Politics & Policy

Iowa’s Transparently Dishonest Democratic Caucus

Bill and Hillary celebrate her Iowa caucuses victory. (Win McNamee/Getty)

What a difference a fortnight makes.

Two weeks ago, Hillary Clinton was all about transparency. “We have to do a much better job of protecting Americans’ voting rights,” she wrote in a CNN op-ed on January 21. “What we need now [is] more transparency, more accountability, and above all, more citizens exercising their right to vote.” Having since secured a hair’s-breadth victory in Monday’s Iowa caucus, Clinton is suddenly feeling less exercised about those principles.

On Thursday, the Des Moines Register, Iowa’s largest newspaper, took said caucuses to task in an editorial. “What happened Monday night at the Democratic caucuses was a debacle, period,” the paper declared. “Democracy, particularly at the local party level, can be slow, messy and obscure. But the refusal to undergo scrutiny or allow for an appeal reeks of autocracy.”

The resounding response from Clinton’s team and Iowa’s Democratic party? “Shut your trap.”

No one with the power to investigate a whole host of irregularities — the Register cites “inconsistent counts, untrained and overwhelmed volunteers, confused voters, cramped precinct locations, a lack of voter registration forms and other problems,” including at least one precinct where results were unilaterally changed by party officials — seems interested in doing so. Iowa Democratic party chairwoman Andy McGuire says that the case is closed, or, more precisely, that it is never going to be opened: “The answer is that we had all three camps in the tabulation room last night to address any grievances brought forward, and we went over any discrepancies. These are the final results,” she told the Register. McGuire has refused to report how many contests involved tie-breaking coin flips — a point of contention as caucus-goers talked to media on Monday evening — and to release the raw vote totals, citing party tradition. (Although the Register reports that, as of Friday afternoon, party officials are “updating” results from certain precincts.)

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Meanwhile, on Friday morning, Clinton’s Iowa state director, Matt Paul, accused Bernie Sanders’s supporters of propagating “conspiracy theories” about the Iowa vote totals. “It may be inconvenient for the Sanders campaign that Hillary Clinton won the Iowa caucus,” Paul wrote in a post on Medium, “but it’s the truth.”

And, as everyone knows, there’s no one more committed to the truth than Hillary Clinton.

Monday’s caucus constituted an absolutely particular event in the space-time continuum, and thus cannot be inspected or duplicated.

Of course, even If Democrats did want to audit the results, they couldn’t. “People physically aligned in groups,” Sam Lau, the Iowa Democratic party’s communications director said in a statement on Thursday. “There are no paper ballots to recount. Monday’s caucuses were a unique event that involved more than 171,000 Iowans and their neighbors at a specific time and place, and thus they cannot be re-created or recounted.”

So Sanders is out of luck, because Monday’s caucus constituted an absolutely particular event in the space-time continuum, and thus cannot be inspected or duplicated. At least when Romney and Santorum finished even in 2012, Republicans could go back and count again.

#share#Now, delegates being meted out the way they are — Clinton will claim four more state delegates than Sanders, and probably eight more delegates at the national nominating convention — it does not matter enormously who won on Monday night. As I argued earlier this week, Clinton’s virtual tie with Sanders is an effective loss for her, since she held a 30-point lead in the state not long before Caucus Day. And, in any event, as a Republican I really could not care less: In an election between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, it’s the voters who lose.

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But for a party that claims Republicans are one Antonin Scalia opinion away from re-instituting a poll tax and is still crying foul over Bush v. Gore — a party whose presidential front-runner sanctimoniously quoted Al Smith on how “All the ills of democracy can be cured by more democracy” just two weeks ago — this episode is particularly rich.

High-minded appeals to transparency are the stuff of which Democrats are made. Barack Obama has called his scandal-plagued White House “the most transparent administration in history,” even as he resorts to circumventing the legislative process to enact policies he couldn’t get through Congress, thereby stripping voters of their ability to check the executive branch. Hillary Clinton says she has been “as transparent as possible” about her troublesome e-mail, ignoring the plain truth that she intentionally used a private e-mail account to circumvent public-disclosure laws, thereby keeping voters in the dark about her work as the nation’s chief diplomat.

#related#Is power ultimately vested in “the people”? And do “the people” have a right to the capacity and knowledge to make use of that power? If so, then Democrats at the highest levels have sought to curtail their rights at every turn.

And now it’s happened again, at the ballot box in Iowa, the state’s Democratic party and the apparent winner of the caucus having decided that transparency and accountability — “more democracy,” as it were — do not serve their purposes at this particular juncture. Despite serious questions about the legitimacy of an almost-certainly error-riddled process, party authorities have declared that there is nothing to see in the Hawkeye State, and everyone ought to move swiftly along.

As usual, the only thing transparent about the Democratic party is its excuses.

— Ian Tuttle is a William F. Buckley Fellow in Political Journalism at the National Review Institute.


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