Even Lewis Carroll Knew Caucuses Were Silly

By Molly Ball

"But who has won?": Nearly 150 years ago, the author mocked the idea of "a caucus-race" in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland.

alicedodo.banner.jpg

In the wake of vote-counting snafus in both of the states to hold caucuses this year, Iowa and Nevada, the old-school precinct meetings have come under fire. Opponents call them undemocratic, antiquated, and lacking in professionalism.

Criticism of caucuses, it turns out, is far from new. In fact, it dates back to at least the 1860s, when the idea of a caucus was mocked in Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland:

"What I was going to say," said the Dodo in an offended tone, "was, that the best thing to get us dry would be a Caucus-race."

"What is a Caucus-race?" said Alice; not that she much wanted to know, but the Dodo had paused as if it thought that somebody ought to speak, and no one else seemed inclined to say anything.

"Why," said the Dodo, "the best way to explain it is to do it." (And, as you might like to try the thing yourself, some winter day, I will tell you how the Dodo managed it.)

First it marked out a race-course, in a sort of circle ("the exact shape doesn't matter," it said), and then all the party were placed along the course, here and there.

There was no "One, two, three, and away!" but they began running when they liked, and left off when they liked, so that it was not easy to know when the race was over. However, when they had been running half an hour or so, and were quite dry again, the Dodo suddenly called out "The race is over!" and they all crowded round it, panting, and asking, "But who has won?"

That's exactly what they found themselves asking this year in Iowa. Via Nevada Secretary of State Ross Miller, who called attention to the reference in an article in the Las Vegas Sun.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2012/02/even-lewis-carroll-knew-caucuses-were-silly/252727/