Perspectives: Bamboozling us out of the caucus system

OPINION – Utah voters aren’t stupid. But many of them would be shocked to understand just how easily they are manipulated by political advertising. This fact is not lost on those who lust the most for political power.

The growing battle over whether or not to discard the caucus system in favor of a direct primary is a question that will likely be placed before the voters. But the motives of the power brokers behind the Count My Vote initiative are not based in empowering the people. They are about consolidating and maintaining political power by swaying the masses through emotion.

The vulnerability of the masses to the slickest political marketing is not a recent phenomenon. It’s the product of many generations of voters being progressively schooled in a manner that downplays the indispensable importance of learning how to think critically.

It’s also a danger that was addressed more than 60 years ago by then president of the University of Chicago Robert M. Hutchins. In his preface to the Great Conversation volume of the Great Books of Western Civilization, Hutchins wrote:

“A prevalent notion is that the great mass of the people cannot understand and cannot form an independent judgment upon any matter; they cannot be educated, in  the sense of developing their intellectual powers, but they  can be bamboozled.”

“The reiteration of slogans, the distortion of the news, the great storm of propaganda that beats upon the citizen twenty-four hours a day all his life long mean either that democracy must fall a prey to the loudest and most persistent propagandists or that the people must save themselves by strengthening their minds so that they can appraise the issues for themselves.”

The special interest backers of the Count My Vote initiative have very deep pockets and that buys them access to the very best propagandists available.

They understand that the masses are much easier to bamboozle than the delegates who are selected through the caucus system. Holding political leaders accountable is not something the masses are known for doing. But the delegates selected at neighborhood caucuses are specifically charged with vetting those leaders and potential candidates before placing them on the ballot.

It’s a system that has proven to work. The biggest requirement on the part of the average citizen is to show up for the caucuses every two years and be willing to participate.

Low voter turnout is not evidence of a faulty caucus system; it is an indictment of the lack of civic commitment on the part of voters. Too many voters mistakenly believe that simply showing up and voting on Election Day is the highest use of their individual franchise. But if they are poorly informed, they are susceptible to the marketing machinations of the most highly paid political hit men.

Iron County Commissioner David Miller rightly points out that the key question in this matter is, “How is public perception swayed?”

“It is by the media and it takes extreme amounts of money to run a campaign for state and federal office through the media,” Miller said. “Under the caucus/convention system currently in place the candidates have to answer to delegates who are ‘the interview panel’ in the initial round at a convention where the delegates will not tolerate unaccountability.”

The power elite recognize that having well-informed citizens, chosen as delegates by neighbors who trust them, places real accountability on every elected leader. If a particular leader is failing to adequately represent the people, other more capable candidates can be selected by the delegates and placed on the ballot.

Few people have worked as hard to show the value of the caucus system as Iron County GOP chairman Blake Cozzens. He has produced an excellent video that explains the virtues of the caucus system over the direct primary being pushed by well-heeled political cronies.

Cozzens states, “The caucus system is being threatened by power brokers and millions of dollars, only grassroots can save it, many in Utah could care less about politics but yet still desire good governance, this is exactly what the caucus system delivers them.”

It’s essential that each of us become well informed on this issue and rejects the calls of those who insist that our caucus system is broken.

The voice of the people being heard on Election Day is not in question; it’s the matter of whether or not we’re being misinformed by the power brokers.

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Bryan Hyde is a news commentator and co-host of the Perspectives talk show on Fox News 1450 AM 93.1 FM. The opinions stated in this article are his and not representative of St. George News.

Email: bryanh@stgnews.com

Twitter: @youcancallmebry

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2013, all rights reserved.

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14 Comments

  • Deke September 23, 2013 at 2:31 pm

    I STRONGLY DISAGREE. our votes are sacred. too many have fought and died for the right to vote. why keep surrendering that power to a select few caucus delegates. if caucuses weren’t so afraid of the people, they would put the question of their continued existence to a statewide vote.

  • Travis September 23, 2013 at 2:39 pm

    Very nice piece. Well thought out, and well researched. I totally agree that the Caucus system is better than the Primary system.

