Belding: Early caucuses hurt student participation


It is difficult to get photos when important political events are scheduled during school breaks.

Michael Belding

Part of my job as Opinion Editor is making sure this page has good content. Another big part of it is making sure that content is paired with art that will make it look good. You may have noticed that in the past couple weeks columns about the timing of the Iowa caucuses this winter have appeared.

The art of them has sucked. Really. To the extent that it exists at all, it’s just inadequate. The art we’ve run with the caucus columns is of candidates speaking, not caucus-goers caucusing. (This isn’t the photo editors’ fault. They’re great at their job.)

If you went (I know, people my age were seniors in high school and probably didn’t care a fig), you saw lots of enthusiastic supporters trying to convince other caucus-goers to switch candidates. On the Democratic side, you’d even see huge discussions of viability – whether supporters of candidates likely to lose should support other candidates so they could continue to participate in the nomination process.

None of the art we have shows that. None of the art we have portrays people as participators in politics. Photos of candidates speaking are nice, but they only feed the beast that is everyone’s conception of politics: that people receive politics instead of doing it for themselves.

Why don’t we have art for these columns? Here it is: They were during Winter Break.

Nobody was around to cover them.

And now they’ll be during Winter Break again. I meant it when I wrote for the Editorial Board that Jan. 3 caucuses are a horrible idea. I still mean it when I say it here: Holding the caucuses on Jan. 3 is a horrible idea.

College students are already a demographic who care little about politics. To the extent that we do, we’re often content to bitch and moan about how bad things are, about how much things need to change, but we never know where to begin. How many of you know how to find out the city council agenda? How many of you know who your representatives in the state legislature are?

In my experience, the best way to begin participating in politics is to participate in politics. It may sound like a circular problem, but it is. You’ll never know the answers to the questions you don’t ask. The people with those answers are unable to divine what questions you have and probably don’t have the time to either.

Holding party caucuses while those students are already away does nothing to improve their participation level. How do you, Republicans, expect young people to start voting for conservative candidates if your party nomination process occurs at a time when those young people are absent? If young people are truly the future – if we’re to believe politicians who say that – then party officials and politicians should start taking them into account when they schedule their meetings.

I remember going with the College Republicans to the Republican Party of Iowa’s nominating convention in the summer of 2010. Despite offering our services and network of energetic youngsters to the party, it appeared we were forgotten about. Apparently they forgot that youths not yet tied down in their lives are more mobile, more active and can more easily endure extremes of cold and heat than the old guard.

History shows that the easiest way to make people work for you is to identify their interests with yours, or with those of your group. “Ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country,” right? If students see themselves as rejected or left out or forgotten by their party, why would they not seek acceptance and involvement elsewhere?

I’m a Republican, and I went to caucus in 2008. I’ll do so again this winter, in all likelihood. But I doubt very much that many of my Republican peers will do so. As you may have noticed, politics is kind of my thing. I’m also paid to have an opinion on basically everything. There is absolutely no reason for the Republican Party of Iowa to assume I’m a typical Republican college student. There is no reason for them to assume my Republican friends going to caucus are typical. Overwhelmingly, they are the individuals who have worked on campaigns, if not actually in politics. Overwhelmingly, they are the ones who go door-knocking and literature-dropping.

When students see results from their participation, they’ll participate even more. Being young doesn’t mean you have bad ideas. It just means you have a different perspective. Often, that perspective is valuable. It can be bolder, fresher than the same old dogmas of past generations that are taken for granted.

The GOP’s candidates for president relentlessly champion President Ronald Reagan as their model. Sure, he can be inspiring and his rhetoric of individual responsibility can be engaging. But Reagan was our oldest president. Aged 69 when he took office, he was an old man for the entirety of his presidency, which ended before this year’s college seniors were born.

His ideas shouldn’t be accepted as true without discussion, without the input of the people who will have to live with the implementation of his policies for more decades than any other section of voters.

Caucuses on Jan. 3 do nothing to achieve that discussion. Being first is useless if being first means excluding the future.