Thursday, February 14, 2008

SuperDelegates and the Anti-democratic Perquisites of Power

UPDATE, Feb. 19: Hey -- bloggers make a difference? I'll bet Thomas Paine's pamphlets had some impact on the creation of our democracy, too. So pay attention, and please participate. (CNN overview of "supers" here.)

UPDATE: Feb. 15:
USA Today and CNN on the Michigan and Florida delegates problem; Wall Street Journal on yet another reason Obama would be the better candidate.]

UPDATE: FEB. 14:
Happy Valentine's Day from Sen. Clinton: with her campaign floundering, and losing both the popular vote and the specific constituencies (women, Latinos) she had considered her "firewall", she's now pushing for the flawed Michigan and Florida results to be included in the delegate vote tally.

This follows her earlier, but not well-publicized, statement defending the superdelegate system on the grounds that her inside-the-Beltway friends have better "knowledge of the candidates" than we voters do, and calling Obama's proposal (that the "supers" simply vote the way their constituents voted) "really contrary" to the way things are supposed to work.

Put the two positions together -- that we should count the two states that intentionally broke the rules and which even Hillary originally agreed should be disqualified (but where, unlike Obama or any other Democrat, she still campaigned), and that it's OK for a relatively small group of party insiders to override the popular vote -- and it's clear that Clinton has now officially abandoned any remaining pretense at (a) supporting small-d democracy, (b) playing by the rules, or (c) putting the Democratic Party's interests before her own drive for power. There's no question any more: she'll break the rules and shatter the party -- even have the nomination wind up being decided by the Supreme Court, a la Bush 2000 -- rather than even risk losing in a fair fight.

[Update, Feb. 14, 11:48 am Pacific:
The Boston Globe has more damning detail about Clinton's outspoken disregard for the democratic process, and her self-serving flip-flop on seating the Florida and Michigan delegations:

The New York senator, who lost three primaries Tuesday night, now lags slightly behind her rival, Illinois Senator Barack Obama, in the delegate count. She is even further behind in "pledged'' delegates, those assigned by virtue of primaries and caucuses.

But Clinton will not concede the race to Obama if he wins a greater number of pledged delegates by the end of the primary season, and will count on the 796 elected officials and party bigwigs to put her over the top, if necessary, said Clinton's communications director, Howard Wolfson.

"I want to be clear about the fact that neither campaign is in a position to win this nomination without the support of the votes of the superdelegates,'' Wolfson told reporters in a conference call.

"We don't make distinctions between delegates chosen by million of voters in a primary and those chosen between tens of thousands in caucuses,'' Wolfson said. "And we don't make distinctions when it comes to elected officials'' who vote as superdelegates at the convention.

"We are interested in acquiring delegates, period," he added. ***

Clinton -- who initially joined other Democrats in opposing Michigan and Florida's decisions to go ahead with early primaries -- now wants the votes of those primaries counted. The Obama camp thinks that idea is unfair, since candidates were not allowed to campaign in those states, and Clinton alone kept her name on the Michigan ballot, meaning Obama did not have a chance at getting even provisional delegates.


Clinton's even trying to reframe the issue by changing our language; her campaign no longer refers to "superdelegates" (a term so well accepted that it draws 2.75 million Google hits), but will start calling them "automatic delegates" (which both downplays the fact that each of them has a vote worth 10,000 of ours, and implies that they don't actually have a choice who to support). Orwell would be proud. So would Joe Stalin, and especially Karl Rove.

So considering all this, ask yourself: does Clinton sound like an agent of change, or an establishment politician committed to winning at all costs, even if it means ignoring both the will of the voters and the rules she herself helped put into place?

David Sirota, writing today for the Huffington Post, echoes my analysis of what this means:

So that's the coordinated message: If democracy has been allowed to be trampled in the past, then we should all sit back and be fine with democracy being trampled now...as long as it is trampled in defense of the Clintons. Egomania knows no bounds and no loyalty -- not even to the founding principles of democracy.

