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Boycott the caucus

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Well, now that the Democratic presidential nomination has been decided, the Michigan Democratic Party has kindly consented to let a few voters have a partial say in the process. Isn’t that sweet?

Now, not any old voters can participate, mind you. Nor can they do what we think of as "voting." No, to take part in one of the MDP’s so-called caucuses, you have to sign a paper swearing you are a true Democrat, meaning, I suppose, a toady of the Yokich-Brewer bureaucracy. Then, unless challenged, they will let you publicly declare your support for Al Gore.

Supposedly, you can still vote for Bill "Hopeless" Bradley, though it isn’t clear if they’ll let you if he has formally withdrawn by that time. What if you want to cast a write-in or protest vote for someone else, Jesse Jackson, say, or Lyndon LaRouche, who is a Democratic candidate, never mind how nutty, and who won 12,000 votes Feb. 22?

Sorry, pal. Were you thinking this has anything to do with democracy? You also better not think of this as an election where you can show up at the polls any time during the day and vote. That’s what they do in America. No, you have to be at your designated caucus site by exactly 11 a.m. That’s when they lock the doors – I am not kidding – and begin the "process." Plan to stay up to two hours, by the way.

Oh, yes – and don’t go thinking your "designated caucus site," is where you normally vote. Might be; might not. How do you find out? Well, apparently the party of the downtrodden expects you to have Internet access, in which case they say you can look it up on the MDP’s Web site, if you can find it. Well, I gamely signed on, and did find their home page, but still couldn’t find out where I was supposed to vote, because you have to have something called an "Adobe Acrobat reader," to decode the list.

I gave up. Had I installed the Acrobat, it wouldn’t have surprised me to find a message from Mark Brewer, Democratic chairman, telling me I had to memorize the constitution of the UAW before I could qualify for his caucus. What is going on here? Years ago, Betty Howe, Michigan Secretary of Labor under Blanchard, told me I was hopelessly naive after some column in which I tried to puzzle out the hacksters’ mindset. "All they care about is keeping control of the process, and maybe getting to go eat bad food in some boring city for the national convention. They don’t care about winning, if it means losing control."

I remembered that last week when Freman Hendrix, the savvy deputy mayor of Detroit, told me pretty much the same thing. "They are obsessed with control," he said. Even if you don’t support an open primary, "this is way, way too restrictive."

What is really maddening is we’ve fought these battles before. Flash back to 1968, when party bosses selected delegates in most states, including Michigan. The big issue was Vietnam. Whenever a rare state did have a primary, about 85 percent of the Democratic voters favored an anti-war candidate, Bobby Kennedy or Gene McCarthy. But where the people couldn’t vote, they got a pro-war, Hubert Humphrey delegation. The result was the violent eruption in Chicago, and the election of Richard Nixon.

Chairman Brewer was a teenager then. Today, he is on the side of those who would choke off democracy. No doubt he would have fought tooth-and-nail back then to suppress the anti-war effort. Geoffrey Fieger, the man who beat his system in 1998, thinks it is a waste of time to criticize Brewer. "He’s just a hack and an errand boy for Steve Yokich," the UAW leader who pulls his strings. "Now there’s a seriously bad man." Well, yes. But any Harvard-trained lawyer who voluntarily signs on for such duty knows what he is doing. And deserves far more negative press than he gets.

The only honorable thing to do is to boycott this travesty of an election.

Then, if you care about the Democratic Party, and democracy, start rallying your friends, studying the system’s rules and procedures, and start plotting to take it back.

The only sane, fair, and honorable way of choosing convention delegates is to have a state-sponsored open primary for both parties, the same day, so people can only vote in one or the other. Both Brewer and his spiritual twin, John Engler, will tell you this is bad, because the process can be "hijacked" by another party’s voters.

This is ridiculous, and assumes humans think the way party hacks do. Guess what. Most voters switch back and forth depending on the candidates and issues. That’s the system which helped prevent – until recently – the parties from being radically polarized.

Just asking: Wayne County Prosecutor John O’Hair’s retirement means a dogfight for his job. Currently, state Sen. Virgil Smith, Mike Duggan, the man who does most of Ed McNamara’s job, and George Ward, O’Hair’s able deputy, are all running in the August Democratic primary, the only election that matters.

Demographics indicate that this lineup means certain victory for Smith, who ran the last two times against O’Hair, getting 49 percent once. He’s black; the other guys are white. But the wily Duggan isn’t known for suicidal tendencies. Could those rumors of secret efforts to get Sharon McPhail to enter the race be true?

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