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The Caucus System: Anathema of Apathy -- By Matthew Carling

“The tyranny of a prince in an oligarchy is not so dangerous to the public welfare as the apathy of a citizen in a democracy.”  Some of the self-proclaimed political oligarchy is “reviewing” the Utah caucus system arguing that many voters feel disenfranchised when it comes to their choice of candidates on Election Day.  Political pundits claim that the current caucus system hijacks “democracy” every other March when Utahans elect neighborhood delegates to represent them at county and state nominating conventions.

However, apathy, that gentle springtime nonchalance of thousands of Utahans, seems to permeate the electorate.  This cyclic indifference rears its ugly head every other March during neighborhood precinct caucus meetings.  During these meetings, while most are watching their favorite reality shows, their neighbors are spending up to 2 hours selecting neighborhood representatives that promise to educate themselves about the issues and candidates and attend the County and State Conventions in April and May.  This “bottom up” republican form of government prevents the majority from selecting the fashionable candidate that begins fundraising for the next election on November 3rd.  The caucus system holds elected officials responsible all the way down to the neighborhood level without having to worry about the whims of an ignorant democratic majority.

Democracy has been defined as the “tyranny of the majority.”  This phrase was first coined by Alexis de Tocqueville in Democracy in America (1835).  Democracy or “the violence of the majority faction” is a system we should neither be promoting nor idealizing.  The caucus format is more time consuming than primaries and requires a higher level of participation from voters.  Nevertheless, this system of government has many virtues.

Delegates are generally more informed than the general voting population.  Authorizing delegates who spend a sizeable amount of time researching and meeting candidates protects society from mob rule.  No one argues that Senator Robert Bennett would have survived a primary election as the “fashionable candidate” with deep pockets.  However, Senator Bennett underestimated the power and hostility of informed delegates—delegates that held him accountable for TARP, bailouts, and callous statements that violate constitutional notions of freedom.  Only Summer Soldiers, not Utah delegates, will tolerate such chicanery.

Some argue that the Legislature should revise the system.  However, the Legislature may not amend or repeal the Caucus/Convention System.  In EU v. San Francisco City Democratic Central Committe, 489 U.S. 214 (1989), the United States Supreme Court held that a state cannot interfere with the internal operations of political parties.  Reform, if any, must come from the parties themselves.  Others argue that the caucus system is not perfect and must be modified.  No system of representative government will ever be perfect when its greatest component is human nature.  The caucus system is the only way to prevent, as blogger Connor Boyack noted, “propaganda, sound bytes, and well-funded individuals” from influencing the opinions of the masses.

While we bemoan the system, others are covertly putting in place the stones necessary to change our beloved caucus system.  Once in place, when the masses become again too apathetic and divert their attention to Celebrity Apprentice, the establishment just might revise the system right under our noses.  Lovers of freedom must become ever more vigilant in protecting our freedoms.  This coming March, may we all take the time to attend our neighborhood precinct caucuses and organize ourselves because “tyranny is always better organized than freedom.”

Reprinted from the Salt Lake Tribune, May 31, 2011.