10 March 2012

Religion and the North Dakota Caucus

Tuesday was a fairly big day in American politics.  It was that wonderful day during the primary season known as Super Tuesday.  Ten states held presidential primaries or caucuses to award delegates for the upcoming Republican convention.  Throughout my life, I've lived in a state that had a primary.  I've voted in primaries for both parties because I've lived in two counties that had different majority parties.  Those who did not register with the majority party basically had no one to vote for in the primary election, so I based my affiliation accordingly.

North Dakota handles things a bit differently than my home state of West Virginia, however.  They hold presidential caucuses, rather than presidential primaries.  Since Barack Obama is running unopposed, the Republicans were the only party holding a caucus this time.  I decided to go, so that I could appease my curiosity as to how these things really work.  I'd heard rumors about how the Iowa caucuses had people forming groups and then trying to get other people in the room to join their group to support a given candidate (after reading a bit--it didn't work that way this year in Iowa).  To my dismay, it was not quite so exciting. 

One major difference between primaries and caucuses is the party presence.  Primary elections are partisan, but are generally controlled by the state government and its election laws.  The caucus was put on by the party.  That being said, however, no official party registration was necessary to enter the caucus--just a proof of North Dakota residency with an actual street address.  After checking in, voters were given a registration form.  This form was filled out in a room with a podium and several tables with food and several tables with chairs for filling out the forms.  The tables with chairs had all manner of party paraphernalia supporting either Ron Paul or Rick Santorum (sorry, Mitt and Newt).  This type of advertising is generally illegal within a certain distance primary elections.

This is where the religious element came into play.  The meeting opened with the pledge of allegiance, and then a (historically debatable) prayer.  I personally found this very interesting.  I like talking politics, but I've never actually attended a political rally, partially because of my personal lack of affinity for any major party currently operating in American life.  To actually see a party have a prayer in a country that claims separation of church and state was interesting.  Of course, there is always a prayer at the presidential inauguration and other official events.  I would've liked to have gone to a Democratic caucus to see if a similar prayer (similarly debatable historically) would've been offered.  I would've liked to have gone to a Republican caucus in a not-so-midwestern or Bible Belt state to see if something similar would have happened.  After the prayer was a stump speech by a local radio (I think) personality pushing for Rick Santorum.  Apparently these guys for Santorum were successful--he won the North Dakota caucuses.

Many people have questioned the invocation of God in the public square.  Apparently it doesn't matter when the party is in charge of an event, even if they get their history slightly wrong in their prayer.  I do have to question tying God to a particular political party.  Regardless, American church history and American political history have frequently intersected, in spite of arguments to the contrary.

PS--the historically debatable portion of the prayer had to do with talking about a nation founded on liberty, equality, and justice.  This is both a true and false statement.  For land-owning white men (i.e., the people who mattered in the eighteenth century), America was founded on liberty, equality, and justice.  These qualities just did not extend beyond that demographic.  For poor white men who were serving indentures, Africans who were enslaved, and Indians who were run off of their land, this statement is definitely debatable (i.e., erroneous).  While Americans have definitely been blessed and fortunate throughout the decades, I have trouble believing God was impressed with that part of American history.

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