Will Rogers and Yellow Dogs


The Democratic caucuses were held here in Colorado last night. I went, because I never pass up an opportunity to vote. I also went because I wanted to cast my vote for Bernie Sanders.

It was quite a scene at the neighborhood high school. Nine or ten precincts were each having their caucus there, and it quickly became apparent that the caucus workers were overwhelmed. I’ve attended several of these events over the years, and this is the largest turnout I have ever seen. I would say there were between 800 and a thousand people attending, for those precincts alone. The crowd was larger than in 2008, when Obama and Hillary Clinton were vying for the Democratic nomination. Statewide, over 121,000 people came out to vote last night.

You have to sign in for a caucus, so they know that you’re registered to vote (as a Democrat) and that you live in the precinct in which you’re voting. Sign-in tables had been set up in the hallway for that purpose, but that’s where the organization ended. No one knew which line was which, and some people had no clue as to which precinct they live in. There was a lot of milling around, and caucus workers with bullhorns, or just loud voices, were calling out precinct numbers and trying to herd people into some semblance of order.

The whole thing put me in mind of something Will Rogers wrote in 1935: “I am not a member of any organized party — I am a Democrat.” Things haven’t changed much in the last eighty years.

As I said, I went last night to show my support for Bernie Sanders. I was pleased to discover that I was not alone. In fact, of the 70 people there from my precinct, 46 voted for Bernie and 24 for Hillary. That seems to be the pattern statewide: as of this writing, Bernie has carried Colorado by 59% to 41% for Hillary.

I don’t know if the size of the turnout helped Bernie more than it did Hillary, but I suspect it did. What I do know, is that there were a great many people there who had never attended a caucus before. After everyone was signed in, all the precincts gathered in the auditorium for some preliminary remarks. The site supervisor for the caucus asked for a show of hands by first-time caucus attendees. A very large percentage of the crowd raised their hands.

Disorganization aside, it was encouraging to see so many people take the time to spend a few hours on a Tuesday evening, in order to participate in the democratic process of selecting a candidate for president. The fact that Bernie Sanders had secured the allegiance of a majority of the participants was especially gratifying.

Interestingly, no one tried to convince Bernie supporters to come over to Hillary, nor did any Hillary supporters try to get any of us to change our minds. If they had, I suppose the issue of electability would’ve come up; the idea that Hillary, being a more establishment candidate (whatever that means in this extremely odd election year), is more electable than someone like Bernie Sanders, a 74-year-old, Jewish, self-avowed Democratic Socialist.

I came mentally prepared to counter any such arguments, had they come up. I know all about Hillary’s record, and her experiences as First Lady, Senator, and Secretary of State. She’s done a lot of fine things, and has also done a lot of questionable things; things which, if she secures the nomination, will no doubt be raised by whomever the Republicans nominate (more on that in a moment). I accept the mixed record. Whose record is unblemished, after all?

Nevertheless, her political views, and her political and financial connections, all put her a bit to the right of center, as far as progressive Democratic positions are concerned. I read a piece on-line yesterday that described her as a moderate conservative. I think the term is correct. She supports all of the main pillars of progressive politics – a woman’s right to choose, racial equality (in both economic and legal justice terms), environmental protection, recognition that climate change is real, etc. – but her close relations with major financial institutions and Wall Street are a concern. So is her apparent militarism, vis-à-vis overseas interventions. Our success record with military interventions, and so-called nation building, is not even mixed; it’s a terrible failure. Hillary does not seem inclined to pull back from that sort of adventurism, though.

So, I went last night determined to vote according to my conscience, and my heart. Those both say to me that we have been voting for electable and credentialed establishment people for a long time, and it has not always served us well. Indeed, we seem to be sinking ever further into a state of huge financial imbalances in society – the rich get rich and the poor get poorer – while politicians seem more inclined to serve the donor class than the working class.

I realize that Bernie’s policy positions seem like pie in the sky to some, but we’ve tried the other route for a long time. I am willing to give the man a chance, because he fervently believes the same thing that he has fervently believed for the last 50 years; namely, that economic and social justice are the underpinnings of our democratic society, and those underpinnings have been chipped away at for decades now, under the onslaught of conservative politicians and their wealthy owners. Those politicians and their benefactors have, in fact, become ever more intransigent and ever further to the right in their positions and their tactics. They are now, I believe, inarguably anti-democratic and careless of the constitution to which they so loudly proclaim their unquestioning fealty.

That brings us to yellow dogs.

I grew up in Texas in an era when the term Solid South meant they voted solidly for the Democratic Party. People would talk about being a “yellow dog Democrat,” which meant that if a yellow dog were the Democratic candidate, you would vote for the dog before you’d vote for a Republican. I have no qualms about stating that I am a yellow dog Democrat, having voted only once in my life for a Republican candidate (for a minor state office in Colorado). I have regretted it ever since, and have no intention of making that mistake again.

This is especially true given the spectacle that is the Republican primary contest. It looks increasingly certain that The Donald will be the Republican nominee for president, which brings to mind another phrase from my formative years in Texas, a phrase that readily applies to The Donald (or whomever else the Republicans put up): I would not vote for him if the only thing he was running for was the city limits.

Accordingly, if Hillary is the Democratic nominee (which, in all honesty, seems to be the most likely outcome), I will support her and campaign for her most ardently. I will support her, and I will vote for her, but my heart belongs to Bernie. He would shake thing up in ways that they need to be shaken up; in ways that Hillary would never even consider doing, because that would discomfit her friends on Wall Street and elsewhere.

I take solace in the fact that, as a democratic nation, we have persevered, sometimes more successfully than others. But we have persevered and we have made some progress. Now, if we could just get a liberal on the Supreme Court, to replace Scalia.


“This country has gotten where it is in spite of politics, not by the aid of it. That we have carried as much political bunk as we have and still survived shows we are a super nation.” — Daily Telegram #1948, Will Rogers Favors Closing the Campaign Right Now and Letting The Boys Go Fishing  (1 November 1932)

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