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caucus ruckus
pay attention - this is about you
by tracey l. kelley (@TraceyLKelley)

For the second time in my life, I’m going to watch the sausage-making process.

The first time involved yards of washed intestine, freshly slaughtered pork, and there was a lot of splatter. The next time will be on January 3rd, when I participate in the Iowa Caucus.

I’ll be wearing safety goggles and rubber gloves then, too.

The word “caucus” stems from a North American Indian language, possibly Algonquian, referring to a gathering of tribal chiefs. So, members of the “white man’s” government stole their lands, the “white man’s” military infected them with smallpox, and only one Native American currently rules in our 109th Congress, but hey, mi caucus, su caucus!

Or something.

Iowa’s hosting of the first caucus in the presidential election year is vital to the trajectory of American politics, if only to sift through the flotsam and jetsam of presidential candidates. Next to New Hampshire, host of the first primary, few states have had town halls, backyards, auditoriums, country diners, airport lounges, and Lenora's Curl Up and Dye as crowded with the politirati as Iowa.

They’ve been seeding the state for months, flipping pancakes, swaying along to the tunes of Jackson Browne, pulling all-night transcendental meditation sessions in Fairfield, wearing a feed cap sideways while rapping about religion, and engaging in other oddball antics to please the discerning Iowan.

So, you’re welcome. We’re happy to pick at the scabs of the candidates to make the voting process easier for you.

I’m not an Iowa native, so it’s taken me a few years to gain an understanding of the caucuses and determine just how involved I want to be. As a clear-headed independent who radically eschews labels, I cringe with each election at having to vote with one of the two “ruling” parties if I want to feel I’m enacting my honorable democratic rights.

For the record, I've voted for Independent, Reform, Green, and Libertarian candidates, too. But, it’s a fool who rides the coattails of a sparkly-hat wearing, champagne-guzzling party-crasher into the inner sanctum of the buttoned-down, lock-jawed, high-monied general election.

However, protest votes still send a message. Remember Bush I, Clinton I...and Perot?

It’s easy to play armchair congressperson, twirling your iBinky earbud strings while dozing off to Terry Gross. It’s convenient to have Fox News pundits yell at you until you think you think like they do. So, I decided to participate in the process this year because I’m terrified, quite frankly, of other voters. Those that base their decisions on freaky conjecture, strange hypotheses, and plain stupidity.

It’s a giant game of tic-tac-toe, and while my circle may not take the game, I’ve blocked your X, and that, for now, might be enough. The following examples prove my point.

In high school, a girl in my jazz dance class told me there were 16 shades of black that people of color used as a guide to success. She said the classification was important because it’s carryover from slavery in the 1800s, when lighter-skinned black people were chosen for inside work.

So when some people of color protest that Barack Obama isn’t “black” enough, thus, they won’t vote for him, I wonder if they’re using some sort of color chart issued by a paint store that I’ve never seen that matches skin tone to professions.

Brown Sugar = Pop Star
Coppery-Brown = Teacher
Honey-Mustard = Scientist
Mole Chocolate with a Hint of Orange = President
Translucent White with Freckle Speckles = Talk Show Host
Licorice = Basketball Player

While waiting to enter a museum in a major metropolitan city, two 20-ish dudes stood behind me decked in designer shoes, crisp suits, and Burberry manbags.

“I think John McCain is too old to be president,” I overheard Dude A say. “I mean, it’s cool he was a prisoner of war ‘n all, but he’s my grandfather’s age.”

“All of them are too old,” Dude B replied. “I think it’s discriminatory that no one our age is ever nominated to run for president.”


We need Biff McMasters, president of the Alpha Man Omega chapter in Minot, North Dakota, with his Wii finger on the nuke button. Read this essay and tell me if it’s still a good idea. Work through the process, Sparky. Start by running for city council.

At a holiday party recently, I sat in a basement rec room with a handful of celebrants. The room was cozy, crammed with books, DVDs, dusty VHS tapes, games, and overstuffed furniture.