  • Amelia Powers September 23, 2013 at 2:48 pm

    This is one of the best articles I have seen written on this subject. When I moved to Utah in the fall of 2011 I was not politically active. In March of 2012 I was shocked to find out that everyday citizens CAN make a difference in Utah politics. We, every one of us, can have a voice. All we have to do is show up at a neighborhood meeting, pick one of our neighbors, and the little people have a voice.
    I also find it ironic that former governors are calling my neighbors “GOP Elites” because they want to keep the neighborhood elections. Funny how rich, powerful men are so afraid of house moms.

    • Kevin September 23, 2013 at 7:41 pm

      This is nothing more then complete and utter GOP propaganda bunk! The complete idea is to get more and more people just to give up their power to a few delegates who answer to know one! Rich cronies is exactly what the GOP in Utah is made up of! Bamboozling is exactly what the GOP is doing in this state…too many intoxicated kool-aid drinkers! Everyone should vote in primaries and general elections and every vote should count. Not sure why the GOP is scared as if they don’t like results they will just redistrict to give them the edge, fact!

      • Brian September 24, 2013 at 7:34 am

        Kevin, you couldn’t me more wrong about caucuses and delegates. My delegates are from my area. I know them. They listen to me. They DO answer to me. I know their stance on the issues very clearly. They spend hours and hours researching issues, meeting with candidates, receiving calls FROM candidates. They are easily 100x more involved and informed than the average primary voter.

        You say everyone should vote and every vote should count. You’re right, and this includes on caucus night, and at precinct meetings leading up to the caucuses. The great thing about caucuses is that it winnows down the field from dozens of candidates to several in a primary (or if it isn’t a close race just one in a general election).

        Without caucuses the candidates can completely ignore small town Utah and focus only on the bigger markets with outside money. With the caucuses they have to get out and talk to the people, forcing them to stay in touch with the average Utahn. I’ve met many candidates face-to-face because of the caucus system. You can learn more about a candidate in 20 minutes face-to-face than you can by watching their commercials a thousand times.

        To paraphrase (and correct) you: Everyone should vote in their caucuses, primaries and general elections and every vote does count.

        If you ignore the caucuses and choose to sideline yourself, that is no ones fault but your own. Informed, involved citizens attend caucus meetings. You should focus on being one of them.

        • Kevin September 24, 2013 at 12:06 pm

          Caucuses are a farce when they exclude voters who aren’t a member of either major party! The delegates don’t answer to anyone! So how does a delegate answer to everyone if everyone wants a different candidate? The caucuses gave us Lee and that was by far the worst choice! Once again this is just GOP propaganda. Remember the GOP just redistricts if they want to oust a Democrat or at least try to.

  • philiplo September 23, 2013 at 10:14 pm

    The quotes and video you have chosen to defend your position on the issue seem to be at odds with each other. In the Hutchins quote, we are told,
    .
    “The reiteration of slogans, the distortion of the news, the great storm of propaganda that beats upon the citizen twenty-four hours a day all his life long mean either that democracy must fall a prey to the loudest and most persistent propagandists or that the people must save themselves by strengthening their minds so that they can appraise the issues for themselves.”
    .
    So from this, we see that you promote the ideal that each and every citizen should study and strengthen their own minds so they can think for themselves. This makes sense in the context of Hutchins’ writing, as his essay was a treatise on the importance of a strong liberal education, via study of the liberal arts. Each citizen, he believed, should be able to think and to analyze in any situation, rather than simply memorizing facts.
    .
    .
    Moving to the Cozzens video, we are told that, having elected a trusted neighborhood delegate (John), the caucus system “allows (us) to get on with (our) life, while John worries about the politics.” Setting aside the fact that I don’t trust many of my neighbors as far as I can throw them, you’ve just told us that we don’t need to worry our pretty little heads about this, as John now has it under control. So which is it? Should we follow Hutchins and become informed, analytical citizens? Or follow John?
    .
    .
    That second scenario (current caucus system) doesn’t seem to promote being an involved citizen. In fact, once John takes over, my vote doesn’t count for horse doots. John now wields the power and, beyond the caucus, no matter how much research or politicking I do, my voice is not heard.
    .
    .
    Screw John. Give me my vote.

