Sunday, February 10, 2008

On Superdelegates
I have to admit my thinking on superdelegates is evolving the more I consider it. I have lots of sympathy with Chris Bowers' point of view (which Donna Brazile has also voiced) - that if Democratic superdelegates vote in a nominee that is not the one leading in pledged delegates based on the voters' selection in the primaries, it would be a huge travesty, worth leaving the party over. I wouldn't do that, of course. But I understand the sentiment. I also see the benefit of Tad Devine's similar position in today's NYTimes, that all superdelegates should "back off" and not announce a position until the convention, and then only to move in to affirm the choice of voters.

I think there's a strong one-person, one-vote principle at stake that the Democratic Party should stand for. But there's also a long-term political calculation that should come into play. If pledged delegates favor one candidate, but superdelegates choose the other, the party risks alienating either African-American (and young) voters, on the one hand, or women voters on the other, for a generation. We can't afford the perception that the shenanigans of insiders thwarted the will of the party to make whichever historic choice they do.

On the other hand, my indignation instinct is a little tired here, isn't it? I mean who are we kidding? There are problems with all of these complaints. For starters, is anyone paying attention to the strangeness of the delegate allocation process? In a congressional district with an even number of delegates, it's difficult for either candidate to get enough of a majority to gain a delegate advantage. In districts with an odd number, only one vote more translates to a delegate lead. In Nevada, Obama earned more delegates even though Hillary had more supporters. In Alabama, Obama won 56%-42%, but because of the way the districts panned out, he gained only 27-25 in delegates.

So, what is a superdelegate committed to democracy supposed to do? If you prefer Clinton and you're a Nevadan, and the pledged delegates after this convoluted system favor Obama slightly, which choice honors the voters? If your state went for Hillary, but your congressional district went for Obama, which allegiance is more honorable? If the delegate count favors Hillary, but you believe she can't win, or that her name on the ballot will hurt other Democratic candidates in your state, which choice better fulfills your duty to the Party? And after all, these aren't governmental elections, really, they're Party operations.

As for waiting until the Convention, that's not simple either. Why not make clear your preference when your state votes so everybody knows where we stand? What will make it appear that superdelegates swoop in and take control more than if they all announce their preference right at the end en masse?

I don't know. Maybe it's not so bad for elected officials - who stick their necks out with the party name - to have a little extra say in who their figurehead is vying for the White House. Maybe it's a decent test of a candidate's ability to work with and persuade exactly the kind of leaders they will need to to be successful. Kenny B will notice that this is the exact opposite position from what I was taking over the weekend, but like I say I'm thinking about it. If there was one simple way to "honor the voters" and if the system itself "honored the voters" more clearly, then I would think all of these hysterics might be more warranted. But it is a bit complicated, at the very least.

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