A woman in her mid-50s entered, nodding in approval as she sat down. “This was probably a great pot den once,” she said. So, naturally, the conversation turned to politics.

“I’m going to vote for Hillary,” Pot Den Woman said, “because she stood by her man. She and Bill have a '60s/Woodstock kind of love, and I respect that.”


You’re going to vote for the first viable female presidential candidate ever because Tammy Wynette, may she rest in peace, tells you to?

Hold still. Let me whap you against the forehead with a John Lennon “Imagine” collectible pendant until some reality seeps into your brain.

It’s really simple. We spend more time comparing prices online for mp3 player cozies than we do looking beyond the headlines, following the issues, and questioning candidates.

In the next year, seek out opportunities to hear the candidates speak off the dais and out of soundbite mode. And, blessed deity on a bicycle, avoid making a decision based on what you hear or read in any TV ad, brochure, or flyer stapled to a telephone pole.

If I haven’t been persuasive enough, remember: industrialized nation, world influence, political power, blah, blah, blah.

The American democratic process, while skewed and flawed and potentially one step away from the monarchy we ran away from, is still a relatively good model. Other people literally die fighting to establish something similar to it in their country. The very least we can do is nosh on some free pancakes flipped by Joe Biden or Ron Paul and hang around a while to see what they have to say.

No one’s asking you to eat the sausage, but you should at least know what goes in it.

Follow the ruckus:
* Another Iowa Caucus site
* Wiki-condensed version of the caucus and primary process
* Political reporter O. Kay Henderson's blog


Tracey likes to shake things up and then take the lid off. She also likes to keep the peace, especially in a safe, fuzzy place. Writer, editor, producer, yogini, ('cause yoger or yogor simply doesn't work) by day, rabid WordsWithFriends and DrawSomething! player by night. You can follow her on Twitter: @traceylkelley or @tkyogaforyou

more about tracey l. kelley


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juli mccarthy
12.28.07 @ 10:37a

Excellent timing on this one, not just because of what's going on here, but also in other countries. Benazir Bhutto was assassinated yesterday - I think we in the US don't really comprehend that kind of political unrest. Comparatively, our issues here are so small, yet most of us can't even be bothered to learn the names of the candidates, let alone their positions.

tracey kelley
12.28.07 @ 1:19p

It's truly frightening what's happened in Pakistan. This More magazine article on Bhutto is very interesting -almost as if she knew something bad was going to happen.

russ carr
12.28.07 @ 2:07p

Not to dwell overlong on another nation's politics when the subject's supposed to be our own, but part of me wonders if she didn't go back with every intention of being a sacrificial lamb. The problem with such a martyrdom is that there is so little organization among those who would see legitimate democracy restored that all her death has really done has whipped up an already tense situation into full-blown rioting (more than 30 dead, last I saw) and reinforced the Musharraf government's justification for reinstating martial law/state of emergency/whathaveyou as a means of "keeping the peace."


It makes the whining some US presidential candidates do when an opponent comes out with a nasty ad seem like the tantrum of a wronged toddler. Considering the far more vicious campaigns waged in the 1800s (see Grover Cleveland ("Ma, Ma, where's my pa?") vs. James G. Blaine ("continental liar from the state of Maine") back in 1884, for instance) today's contests really demonstrate how thin skinned and mewling today's candidates are.

tracey kelley
12.28.07 @ 2:19p

All political discussion is welcome on this column. Demonstrates greater interest, yes?

On the blog I link to at the end of my column (Kay Henderson's blog), she features, in an even tone, some of the stupid jabs that candidates take at one another.

Case in point: part of Chris Dodd's response to Bhutto's death:

"I've known her for a long time, so I'm not encountering these issues for the first time and I think as people get closer to Caucus date, these events and events like this are going to highlight the importance and understanding that good, soaring speeches are not the experience we need at this moment and frankly, even being the First Lady of the United States, it doesn't necessarily qualify for you for dealing with these issues as I have over the last quarter of a century on a daily basis."