    • Bryan Hyde Bryan Hyde September 24, 2013 at 7:06 am

      The people who bother to show up for their precinct caucuses are active, informed citizens who are properly using representative government in selecting delegates. They are willing to discuss and work with their neighbors to more fully participate in the election process. Those who follow the path of least resistance are the ones who simply show up to vote and leave everything else to others. This is the group most easily influenced by the propagandists.

      • philiplo September 24, 2013 at 8:49 am

        In my experience, the people who bother to show up for their precinct caucuses are primarily single-issue zealots who gather enough like-minded associates to overwhelm any attempts at discourse that don’t follow their script. What they are willing to do is shout down/talk over/intimidate any who disagree with their position and, having gathered enough allies (in a neighborhood caucus this can be as few as five or six people), they run roughshod over those who would offer dissenting opinions.
        .
        .
        This is exactly how we got stuck with Sen. Lee, when over 60% of voters in the state preferred his predecessor. If Sen. Lee is what we get when the INFORMED citizens do the choosing, I’d be quite happy to let the ignorant masses have their say.
        .
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        By the way, do you truly think the Cozzens video is an argument in FAVOR of the caucus? It’s disturbing to me to hear the narrator sound so pleased about our ability to “get on with your life, while John worries about the politics.” It sounds frighteningly similar to, “When our leaders speak, the thinking has been done.” Thank you, but no.

  • Terry williams September 24, 2013 at 1:31 am

    I disagree with all but the last sentence of this article and believe that those siding with the caucus system don’t know what they are talking about or want status quo. In 2008, I ran for Sen. Urqhart’s old seat and took part in a district caucus. And I can tell you that the people don’t get to choose who is on the Nov. ballot. This is because in order to even participate in the caucus you must be either a democrat or republican, you must have someone nominate you and you must be elected as a delegate to choose the candidate for the Nov. ballot. So, the author is extremely wrong when they tout the caucus as the will of the people, because it’s not. You not even allowed to participate if you’re a member of a third party. Also, if a caucus system is so great then why do we have a primary for city and presidential elections? Like I said the only part I agreed with was the last sentence. Far too many Utahns and others couldn’t care less about politics either because they are too lazy, hate politics or both. This is the worst stance to take, we should all care about politics because we should all care whether or not the person we vote for in November will be honorable or corrupt. And personally, I believe in the right to choose who’s on the November ballot that the primary gives the people, so that is why I support the primary system over a caucus.

    • Brian September 24, 2013 at 7:43 am

      Terry, I strongly agree that everyone should be able to participate in the caucuses, not just the two leading parties. Unfortunately we have a two party system. I removed my name from Republican roles because the Utah Republican Party has no spine and is being hijacked. I agree with 99.9% of the party platform, but apparently the party leadership doesn’t.

      However, if the Libertarians or Constitution party (or any other party) wanted to get organized enough to have their own caucuses, to choose their candidates, they could eventually do so.

      The power-hungry party insiders that made the horrible decision to keep Libertarians, Constitution party members, and other conservatives from participating in Republican caucuses are the SAME power-hungry party insiders that are pushing to do away with the caucus system, and the same people that keep resorting to fraud at the Utah Republican convention to get their way. It’s evil and it must be stopped. But it will NEVER be stopped in a primary or general election. The only people informed enough and with enough voice to do it are the state delegates. Period. So choose your state delegates wisely, and support them vigorously.

      • Terry williams September 24, 2013 at 3:48 pm

        While I agree with most of your reply I disagree with the premise that a caucus is better than a primary. This is because in a caucus I am giving someone else the responsibility to choose who is on the November ballot whereas in a primary I have the responsibility. Having participated in a caucus and a presidential primary I prefer the primary since I like having the personal responsibility to choose the November ballot candidates.

  • Richard September 24, 2013 at 8:36 am

    Why doesn’t the author come out and say that you have to be a member of a major party? Why is it that only Democrats are called the “rich power broker cronies”? Since Utah voters are smart then there is no doubt that the Republicans are the “rich power broker cronies”. As mentioned above I think the only people trying to bamboozle anyone is the author and the Republican party. I have to chuckle at the accolades to the author as “a well thought out opinion piece” that smart Utah voters know lacks the whole truth!!

  • Doran October 5, 2013 at 10:32 am

    I agree one major flaw of Utah’s caucus system is that one must identify with a party in order to participate. That being said, however, voters must identify with a political party to participate in primary elections as well.

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