Monday, April 14, 2008

Can the democratic primary voter be trusted?

It is both a fair and a logical question to ask. It seems the leadership doesn't think they should be.

It’s called the Democratic Party, but one aspect of the party’s nominating process is at odds with grass-roots democracy. Voters don’t choose the 842 unpledged “super-delegates” who comprise nearly 40 percent of the number of delegates needed to clinch the Democratic nomination.
Before 1972, party boss's such as Chicago Mayor Richard Daley and Charlie Buckley, the boss of The Bronx wielded inordinate power. But after the 68 convention disaster, the party’s rules were reformed to open the process to grass-roots activists, women, and ethnic minorities.

Sen. George McGovern, running on an anti-war platform, won the 1972 nomination. McGovern turned out to be a disaster as a presidential candidate, winning only one state and the District of Columbia.

So without reverting to the days of party bosses like Buckley, the Democrats decided to guarantee that elected officials would have a bigger voice in the nomination.

Kathy Gill of shares that:

In 1980, Kennedy (MA) challenged incumbent Democratic president Jimmy Carter (GA). The convention battle was nasty, as the Kennedy camp tried to convince Carter's delegates to ignore "Rule 11 (H) that bound delegates to support the candidate in whose name they were elected." The rule was subsequently changed -- and this is still the 2008 language: "Delegates elected to the national convention pledged to a presidential candidate shall in all good conscience reflect the sentiments of those who elected them." (emphasis added)

Elected Democrats -- especially those in the House of Representatives -- were concerned about the selection process. Congressman Gillis Long, Chairman of the House Democratic Caucus told the Hunt Commission:

We in the House, as the last vestige of Democratic Control at the national level, believe we have a special responsibility to develop new innovative approaches that respond to our Party’s constituencies.

Gov. Hunt (NC) was one of those who felt party leaders should be allowed to exercise independent judgment:

An equally important step would be to permit a substantial number of party leader and elected official delegates to be selected without requiring a prior declaration of preference. We would then return a measure of decision-making power and discretion to the organized party and increase the incentive it has to offer elected officials for serious involvement. (emphasis added)

Who opposed the super-delegate system? Feminists, because they believed super-delegates would be inordinately white and male,and supporters of Kennedy, because the super-delegate system would favor Vice President Mondale.

Rep. Geraldine Ferraro (NY) brokered the compromise: she cut the number of super-delegates in half and "left selection of the Congressional delegates in the hands of the House and Senate Democratic Caucuses." Today, the congressional caucuses do not select all the super-delegates, but all are (or were) elected Democratic officials. In the 2008 contest, there are 3,253 delegates and (about) 796 super-delegates; 2,026 delegates are needed to win.

This is exactly the type of election (or selection) that the super delegate system was designed for. Senator Obama slid through the better part of the primary season as a media darling and the relatively unknown Senator oratory skills and likeability/charisma was a breathe of fresh air from the nasty name calling mud slinging of past campaigns. In reality the campaigns of both parties this year have been the least vitriolic of any that I can remember.

But this campaign has been more of a persona contest than about issues. Hillary has been a polarizing figure, one you really like or really don't like; very few neutrals. But the thing democrats are not openly talking about is electability. Democrats privately see Obama as a repeat of the 1972 and 1984 defeats and this is the type of situation they established a super delegate system for.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi, tried telling superdelegates how they are expected to vote. "The Speaker believes it would do great harm to the Democratic Party if superdelegates are perceived to overturn the will of the voters. This has been her position throughout this primary season, regardless of who was ahead at any particular point in delegates or votes."

Pelosi had some of her strong arm tactics come home to roost and was quickly reminded, "This is an untenable position that runs counter to the party's intent in establishing super-delegates in 1984 as well as your own comments recorded in The Hill ten days earlier (link) It really hasnt been a good month for
There also seems to be confusion surrounding the obligation of delegates to actually vote for their pledged candidate. According to the Democratic National Committee, technically, they don't have to.

"A delegate goes to the convention with a signed pledge of support for a particular presidential candidate. At the convention, while it is assumed that the delegate will cast their vote for the candidate they are publicly pledged to, it is not required."

The party's rules ask delegates to "in good conscience reflect the sentiments of those who elected them." Basically, those delegates may be pledged, but they're not legally bound to him.

If I was Hillary I would fight until the final ballot because the system is stacked in her favor. The tide is turning now that Obama is being vetted and the super delegate system may be used as designed. What will it do to the democratic party? Wait until Denver and find out. I doubt Dean can contain the candidates. If I was Hillary I would tell Howard to take a hike, wouldn't you? Especially since super delegates will decide it anyway.

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