Right. He coulda stopped this, if he just had the presidential staff to wave.

juli mccarthy
12.28.07 @ 2:39p

Well, it certainly highlights how useful it is to have a good spin doctor on staff, anyway. "How can I use this tragic event to further my own personal agenda?"

I am amazed constantly by how a government for, of and by the people is so foreign and intimidating TO the people. And I truly do not understand those who pay more attention to the reproductive foibles of a pair of trailer park sisters than to the people who are claiming to speak for us and making decisions for us. We are a nation that pays attention to the Spears sisters because we are supposedly so concerned about morals and ethics, and yet we let our lives be run by those who have none.

We are a nation of morons.

russ carr
12.28.07 @ 2:46p

He'd be doing better at positioning "soaring speeches" in a bad light if he could have stopped that sentence after the second or third clause. I love how it's all comes back to him, though. Dodd is a born politician.

In a related vein, I just read a story about the Clinton camp's indignance over the Obama camp suggesting that HRC's vote approving war w/Iraq helped to lubricate the slippery slope that led to Bhutto's assassination because it took our eyes off al Qaeda.


robert melos
12.28.07 @ 7:18p

One of the things I like about Hillary Clinton as a person isn't that she stood by her man, but chose not to leave him until she is ready and on her terms. She won me over on that subject shortly after the end of Bill's term in office when in an interview she was asked why she didn't leave him. Her reply was, she started a conversation with him years ago and wasn't ready for it to end just yet.

As far as running for president, I feel she'd be just as good, if not better, than some of the others. Personally I think Joe Biden is the best candidate running on either side of the political fence. Unfortunately it really comes down to a popularity contest, and Biden isn't as popular as Obama or Clinton, or Edwards or even Guiliani. Those are all names that get recognition. Romney and McCain also have good recognition, and Huckabee (out shooting pheasant like some mighty hunter to prove he's a regular guy) has really gained recognition. Personally none of the regular guys I know go hunting, so he's not winning me over by shooting a bird when you can go to local grocery store and buy an already dead chicken that has been cleaned for you. to me he's just showing a lack of respect for animal life.

And I think America is more interested in the Spears sisters because in spite of their money they tend to act like many of the regular people who worship them, while the politicians keep trying to give the image of being holier than thou in one way or another.

russ carr
12.28.07 @ 8:28p

Huckabee could at least aspire to Vice Presidential timber by shooting someone in the face.

robert melos
12.28.07 @ 10:29p

He actually made a joke about having not invited the VP on the hunting trip because he wanted to live.

Tracey, have you heard of or seen Caucus: The Musical. I caught a CNN story on it.


dan gonzalez
12.30.07 @ 4:05a

Oh bittersweet ambivalence! I have personally found such delving to be disillusioning to the point of cynical embitterment:

On one hand, Trace is absolutely right and we should delve beyond the partisan politics to ascertain what these 'candidates' actually stand for so we can all make an informed choice.

On the other hand, I'm not convinced that it matters whether we, the voters, attempt to make an informed choice or not, because the fact is, I don't believe any of us can really make an informed choice. For one, It is beyond most of our abilities to be informed. We are not economists. We are not military strategists. We are not philosophers.

Consider, there are currently 17,000 pages in the U.S. tax code. 17K!!! How much do most of us know about that? Let's take it down a notch, there were 1400 pages in the latest PORK BILL that Bush just signed. I can't name one candidate who even read that bill, much less a prospective voter.

We just don't know what the fuck is going on, we just think we do. Worse, for those of us that want to know what is going on, we are constantly mislead by our media. Consider this gem from the Center for Media and Public Affairs:


Now here's an open-book pop quiz on that report:

1) Which was the candidate that had the least positive coverage?

