Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Let's talk about superdelegates.


The role of superdelegates is the subject of much controversy and gnashing of teeth in the Democratic Party these days. The biggest potential problem is not just that superdelegates could decide who gets the nomination. The biggest potential problem is that the superdelegates could basically render meaningless the primary and caucus process.

My take? I think the superdelegate system is basically bullshit, but it is part of the overall rules, so there should be no effort to change the rules this late in the game.

What and who are superdelegates, and why do they exist?

This section is in large part a reiteration from an earlier post, but I will add some more info.

As the New York Times succinctly stated, superdelegates "are free to cast their votes at the convention as they see fit." In the terminology of the DNC Delegate Selection Rules, these people are known as "unpledged delegates."

The Delegate Selection Rules delineate some specific people who are superdelegates. These would be the "Party Leaders and Elected Officials" delegates. The name alone shows that these superdelegates are "establishment." Just to make that point clear, those listed as among this group are: DNC members; all Democratic members of Congress; all Democratic governors; and "All former Democratic Presidents, all former Democratic Vice Presidents, all former Democratic Leaders of the U.S. Senate, all former Democratic Speakers of the U.S. House of Representatives and Democratic Minority Leaders, as applicable, and all former Chairs of the Democratic National Committee."

The Delegate Selection Rules also allow for the selection of unpledged "add-on" delegates, or superdelegates who are not elected officials or DNC members. As explained on the Democratic National Convention website, "add-on" delegates are selected by the processes already established by the state party organizations for electing delegates. What this means is that someone really needs to have connections within the party to become an add-on delegate, and that means one needs to have some "establishment" connections.

One of the problems I have with this superdelgate system is that there is no limit on the number of possible superdelegates. As I read the Delegate Selection Rules, it is possible for more superdelegates to be created by each state's party organization.

But just what is the purpose of having superdelegates? Here's an answer from U.S. News:
Superdelegates came about in 1982 because party leaders wanted to exercise more control over the nomination process. Having superdelegates would ensure that members of the Democratic Party had some weight in case the Democratic voters picked a dud, as they did in 1972 when anti-Vietnam War liberal Sen. George McGovern won the nomination and not much else. They would also prevent another Jimmy Carter, whom party leaders viewed as an ineffective president because Carter wasn't friendly with the major figures in the party, according to (Northeastern University political science Prof. William) Mayer. They hoped to force candidates like Carter to get to know the party during the nomination fight and therefore build up loyalty before taking office.

"They were a bit controversial when they were put into effect," says Mayer. "In a party that is obsessed with an appearance of democracy, they give more power to party leaders...the Democrats are not an obvious party to endorse those kinds of ideas."
(emphasis added). Two quick asides...In 1972, who else would have done better in the general election than McGovern? As for Carter, I have long felt that a major reason he was largely ineffective as President was because the Democrats in Congress actively worked against him. Now, back to the matter at hand. Basically superdelegates were created so that the Party leaders could impose their desires instead of letting the electorate make the choice. That's what I call bullshit. Why bother to have public elections of any kind if there the party "establishment" can effectively negate those elections?

What will happen with the superdelegates?

Who knows? As a practical matter, the superdelegates might not exercise their power in such a way as to thwart the popular will as expressed in the primaries and caucuses. I would certainly hope that would be the case--even if Hillary manages to regain the lead in pledged delegates by the time of the convention. Having a relatively small group of establishment players determine a "democratic" process in a most non-democratic fashion could spell disaster for the Democratic Party for years to come.

So, what should be done about superdelegates in 2008?

In my opinion, nothing. The superdelegate system was an established part of the process when this campaign started, and all the candidates knew about it. Changing the rules this late in the game is a bad idea.

As a lawyer, I have developed a certain perspective on matters similar to this. That perspective has come about as a result of practical observations and a little thing known as "due process." Even a brief discussion of "due process" would be too long for the purposes of this post, so I will describe my perspective as follows. In describing the judicial system, I tell people that while I certainly have complaints about some rules, I feel that our judicial system has the capability of being fair and reaching a high level of justice if the keepers of the rules (judges) play by the rules and enforce those rules uniformly. To make an extremely long story short, many times just the opposite happens. When rules are officially changed, such changes take place over time. They are not made hastily. Thus, the process is designed to have some fairness and uniformity. When rules are changed quickly and in the middle of the game, 1) the chances of achieving uniformity and fairness are reduced, and 2) the chances for abuse and distortion of the system increase. Consequently, I am in favor of keeping the existing rules, even though I think those rules are basically bullshit. Changing the rules at this point might resolve some problems, but it would create others that could have long-term and adverse effects.

Changing the rules about superdelegates at this stage is not a good idea. Requiring superdelegates to vote in accordance with how pledged delegates are distributed--as some have advocated--would constitute a major change very late in the process, and I am against that, even though it would hurt Hillary and help Obama at this point.

And now for a key concept: everyone should accept and abide by the rules that have been established through a long and open process. And that means that Obama and Hillary should abide by ALL the rules governing this campaign.

As will be shown in subsequent posts, Hillary is all about enforcing the rules that benefit her and disregarding the rules that do not benefit her.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Very good explanation of the superdelegates.

2/25/2008 1:11 AM  
Blogger WCharles said...

Thanks. However, I might have to start using the Hillary term of "automatic delegates." LOL.

2/25/2008 10:01 AM  

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