(Not So) Superdelegates
The new conventional wisdom about the Democratic race is that the superdelegates will pick the winner. And this has a lot of Democrats–all Obama supporters, of course–very upset. Donna Brazile, who managed Gore’s campaign in 2000, was quoted by ABC News today as saying that "If 795 of my colleagues decide this election, I will quit the Democratic Party." Chris Bowers, a liberal blogger, describes the prospect as a "complete disaster" that "shine[s] light on complicated bylaws, and the questionable democratic nature of the delegate selection process." And Katrina vanden Heuvel, editor of The Nation, is calling on the party to reform the process so that "the people, not the party establishment, choose their candidate."
Quite why everyone is so upset is a mystery to me. Brazile and her friends thought the system was perfectly fair in 2000, when it nominated their man. And, more to the point, the superdelegate system is doing exactly what it was designed to do: defend the Democratic Party from Democratic voters. The system has its origins in the 1968 Democratic National Convention, which is surely the least successful Democratic gathering since 1860. In 1968, in addition to fighting the police and each other, the Party created what came to be known as the McGovern-Fraser Commission, which in turn recommended measures to open up and democratize the process of delegate selection. Party leaders lost the ability to choose delegates in secret, and so control the nomination process, as they had in 1968, when they handed the prize to Hubert Humphrey.
The result of the ‘reforms’ was the nomination of McGovern himself in 1972, one of the worst-beaten candidates in
Well, it looks like it’s 1988 all over again. With his wins over the weekend in
The problem for the Democratic Party, as Joseph Epstein put it in his recent review of The Journals of Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., is that McGovern, both in his person and through his reforms, turned it into a "coalition of victimhoods." This was what made the superdelegate system necessary: without it, the Party might go rogue and select another McGovern. As long as the race came down to an establishment candidate against an outsider, the system worked reasonably well. It rarely picked winners, but it did at least allow the Democrats to unite around one candidate. But this year, it is the ill-luck of the Democrats to have three candidates. Two of them are Hillary Clinton: the Hillary representing the establishment and the Hillary representing women. The third is of course Barack Obama, who represents the young, the liberal, and African-Americans. There is no safe choice for a superdelegate there: the coalition only made sense as long as the victims only had one candidate. With two in the ring, picking the establishment candidate means siding with one victim over another.
And that is one reason why the Democrats are upset. The other is simpler: the fact that the Democratic Party does not trust Democratic voters to pick the right candidate could easily lead voters of all stripes to decide that they, in turn, should not trust it.