2) Which was the channel that provided the most balanced coverage of candidates from both parties, and what was the percentage difference in biased coverage?

dan gonzalez
12.30.07 @ 4:47a

I'll just give you the answers, since it was open book.

John McCain was the the candidate who suffered the least positive coverage according the math included in the report, which begs the question as to why they put Hillary's name in the title as being the most criticized.

Fox was the most balanced, and Fox was more favorable to Dems than they were to the Republicans they are always accused of catering to. Fox was 2% more favorable to Democrats than they were to Republicans. The other networks were 7% more favorable to Democrats than they were Republicans. Incredibly, 51% of Fox stories portrayed Democrats favorably, while the rest of the media portrayed them favorably 47% of the time. Fox portrayed Republican negatively 51% of the time, whereas the rest of the media shit-canned them a whopping 60% of the time.

tracey kelley
12.31.07 @ 7:10a

Dan, you bring up an incredibly good point: We just think we know what's going on.

"I don't believe any of us can really make an informed choice. For one, It is beyond most of our abilities to be informed. We are not economists. We are not military strategists. We are not philosophers. "

This is also a great point. So what, exactly, is a democratic government supposed to do for its public?

robert melos
12.31.07 @ 7:45a

"So what, exactly, is a democratic government supposed to do for its public?"

I think our government has lost its "for the people, by the people" spirit. We, the general public, at least some of us, look to the government like a parental figure expecting them to be there to help us in times of need, especially in the coming times of need, like in the case of the Katrina victims, and then we act surprised when the government fails to be there for us.

I don't say a democrat in office would've done a much better job of handling the crisis when it happened, but I think the aftermath has shown a real lack of concern by the current administration for anyone or anything that isn't directly connected to big corporate America. Rebuild Iraq because it'll cost the government more and the corporate fat cats get richer, but rebuilding America, fix our infrastructer so bridges don't collapse, those are things that would end up costing the corporations at some point. It's cheaper for a company to rebuild a foreign country, yet they can make a larger profit, so our current administration has all but abandon the American people in favor of a foreign people most of whom don't really want us there, because profit is thicker than blood-ties.

For me our government could try to take care of its own before lining the pockets of every corporate cronie. I'm asking too much. I don't expect better from any of the candidates, well, except for Biden, but as I've said he won't get the nomination. Hillary would be good for the country because it might wake up some of the ignorant masses to the fact a woman is capable of being a world leader. Sure they know other countries have had women leaders, but until it happens in their own country they will continue to see women as inferior. And it's not only ignorant men who feel this way. Many women still have that mentality that places them as second class.

There are so many things in this country that need fixing I don't think I could list all the other things the government could do to fix things.

tracey kelley
1.1.08 @ 11:32a

Reasons to read Kay Henderson's blog: this Chicago Trib feature on her. An excerpt:

"Reporters listen to the 'Voice of Iowa'By Christi Parsons | Tribune
DES MOINES - Her name is "O. Kay Henderson," but Radio Iowa's veteran political reporter isn't the go-along, get-along kind of person her name might suggest. Just ask any politician who has crossed her path. A gaffe in an interview with Henderson—like maybe referring to modern-day Russia as "the Soviet Union"—can land you right in the late-night monologues. And if she catches you making a joke that involves the phrase "72 virgins" and the name "Helen Thomas," well, let's just say you're going to be making a national apology.
What happens in Iowa doesn't stay in Iowa, especially if Henderson is nearby with her microphone and laptop. "Not everybody has the chance to talk with these candidates one on one," she says, "but I do. And I'm going to ferret out whatever information I can."
Every four years like clockwork, the Iowa press corps comes prominently into the national spotlight, as candidates try to clear the proving ground of the nation's first voting state. Part of the vetting process is standing up to the scrutiny of the state's veteran journalists, from The Des Moines Register political guy to the Associated Press statehouse bureau chief to a host of reporters working in the trenches even when the national circus isn't in town. Then there's Henderson, the news director at Radio Iowa, who after 20 years of covering the Iowa caucuses is a seasoned and constant presence on the campaign trail. In a state that spans hundreds of miles and several television media markets, the extensive Radio Iowa network is among the most widely consumed new sources. Candidates and their campaigns take pretty seriously the ubiquitous reporter with the black flip hairstyle and the rectangular glasses.
"She's the voice of Iowa," says Tommy Vietor, the local spokesman for Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama. "If you want to deliver a message and you're not talking to Kay, you're not doing it effectively."
Kevin Madden, spokesman for Republican Mitt Romney, says he was "star-struck" when he met Henderson this summer at the Ames Straw Poll. Along with other national political junkies who cyclically train their focus on Iowa, he'd been reading her blog religiously for months.
She comes by that understanding the grass-roots way. Henderson was born in 1964 on the day of the Lyndon Johnson landslide, to a father who had then spent the day counting ballots as an election judge and a mother who voted from her hospital room. The Hendersons let their three other children choose the baby's name, and siblings decided her name should be "Onette Kay," or, of course, "Okay." It was the first of many caucuses to come.


tracey kelley
1.3.08 @ 11:12p

Holy CATS, the caucus was SO COOL!

Well, boring as watching grass grow sometimes, but still cool.

More later!

tracey kelley
1.4.08 @ 12:35a

Okay, I'll reveal here that out of the 260 people of my Democratic precinct, I was one of the 83 that caucused for Obama.

Our group was the most diverse in age, culture, and profession.

Our group was celebratory, welcoming, and, unlike the Clinton group leader, did not cry over the headcount and demand a recount. Twice.

Even during the general proceedings, the Clinton supporters and staff (with the exception of two of my neighbors) were the most divisive and rude out of everyone. Quite telling how they yelled at other people and constantly badgered people to come to their preference group.

While the Democratic caucus process took longer than the Republican one, I think you get a little more out of it by standing side-by-side with your neighbors as a collective show of support.

However, I can not speak for the Iowans that voted for Fred Thompson. Maybe they're older, confused, and think he's Reagan.

juli mccarthy
1.4.08 @ 1:21a

Or they think he is the wise and kindly but acerbic District Attorney from Law & Order. I know I have to remind myself of that one every now and again. Although "old and confused" has not been ruled out in my case, either.

I am thrilled to see that Obama did so well. I make an effort to learn about the candidates and where they stand on issues, and try to at least have a grasp on their histories. But you have to listen to your gut sometimes too, and my gut tells me that Clinton is a divisive force. Even if she herself were the most diplomatic person ever - and hello, not even close - the people who ally themselves with her seem very calculating, petty, striving and opportunistic. I get a distinct sense of reasonableness from Obama.

robert melos
1.4.08 @ 4:49a

I see that 17 year-olds are allowed to vote in the caucus. Are they also allowed to vote in the actual elections? I wonder how this effects the outcome? Granted being able to vote at 18 is only a year difference, but I remember how I felt as a teenager and who I voted for and why back then. Perhaps teenage voting isn't the best thing for the long term of the country.

I know I wouldn't want to vote for someone I considered "too old", and still feel that way today and I'm 44. Of course back when I was 17 I considered Ronald Reagan older than death, and the senior Bush wasn't far behind that, in my teenage mind.

I think older people are voting for Thompson because of his tax talk. The elderly are very concerned with taxes, and whether or not they fully understand his stand anyone talking to people on a fixed income about seeing to it that they are taxed accordingly and not paying more. His popularity is surprising to me.

tracey kelley
1.4.08 @ 9:49a

17-year-olds are allowed to vote in the caucus as long as they will turn 18 before the general election.

Sheesh. We're all concerned about taxes. Small business owners, in particular, are concerned about taxes.

I put an Everybody thread out about this topic, too. Especially some Hillary stories.

I want a little more unity from my first woman president, thanks.

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