At least the mainstream press -- here, here, here, here -- is finally catching on to what a big deal this is, though they're still focusing on the Superdelegates and less on the equally important -- and more deceptive -- issue of seating the Florida and Michigan delegations without pushing them to hold new caucuses or primaries that allow all candidates to compete and all voters to participate. The original post below explains why this news today is so significant, and why it puts Hillary Clinton in such a poor light. (Meanwhile, you can sign petitions here and here, and contribute to Obama here.)

ORIGINAL POST, Feb. 9:
After checking out CNN's primary watch page late last night, I pretty much know what I'm going to be doing for the next six months:

Yesterday there were three Democratic primaries/caucuses: Washington, Nebraska and Louisiana. Obama won all three states overwhelmingly: 68-31% in Washington, 68-32% in Nebraska, 57-36% in Louisiana. He also won the more complex race for delegates in those states: 35-14 in Washington, 16-8 in Nebraska, 23-15 in Louisiana. (All figures are as of midnight last night, with between 96% and 99% of precincts in all three states reporting.)

So Obama gained 74 or so democratically-elected, "promised" delegates yesterday, and Clinton gained only 37 of such delegates. And since (depending on who was counting) the candidates were either neck-and-neck or Obama had a slight lead in the "promised" delegate count heading into today's primaries, he should have about a 40-delegate lead overall, right?

Wrong. Here's CNN's leaderboard as of about midnight Saturday, after substantially all the day's results were in:


Look closely: according to CNN, Obama has 908 democratically elected candidates to Clinton's 877 -- a 31-delegate lead -- but Clinton is still over 70 delegates ahead overall, even after getting her tail whupped today, because she's won the loyalty of (read: campaigned and done favors for, made huge campaign donations to, and shared Bill's donor Rolodex with) 223 party insiders called "superdelegates", while the less-well-connected Obama has only lined up 131!

(UPDATE, FEB. 12: After Maine last Sunday and with the "Potomac primaries" underway today, Obama is continuing his winning streak, but the situation still hasn't changed. CNN reports: In total delegates, Clinton tops Obama 1,148 to 1,121, according to CNN estimates. The breakdown paints a slightly different picture, as Obama leads 986 to 924 in pledged delegates, and Clinton is winning among superdelegates 224 to 135. Does this sound democratic to you, or does it sound like a system designed to ensure that only "establishment", business-as-usual pols can be elected?)

Gain a sweeping victory in elected delegates and yet wind up farther behind because while you were diligently campaigning, your opponent was (much more fruitfully) bribing or twisting insiders' arms. It's our current DLC, Centrist, Clintonian, Democratic (but not democratic) party in a nutshell. And while Obama is asking the superdelegates to simply vote the same way as their states or districts -- a fair solution -- Clinton is defending the superdelegate system, supposedly because the "supers" know the candidates personally and therefore can make better decisions about them than we mere citizens can! It's hard to imagine a less democratic position for a "Democrat" to take: that the aristocrats in the House of Lords quite properly can override us commoners who don't know what we're doing when we vote.

Wait, it gets worse: there's also the Michigan/Florida question. When those states moved their primaries earlier in the calendar without the DNC's permission, the party told them that if they persisted their delegates wouldn't count. They persisted. Clinton sneak-campaigned in both states by making sure her name was on the ballot then buying regional TV ads that would air both in contested states and in the disqualified states. Clinton, unopposed, won big in both states. And now the DNC says, firmly, that those delegates won't be seated -- unless the party decides otherwise at the convention itself. Big loophole, that: two huge, influential states' delegations show up and demand to be seated, it's all the news will cover, it threatens to overshadow the party's message on the issues, and you don't think they'll cave in and seat them? Especially if Obama wins the popular vote, but admitting Michigan and Florida will swing the popular vote the other way and make it look like Hillary actually won?

