In some ways, one could already be tired of the 2008 election campaign. The endless sound bites, a candidate’s mis-step that becomes You Tube’s main attraction, the right-and-left commentators who, while sometimes speaking politely, seem to be calling each other liars and idiots…it would be easy to become disillusioned, and the election is still 10 months away. And on top of that, one could easily make a case for a cynical point of view: It doesn’t matter who wins the election, nothing ever changes.
To those who would fall victim to any of the above cynicism, we say, take note: When one looks at the top six candidates in last week’s Iowa caucuses (three Republicans, three Democrats), all people whom educated pundits seem to agree have a reasonable chance of becoming President of the United States, fully one third of them (Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton) are from gender/racial groups that have never had a presidential candidate that the political establishment said could win.
People can argue, reasonably and productively, about whether national trends are going in the correct direction. But things have definitely changed.
There are those who would argue that supporting Obama because he is black or Clinton because she is female is just as bad as opposing them for the same reasons, and in a perfect world those people would be right. It’s entirely reasonable, however, given the United States’ all-white-male-all-the-time presidential track record, for people to see blacks and women leading other nations around the world and to want Clinton or Obama to win simply to prove that it’s possible. They could logically argue that the successful candidate and the electorate can work out the finer policy points later.
Global thoughts for a local newspaper? Perhaps. However, especially in politics, global movements start at the local level. And local people have a most important opportunity to help shape the next global changes.
That opportunity happens Tuesday, Feb. 5, a month earlier than in recent years, when Minnesota’s political parties hold their precinct caucuses. In this age of online this and absentee that, the precinct caucus is one crucial step that retains an old-fashioned element: No one can “phone it in.” You have to show up.
At the caucus, you can run for, and vote for, delegates to conventions that will select some candidates, and elect delegates to future conventions that will select other candidates.
Lawn signs and ads can be great indicators of which candidates are doing well. But by the time you’re seeing lawn signs and ads, the time for much of the real influence local people can wield is likely past. At the caucuses and conventions, delegates learn who the candidates really are, and have a real impact on what names will appear on the lawn signs and in the ads.
What can local residents do? First, mark your calendars for Tuesday, Feb. 5, 7 p.m. Go to your caucus and let your voice be heard. Then, like our current President, you will be a “decider,” and not merely an observer. And you’ll be a much less likely candidate for the stress and anger that so often affect those who feel powerless to influence the world around them.
Simply by the weight of numbers, for most people, your political power will be at its peak on Tuesday, Feb. 5. Use it well.