Matt Bai on why candidates tend to ignore people-powered movements

In our pursuit to put local caucuses on the map, we approached the presidential campaigns and requested they get their supporters involved. Much to our surprise, at the time of this writing, none of the campaigns agreed to endorse the National Caucus concept.

We asked Matt Bai, the acclaimed national politics writer for The New York Times Magazine and author of "The Argument: Billionaires, Bloggers, and the Battle to Remake Democratic Politics" what he thought about why candidates and their campaigns tend to formally shy away from de-centralized, people-powered movements like that of the National Presidential Caucus.

Matt boiled it down to how "people keep trying to exercise their authority as voters, and party leaders keep trying to insulate themselves against rebellion."

After the jump -- read Matt's full response. It's well worth it.

This is the thing about what Democrats call "empowerment" and Republican call "local control." They like these concepts in the abstract--but not when it threatens their control over the process. And by "they" I mean the very small number of people, really, who make up the state-by-state and national hierarchies of both parties.

Take, for instance, the Democratic primary process. After the 1968 debacle that ripped the party apart, a bunch of reformers took control. Led by George McGovern, actually, they swiped the power from the urban machines that had dominated the nomination process and turned it over to ordinary voters, creating the primary system we have today. (Guess who benefited immediately? Right. George McGovern.) But then a funny thing happened: Jimmy Carter came along, an outsider who was Southern and centrist and a born-again Christian (all the things the liberal reformers were not), and suddenly they weren't so populist anymore. And so the reformers decided that they had to build in some bulwarks to make sure that the voters didn't have TOO much power. They came up with an outrage called the super-Natdelegates, which Walter Mondale very nearly had to invoke to secure the nomination in 1984. (Gary Hart actually won that nomination but lost on technicalities.) That didn't stop the voters from continuing to assert themselves against the party leadership's wishes, so they went even further, creating a front-loaded calendar that makes it almost impossible for anyone without a massive bank account to compete. And of course, the Internet is negating that advantage, too.

So this is the story of the nominating process in Democratic politics (and, to a lesser extent, Republican politics) in the last few decades--people keep trying to exercise their authority as voters, and party leaders keep trying to insulate themselves against rebellion.

I like the idea of a national Internet caucus, or the little I know about it, because technology now affords us this opportunity to get everyone involved in the process, rather than the voters in just a few states, and we should take advantage of it. At the same time, because the Internet is somewhat self-selecting (people have to be able to afford computers, for instance), I don't think I'd want that caucus to replace the current system, imperfect as it is. We're moving toward a day when Internet technology will be so prevalant, like TV and telephones, that it will enable us to transform politics without excluding important voices. But we're not there yet.

Thanks for asking my opinion, and for caring so much about your country.


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