Yeah, right. The ongoing impeachment proceedings of Bush and Cheney illustrate the degree to which the current Democratic Party leadership -- with, I hope, the exception of Howard Dean -- stands firmly for truth, justice, fair elections and the American Way.

I'm trying to remember the last time the people voted for one candidate, but the other candidate manipulated a small group of power brokers to gain the Presidency anyway. The whole situation just seems really familiar. Just give me a sec. Was it... was it... Bush-Gore 2000, where Gore won the popular vote but Bush won the five Supreme Court votes that really mattered?

So that's what we're coming down to: We The People vote for one candidate, power brokers pick the other, power brokers win. And it doesn't matter which well-connected candidate is pulling the strings, because both parties will roll over for the people with power.

It's offensive. It's undemocratic, and unDemocratic. If the superdelegates don't do the right thing and align themselves with the popular vote, there may be -- there should be -- uncontrollable protests at the Democratic National Convention in Denver this August, a la Chicago 1968.

If Clinton wins the nomination unfairly, without huge protests from the roots, then regardless of the outcome of the general election it'll be a good time to check New Zealand's immigration rules. There's great mountain climbing there, the fly fishing is tremendous, the political system is only a little bit rigged -- and it's half a planet away from the former United States of America. But let's not lose faith. Instead, let's work to make sure that doesn't happen, because America's worth fighting for.

That's why I know what I'll be doing for the next sixth months: still doing my climbing on Mt. Hood, my fishing in the Deschutes and McKenzie -- and working to un-rig the Democratic Party's rigged and unfair primary system.

P.S. Feb. 12: Paul Abrams at HuffPo has a good idea for resolving the superdelegate controversy, and holds out hope for Florida and Michigan as well. Fingers crossed. And the Democratic Party is considering revamping its primary process -- but only after November, which is sensible but does us no good now. Meanwhile, though, Hillary still seems to have the lead overall despite falling farther and farther behind with primary voters. A little sunshine and a little progress shouldn't lull us into complacency...

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7 comments:

Desert Dawg said...

Who told Obama to take his name off the ballot in Michigan? (and I think he was on the ballot in Florida.) I remember a post Kos wrote a month ago talking about which candidate he thought was running to win, and by all measures, especially leaving her name on the ballot in Michigan, he said it was HRC. I believe he also said that he fully expected MI and FL to be seated, as it would be suicide for the DNC not to. Now, with all the momentum against her, suddenly she's a cheater, not a winner.

Thersites D. Scott said...

Great question. It's my understanding that the Democratic National Committee (with HRC's agreement) told the Michigan and Florida parties that if they advanced their primaries, the DNC wouldn't seat their delegates. Both states did it anyway. The DNC then asked the candidates to boycott those states -- basically, to help enforce the disqualification by ignoring them. All candidates but HRC did so.

Florida law doesn't allow candidates to remove their names from the ballot once they're qualified, so it had both Clinton and Obama on it (they had registered before the disqualification), but while Obama stayed away, HRC mounted a "stealth" campaign by running regional ads that aired both in Florida and other states, holding well-publicized meetings and fundraisers, etc.

In Michigan -- again, this is my understanding; let me know if I've got any facts wrong -- Obama never even registered as a candidate because of the disqualification, but Hillary did. I do know that Hillary's was the ONLY Democratic name on the Michigan ballot, so it's disingenuous for her to pretend that election was anything resembling "fair" and call for those delegates to be seated.

Why I call her a cheater is that (a) she agreed with the DNC decision to disqualify those states, and now wants them seated; (b) she took steps to win those states' votes just in case, when all the other candidates abided by party discipline and stayed away. I also think she's autocratic, nepotistic, self-serving, and elitist, but that's not the same as "cheating."

Desert Dawg said...

Re: Abrams. The right thing to do?

