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Monday, February 11, 2008

Superdelegates are Subdemocratic

Jason Rae is a Democratic "superdelegate" from Wisconsin. As such, he's been enjoying some small popularity. He's taken calls from Bill Clinton and John Kerry, as the two Democratic campaigns battle for Clinton or Obama voters. He recently impressed a friend on the way to the grocery store by taking a call and asking, "Hi, Senator Kerry, how are you?"

With superdelegates expected to make the difference in this year's Democratic convention, Jason Rae is a hot commodity. The superdelegate system is meant to let cooler -- and wiser -- heads prevail in the convention and save the party from the more extreme choices that Democratic voters might make. But the problem here is that Jason's a 23 year old student at Marquette University who's never voted in a presidential election. Still, his position as a Democratic op in student government confers on him superdelegatory powers.

So forget about that white-haired, experienced dem wizard that pops into your head when you hear the word "superdelegate." Yes, Ted Kennedy's one, but so is Rae. And Awais Khaleel, another student from the UW-Madison. I don't mean to rip on these party activists, but will some college student who's never voted for president before make a better decision than I will? I certainly hope he'll at least make a decision as good as mine -- my primary vote in Wisconsin will have a fraction of a percent of the influence of his at the convention. With roughly 20% of all delegate votes at the convention being cast by these "unpledged delegates," the superdelegate vote has the same weight as the primary results of ten average states

And, with Clinton and Obama running neck and neck, it's almost certain at this point that delegates like Rae will make the difference. "They might be the margin of victory, if the two candidates go down to the wire," Mordecai Lee, a professor of governmental affairs at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. "A hundred super delegates might be the deciding factor."

"Most troubling is that party insiders, members of Congress, union leaders, party officials and an assortment of activists known as superdelegates, now hold the key to the nomination for Obama or Clinton," says MSNBC's Dan Abrams. "Each of the superdelegates' votes is now equivalent to about 10,000 Democratic voters."

This strikes many as an extremely (and ironically) undemocratic process to be used by a party that calls itself "Democratic." Abrams suggests a short-term solution. "With the candidates almost tied in delegates to date and with battles brewing over currently disqualified delegates from Florida and Michigan, the Democrats must move now--before the fight moves from a principled one to a purely political one," he says. "Once it becomes clear exactly how the superdelegates will impact the vote, an objective assessment will be impossible. In an effort to avoid another Bush v. Gore crisis of confidence, we have called for all the superdelegates to simply support the vote of their state or district and effectively disqualify themselves now."

This was the solution taken by Rep. Tim Walz of Minnesota. After his state's primary, Walz told voters, "Last night at the Democratic caucuses, the voters of southern Minnesota overwhelmingly supported Senator Barack Obama and his hopeful vision for positive change. As a superdelegate to the Democratic National Convention, I will honor their decision and support Senator Obama."

The decision to change the nominating process took place after the 1968 convention. Previously, dems chose the nominee in the cliched "smoke-filled room." They opened the process to more of the party members, which in turn caused states to open the process to the voters. Democratic leadership found themselves left out of the process and decided to tweak the democratic reforms to the Democratic party's nominating process. The superdelegate was born.

More irony -- the system that was originally created to move the nomination process from the smoke-filled room may have been tweaked to the point that this nomination process will likely take place in that same smoke-filled room. Although, with attitudes toward smoking these days, it's more likely to be a cappuccino-steam-filled room. The main difference here is that the decision would be made not only by the party's silverbacks, but also by young idealists like Jason Rae.

We've seen where the caution of the current Democratic leadership has brought us. The only reason the dems took both houses of the Congress was because it was almost impossible not to. The GOP handed government to them on a sliver platter with high-profile corruption scandals, hypocritical sex scandals, and unquestioning support of every one of Bush's really bad ideas. It wasn't the brilliant leadership of the Democratic elders, it was the amazing stupidity of the GOP leadership.

Since taking Congress, dem leadership has failed to lead and continued to act as anything other than a minority party. Bush could eat a live baby every day for breakfast and impeachment would still be off the table. Accountability and oversight still don't exist in any meaningful way.

So, this year, it may be the younger superdelegates like Jason Rae and Awais Khaleel who save our sorry asses from the older, more cautious, more foolish party leaders. Bill Clinton and John Kerry may have votes worth 10,000 primary voters, but so do a lot of kids.

In the end, the superdelegate has to go. It's just not democratic enough for the Democratic party. But there's no way that rule's going to be abolished in the middle of the game. The best we can do now is hope that they respect democracy enough to vote their constituency. Of course, those who've already endorsed can't be expected to vote contrary to their endorsement, but since the majority hasn't endorsed, the rest can easily make up the difference and restore democracy to the Democratic party.

Here's hoping, anyway.


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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

You think that is undemocratic? Take a look at the winner take all format for the Republicans, which basically throws away all the votes from millions of voters!