On the eve of the much anticipated (and hyped) 2016 Iowa Caucus, I’ve been thinking about how I got the once-in-a-lifetime (for a non-Iowan and non-politico) chance to witness the Iowa Caucus the last go-round in 2012. For me, one who follows politics like some people follow sports, it felt like going to game 7 of the World Series. Just being on the ground at the political focal point for the U.S. and even international media was a thrill.
Here’s how it happened: During the 2011-2012 school year, I worked for a major educational publisher in a role which took me to Davenport, IA every week. Even though I worked closely with the technology department in that school district, it was a pleasant surprise that I struck up a warm friendship with Rudy, who was assigned to the same project as I. During one of our many conversations, I learned that he was a leader for the Republican Party in his mid-sized town Muscadine – about 45 minutes down the Mississippi from Davenport.
I don’t recall whether he outright invited me, if I strongly hinted for an invite, or just invited myself to the caucus meeting. Regardless, I met him at the school used for the meeting at about 6:30 pm on January 3, 2012. The fund-raising spaghetti dinner was wrapping up, so we went directly to the gymnasium with the other caucus-goers.
By the time the program started, the bleachers were full and people stood against the walls. I estimated at least 400 people and maybe even more. After introductions of those running the proceedings and some “housekeeping” items, the surprisingly informal presentations started. Each person running for the GOP nomination had a proxy speak on his or her behalf. I remember clearly the remarkable range of formality offered by these representatives. At one end were a few seemingly unprepared presenters who didn’t speak clearly, rambled, and generally didn’t sell their candidate effectively.
I gasped when a presenter, representing the VIP end of the spectrum, stood and spoke for Texas Governor Rick Perry. It was none other than the infamous, controversial, former Ohio Secretary of State, Ken Blackwell. He offered an impressive testimonial for Perry and surely caught the attention of the Iowans present. I imagine most of them didn’t know what I did, as an Ohioan – Blackwell was demolished in the governor’s race in 2006 during which he earned just 37% of the vote!
At the conclusion of this assembly, we filed out and headed to classrooms grouped by precincts. Rudy, the leader for the Social Studies classroom in which we met, introduced me as a guest “from the important swing-state of Ohio.” I thought to myself- although these Iowans have a huge role in the primaries, we Ohioans have a bigger role in the general election. Ballots, like the one pictured above, were handed out. After each of the 40 or so people in the standing room only gathering marked and folded the papers, these were collected and counted. Soon after Rudy announced the totals. While I don’t remember the exact numbers, I do recall that Rick Santorum won our room and the state by just a few votes over eventual nominee Mitt Romney.
After the main event of the evening was completed, the under card of participatory democracy commenced. The voters in the classroom were invited to write down issues they would like to have considered for the GOP platform discussed at a statewide meeting that spring. These slips were collected and read aloud. Some people spoke briefly on a few of the issues before the room voted by voice and hands on the most pressing ones. The suggestions chosen by the cell in our room were then passed up in the Iowan GOP body politic. After a brief closing, I headed into the dark, cool, yet dry winter night, grateful for the chance to witness and vicariously participate in one of the most important political traditions of our nation.
The 2016 caucus held on Monday, Feb 1st will be more closely watched than what I experienced four years ago. We’ve talked often in my religion classes about how much fear, anger, and hostility is being put forth this election cycle by candidates of both parties. An article posted last week by popular Catholic blogger and author of “Strange Gods: Unmasking the Idols in Everyday Life,” Elizabeth Scalia caught my eye. In it Scalia asks the provocative question: Are your decisions born of fear or love? She writes:
Why is everyone so afraid? Don’t we realize that fear is the foundation that supports so much of our sin? I’m stupid, and sometimes I will not be afraid when perhaps I should be. But I’d rather be stupid, naive and bumbling, than so afraid, all the time.
Everyday, I ponder the Sacred Heart of Jesus before me, “abode of Justice and Love … enriching all who invoke thee …” and I realize that every concern can be placed into that huge heart, and left there, in complete trust.
Nothing is safe or pure. Everyone will have a turn (or several) in the crucible. But the Sacred Heart is a self-immolation, never consumed. It is there, in the crucible with us. What is there, then, to fear?
I pray that, as the second reading of today’s mass proclaimed, faith, hope and love will win over fear and anger in Iowa, the U.S. and our broken world.
ADDITION (Monday Morning):
After publishing this post last night, I discovered this wonderful quote by Fr. Richard Rohr from the Center for Action and Contemplation. He’s dedicated this entire year of daily reflections to the them of love. Yesterday he remarked:
The passion of Pope Francis is to again make merciful love the foundation, the center, and the goal of Christianity. Love is not just the basis on which we build everything, but it’s also the energy with which we proceed, and it’s then the final goal toward which we tend. Love has two lovely daughters, twins called grace and mercy. Like identical twins, they are often indistinguishable: Grace is the inner freedom to be merciful. Mercy is grace in action. And both are the children of love.