I'm sure you've seen this over at digby:

"""Donna Brazile, a member of the rules committee who argued for a swift and harsh punishment for Florida, said states' desire to be more relevant in the nominating process does not excuse violations of rules intended to make the system fair for everyone.

"I understand how states crave to be first. I understand that they're envious of the role that Iowa and New Hampshire have traditionally played," said Brazile, who was Al Gore's campaign manager in 2000. "The truth is, we had a process. . . . We're going to back these rules."

Though the DNC's action was well-telegraphed, it came after emotional pleas from state party leaders, who blamed the initial selection of the date on Republicans who control the legislature. Thurman said she and her staff spent "countless hours" trying to persuade the legislature to pick another date.

Jon Ausman, a DNC member from Florida, begged his colleagues to make an exception for Florida because of those efforts.

"We're asking you for mercy, not judgment," Ausman said.

The rules committee was largely unmoved; only one member -- Florida's Allan Katz -- voted against imposing the sanctions."""

and this exchange over at MyDD:

"""...Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina were all permitted to have their contests before the first Tuesday in February, but they too were also given specific dates.

As I stated in the diary I wrote on this subject...

Rule 11.A specifically set the date for the primaries & caucuses for those three states as ,"no earlier than 22 days before the first Tuesday in February" (Iowa), "no earlier than 14 days before the first Tuesday in February" (New Hampshire), and "no earlier than 7 days before the first Tuesday in February" (South Carolina).

Iowa held their caucuses on January 3rd. That's more than 22 days before the first Tuesday in February. New Hampshire held their primary on January 8th. That's more than 17 days before the first Tuesday in February. And South Carolina held their primary on January 26th. That's more than 7 days before the first Tuesday in February.

The fact is that, using your words, "the rules of the game" were changed to continue to give Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina preferential treatment in the Democratic Party's presidential nomination process. Florida, Iowa, Michigan, New Hampshire, and South Carolina, all violated Rule 11.A., but only Florida and Michigan were punished for it.

If you're going to enforce the rules, then the rules need to be applied equally and fairly. They weren't, and as far as I'm concerned, the 2008 Delegate Selection Rules for the Democratic National Convention aren't worth the paper they're printed on."""

Look, you can't have it both ways: not wanting to seat MI & FL cause those are the rules and not wanting superdelegates to vote the way they want, when those aren't the rules. And not wanting the credentials committee to decide on FL & MI--which are also the rules.

The entire superdelegate crisis is simply the BO campaign preemptively trying to head off the possibility of his not having won any big states after PA, but still being ahead in pledged delegates and therefore not wanting to allow superdelegates to go with whom they might perceive as the more electable candidate.

Setting any and all rules aside, if she takes TX, OH, and PA, do you think she should not be the nominee, regardless of FL, MI, or the SD's? Because I'm willing to say that if he wins any one of those, regardless of any rules, he should be the nominee.

Also, if the fight keeps going and she takes all of Puerto Rico's 66 (?), she might be ahead in pledged, too. PR's winner take all.

ps.sorry, i couldn't figure out the italics html

pps re: the DLC: remember he voted for the tort reform movement's class action bill, has taken in just as much finance interest money as HRC, and wouldn't cap cc rates at 30%. Sadly, I don't see much of a difference between either of them on these issues.

Anonymous said...

Hey there, great to see you at Eschaton this AM. Hope all is well for you and the gals. All the women in my family are Obama girls. Good job keeping up your blog. ErinPDX

Thersites D. Scott said...

Desert Dawg:
There's a really simple distinction between Florida and Michigan, on the one hand, and the other states you say also broke the rule (which I haven't researched yet): all the candidates were on the ballot, and campaigned, in the other states. But, as I've asked before, do you think it's right to seat Michigan's delegates, knowing that only Hillary's name appeared on that ballot? It seems that should resolve the question.

And the solution is so damned simple: revote. Put everyone's name on the ballot, let everyone campaign, revote, seat the delegates. If HRC wins then, I'll shut up.

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