate.

Being able to see a political celebrity up close momentarily broke my cynical shell, and I gushed with enthusiasm for civic engagement.

The civic engagement of others, that is. On the following Saturday, I attended the local Democratic caucus, but didn’t participate. I refrained from voting because 1) I’m registered in California, 2) I’m registered Independent, and 3) I don’t believe in democracy.

I had a great time floating among the participants at my friend’s precinct and hearing pitches for Clinton and Obama. The Obama devotees were more fervent and far exceeded the Clinton supporters in number. This was either because young adults made up the majority of the Obama crowd while the Clinton group leaned toward the geriatric, or the fact that the Obama side had much better slogans. “A Change We Can Believe In” is getting rather tiresome, but “Barack My World” is golden.

One of my favorite quotes from the day came from a friend as we drove up to our caucus site. We were about ten minutes early, but we had to drive quite a ways from the middle school because of the amount of people and traffic. “I guess this neighborhood cares,” she said as we passed a long line that snaked around the school gym.

This is the point I find fascinating about this caucus and about voting in general: A large number of people were willing to pack themselves into a school gym and spend an entire Saturday afternoon because they felt it was important to either support their candidate or the democratic process.

Upon seeing so many people participating in the caucus, I did feel a little guilty about not voting. The fellow in charge of the proceedings for the precinct I was standing in also asked me if I had signed in about eight times. I lied and said I had even though I wasn’t even with the precinct in which I live. That made me feel crummy, but I also got a kick out of being a true outsider looking in on the process. I was refusing to sign in, vote for a candidate, or even stand with the people whom I actually live near.

Even though I was impressed with the turnout at the caucus, my uneasiness about direct democracy was also reinforced. Not wanting to hang out with the Undecideds for fear of being exposed as a faux-participant, as well as being quite capable of remaining indecisive on my own, I lingered with the Clintonites. When it came time to compose a one-minute speech, the small group was at a loss. It turned out that this group of about twenty people actually knew nothing concrete about their chosen candidate. They were firm on voting for Clinton, but beyond their apparent passion, they were clueless.

Individuals began to merely name issues. “Universal health care.” “Education.” “The environment – she said she would clean up the Puget Sound.”

At one point an eighteen-year-old, who looked about twelve, stood up with his iPhone and began reading from the Clinton website. The elder citizens in the group were so charmed by the impish teen and his magical gadget that they were ready to nominate him as our speaker.

The group didn’t really get excited, though, until someone said, “Experience in Washington!” The Hillary enthusiasts took to that like an addict to a needle. Apparently, it didn’t matter what Clinton would do in the nation’s capital, only that she’d been there before.

This lack of knowledge and tendency to gravitate towards stupid campaign slogans makes me favor an elitist government all the more. If the entire system is corrupt anyway, we may as well admit it. Instead of spending our Saturday afternoons grappling for superficial reasons for which our preferred candidate should be nominated, we should leave the decision to people who are being paid to be in office.

Conversely, the Obama group confirmed the notion of “knowledge of the masses.” Their group was larger and more diverse than the Clinton assembly, and produced a well-informed speech from a compelling speaker. In the end, Obama won my friend’s precinct and the State of Washington handily.

For the most part I believe I have a literal inability to feel passionate about any political candidate. According to my definition, passion means you love almost everything about your politician or political party and will stand behind that principle no matter what. I don’t understand this kind of devotion. I only allow myself to be swept up by things that don’t matter like Battlestar Galactica and the Magnetic Fields.

I’m still uncertain whether I’ll vote in the general election or not. On the one hand, I really want an “I Voted” sticker, but on the other, I’m aware that my vote won’t make any difference. I’d like to make it clear that I admire people who are so civically active, but I’m secretly glad that the electoral college trumps the popular vote.

Caitlin Boersma is studying political science and English, but spends most of her time analyzing pop culture. Her premise for a new reality TV show, Killing Andy Milonakis, has yet to be picked up by VH1. She is notorious for spending a week’s wages on a ticket to see Morrissey live.