Guest Columnist

Caucus like you really mean it

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren speaks during a town hall at NewBo City Market in Cedar Rapids o
Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren speaks during a town hall at NewBo City Market in Cedar Rapids on Sunday, Jan. 26, 2020. (Andy Abeyta/The Gazette)

With just days to go before the caucus, I have some observations about the choices Iowans are making and how we’re making them.

So much hand-wringing about the unprecedented number of undecided caucusgoers! Is that really a bad thing? We have lots of great options: multiple candidates with the experience, vision, compassion and political skills to defeat President Donald Trump and lead a divided nation.

Oh, and the Democratic Party may not actually be facing an existential crisis, torn between its progressive and moderate wings. It’s a big tent and it takes a lot of poles to hold it up. Some people cluster around one pole or another and others roam around the open spaces. We hear of Buttigieg supporters whose second choice is Warren and Warren supporters whose second choice is Klobuchar.

The crisis, if there is one, is how we’re all in thrall to “electability” though it’s clearly a losing strategy. Remember in 2004 when your friends and neighbors caucused for John Kerry not because they were inspired by him but because he was the most “electable?” The whole point of the primary season is to find out who Americans really want to vote for for president. Don’t game the system. Caucus for the person you want in the White House. If everyone does this, we’ll see who the most popular choice actually is. Settle in the general; aspire in the primary.

And electability, in addition to being so much harder to predict than you think, also has an unfortunate tendency to translate to “white male.” No one thinks they themselves are sexist or racist but the electability argument assumes other people are. Presumably this is where Bernie Sanders was going when he told Elizabeth Warren that a woman couldn’t get elected president.

About that: How hard is it, really, to apologize and clarify? Why is this impossible for Sanders to do? The right response would be, “I didn’t mean a woman shouldn’t be president but I recognize how difficult it is right now for a woman to get elected. Of course you’re a strong candidate and I’m sorry my comment seemed to suggest otherwise. I can understand why my saying the American people won’t elect you president would feel hurtful and demeaning.”

The wrong response is telling America that Warren lied. Some of us — those of us who follow Supreme Court justice nominations, for example — are really tired of this. Which is more plausible, that Warren lied or that Sanders said it but was clueless about how his comment landed?

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Still, it’s been revealing. Sanders supporters promoting #neverwarren have laid it on the table: they’re not actually interested in progressive politics. They care about a charismatically oppositional leader, not the hard work of systemic change that often involves not getting everything you want.

Finally, is it really coincidental that the leaders of the field are all men despite the presence of two women with deep experience and long track records of accomplishments, neither of whom have ever lost an election?

I’m caucusing for Elizabeth Warren, the person who brought us the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, because I trust that with her expertise and practical savvy she can address the structural inequities in our economic and political system and actually deliver on the promise of affordable health care and child care, a clean environment, criminal justice reform and a restored American standing in the world.

You? Caucus for the person you want to vote for in November. You’ll feel better when you’re knocking doors next fall for whoever gets the nomination knowing you did what you could in February for your first choice.

Gina Hausknecht lives in Iowa City.

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