Participation helps

The Iowa Caucus dead heat finally had a clear leader in Comeback Kerry as the race to the White House for the Democrats finally kicked off. Changing dramatically over the past week, the erstwhile leaders Howard Dean and Dick Gephardt were threatened by Kerry and Edwards who jumped more than 20 percentage points in a week and were finally trounced by the rampaging duo. Although nowhere close to winning the nomination, Kerry did signal an amazing comeback against Dean’s awesome grassroots organization and Gephardt’s union strength.

But what really caught my eye was the working of these caucuses which is rarely understood by anyone. I will not even attempt to hash out the finer details of the process, not because it will be a drawn out affair but will mostly rely on sources which do a better job of explaining it. The essence however is a sprinkling of town hall meeting where ordinary folk debate for couple of hours haranguing for their respective candidates and wooing the undecided voters in the process.

This process is an extremely Athenian form of democracy and would work great in a perfect world limited by size. But I do admire the zeal of Iowans who brave out chilly weather to devote a fraction of their time to their political duties. More than 100,000 Iowans turned up contrary to general expectations. This grassroots democracy must be admired not just for sheer dedication but also for egalitarianism of citizen rights. It is certainly heartening to see common people speak out, not just vote passively for their choice of candidates.

It is a sight very much different from anywhere else in the world, inundated with nepotism and special interest selection. This process too might not be completely utopian and hardly leads to a confirmed nomination for the winning candidate but the very fact that the voices of the people are heard and are bound to influence the delegates at the national convention. Although a dubious reference, Elle Woods’ exhortation to “Speak Up, America” in Legally Blonde 2 (Yup, I did watch it at the risk of diminishing my masculinity) holds much promise here. It is always better to speak up and hope for a slender chance to be heard rather than simmer in silent anger at the state of affairs.