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Friday, April 04, 2008

Democracy for Democrats

I think everyone who reads my posts knows I'm not extremely happy with the Democratic primaries. If I had to sum them up in a word, I'd be torn between "stupid" and "overcomplicated." The way that the party's dealt with the Michigan and Florida primaries hasn't helped any. And Howard Dean's "hands off" attitude toward the whole thing is less a way of letting everything unfold naturally and more a lack of leadership.

And superdelegates? All documentation that the idea has ever existed should be loaded into a rocket and shot into the sun. Superdelegates are superstupid and nearly as undemocratic as the Electoral College. They're a solution in search of a problem.

From the outside, the Democratic primary process looks disorganized, divisive, and complex beyond all reason. From the inside, it probably looks pretty much the same way. Democracy is actually a pretty simple thing -- everyone votes, you count up the votes, and you're done. Throwing in superdelegates is a superfluous step.

That's not to say that the dems get nothing right. The Republican primary has its own problem. In making all states "winner take all," their delegate count doesn't reflect the popular vote at all. In that way, the GOP's process is just as undemocratic. Dividing the delegate count among the candidates reflects the math on the ground much, much better. In that way, the dems are one up on the GOPers.

Unfortunately, the machine's got to stop before you can fix it. And the primary machine isn't going to wind down until the primaries are over. It's too late for a fix to the races happening now, but we'll have four years to make sure the 2010 elections aren't the complete mess that the 2008 races have been so far. Once the smoke clears and a new president is sworn in, party members and lefties in general should have an agenda for the party -- reform. As the primaries are now, they're frustratingly destructive.

And screwy. How many superdelegates are there? It depends on what day you ask. Last night, I came across a piece by John Nichols at his The Nation blog that shows just how ridiculous the whole process has become.

In case you thought the race for the Democratic presidential nomination was a little too easy to follow, consider this notion: We do not currently know exactly how many delegate votes will be required to win the party nod when it convenes this summer in Denver.

How can that be? Because the number of superdelegates -- party leaders and elected officials who are guaranteed places at the convention -- keeps changing.

There used to be 794. Today there are 793. And, says Nichols, "that figure will change."

See, one superdelegate, Maryland Rep. Al Wynn, is resigning to become a lobbyist. He was defeated in a primary election by Donna Edwards. In quitting early, Wynn loses his superdelegate status and, since Edwards hasn't been elected to office yet, she's not an SD either. So the total number changes. Although, there could be a special election and Edwards could then become a superdelegate; in which case, the goalposts move back where they were.

Which leads us to more stupidity -- this sort of thing happens all the time. "Special elections for House seats in California, Mississippi and two Louisiana districts could conceivably add as many as four new Democratic members of Congress, upping the superdelegate total by four," Nichols writes. The operative word here being "could"... maybe... or not... who knows?

Yeah, it's a well-oiled machine.

Anyone who thinks a handful of maybe-sorta-kinda-not superdelegates can't possibly make any difference hasn't been paying attention. And anyone who thinks that, if the race remains tight, presidential candidates won't meddle in these elections hasn't either. In the worse case scenario, a presidential candidate would have an incentive to see that a Republican wins the seat, rather than a Democrat who'd become an SD for the other candidate. That could become unpleasant.

Luckily, there's a completely reasonable and perfectly sensible solution to all of this. I've already mentioned it -- all documentation that superdelgates ever existed should be loaded into a rocket and shot into the sun. They cause more problems than they solve -- mostly because they don't solve any problem. They're just a holdover from the bad old days when nominees were selected by party bigwigs in smoke-filled rooms. The whole idea is completely unworthy of a party that embraces the name "Democratic."

If we can't shoot it into the sun, we should bury it with a stake through its heart. Or banish it to Monster Island. Or lock it in a tomb deep beneath the pyramids. But we should never see or hear that word used in conjunction with verbs in the present tense again. If it takes an exorcist to get rid of it, then call the Vatican.

It's time to bring democracy to the Democratic party.


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