A Terrible Tie

October 31, 2008

By Stephen Noriega

This could possibly happen, so I’m going with it in my election predictions. It would be tantamount to betting that the top three horses in a race will fall but I think the odds are actually better than that. Due to some unusual provisions in our Constitution, this election could result in an Obama / Palin Administration. Don’t batter me with hostile question marks and laughter, yet.

McCain could surge and wins every battleground state except Colorado, Pennsylvania and New Mexico (and he has a great reputation for comebacks). The Bradley Effect could help him in certain states like Virginia, Ohio and Nevada. Voter suppression efforts could help him with North Carolina and Florida. Colorado and New Mexico have filled with liberal migrant voters and are turning blue. Pennsylvania has Philadelphia and Pittsburgh to make it safe for Obama. This would result in a 269 – 269 tie.

http://news.yahoo.com/election/2008/dashboard?name=StephenN1|content=111100000110101011100000111111000111100011111010101

So, per Article II of the Constitution, the choice for President goes to the House of Representatives. Each state has one vote in this procedure, so states with more of one party will vote along those party lines. Currently, there are 27 states with more Democrats in the House of Representatives, 21 states with more Republicans and 2 that are tied. Thus, Obama would win that vote and would become the 44th President.

However, it is not the House of Representatives that decides who is Vice President. It is the Senate. Per the Twelfth Amendment, each member of the Senate gets one vote to decide the V.P. Currently there are 49 Democrats and 49 Republicans in the Senate. One person, Bernie Williams, would vote for Biden. One Independent, Joe Lieberman, may vote for Palin as he has campaigned for the Republican ticket all along. This would result in a tie in the Senate. Guess who breaks ties in the Senate? That’s right, Vice President Dick Cheney would break the tie and Sarah Palin would be the choice.

I know there are variables even within this probability nightmare. Chuck Hagel, an occasional Democrat sympathizer could swing the vote I the other direction. Joe Lieberman might decide to abandon his love of Republicans once his friend McCain is no longer the winner.

Naturally, this scenario is remote from its inception. However, it sure is wild to even see it as a possibility. Remember, the last time there was a tie in our obsolete Electoral College, a similar coupling resulted and our first Treasury Secretary was shot to death by said Vice President (Aaron Burr) over it! Duels are illegal now but what a sitcom to have Barack Obama and Sarah Palin trying to run a country together.


Markey vs. Musgrave: How Women Would Change Politics – Not

October 23, 2008

By Stephen Noriega

I have asked many women, from third wave feminists to conservative traditionalists about how gender would affect politics. Most women have told me that if women had more influence at the spigots of power, the environment would be less hostile and more collaborative. Disagreements, although longer in duration because congresswomen have never physically assaulted another lawmaker, at least here in the United States, would be settled through understanding and consensus. According to feminism, the patriarchy, the constant need to be the Alpha Male and the following aggression, especially in campaigns, creates a lot of the negative framing we see today. I agree with this assessment. Politics is a shadow cast by the object of our real institutions. We are trained to act this way and to observe the male-centered ways of how we select our leaders. The traditional way to present our candidates is in an adversarial format. We pit them against each other, focusing on strength of character, willingness to confront the other, physical attractiveness and their control of their wives (the only first ladies to draw controversy were the more assertive ones like Hilary Clinton or Teresa Heinz Kerry). All three waves of feminism have grappled with this issue. I will not speak to the history of this struggle but the current system is not what most third wave feminists want.

http://feminism.suite101.com/article.cfm/third_wave_feminism

So to make a long story longer…

One would think that Betsy Markey would take a cue from her own feminist roots and look for ways to shift the paradigm so as to not recreate the patriarchal election tradition but to compete without spears and missiles, mostly in the form of negative ads. Elizabeth Helen (AKA Betsy) Markey has attributes that could appeal to both sides of the aisle, again, giving her an opportunity to change her own small universe of politics. Markey has a rich academic background, receiving a Masters degree of Public Administration from American University. In business, Markey made a modest fortune co-founding Syscom Services (http://www.syscom.com/software.htm). She also established Huckleberry’s in Fort Collins and sold it for a profit. Markey also worked with and served as an officer with the Food Bank of Larimer County. Markey has also worked on many issues relating to communities, families and women’s issues. Betsy Markey, even though coming from a Catholic family, elected to keep her original name when she got married, something very feminist to do these days and hooray for her! I am quite aware of the patriarch name argument as my wife chose to keep her name and it is the logical thing to do. My wife then honors her family through time as well and keeps her professional brand consistent. Following is a photo of Betsy Markey, not my wife.

Courtesy of Betsy Markey for Congress

So what problem could I have with this person? My issue is that Betsy Markey is falling into the same old crap that white men have been practicing since they seized power a long time ago. The fight for the 4th Congressional District has become a bitter, slicing contest, snowing under many concerns. Quoting 9News about the October 9th debate they held, “Both Republican incumbent Marilyn Musgrave and Democratic challenger Betsy Markey were emotional when asked about misconceptions voters might have about them from the heavy negative advertising in the race.” http://www.9news.com/news/article.aspx?storyid=101504

This is not to say that Marilyn Musgrave has run a thoughtful, sporting campaign. Musgrave has linked Markey’s business with corruption and has inferred that she is a liar, a manipulator and (gasp) a liberal.

Betsy Markey could have risen above this but she chose not to.

It is not to say that scurrilous attacks should go undefended. Some of the accusations that Musgrave’s campaign brought up were absurd and vicious. These can be addressed while not launching equally serrated sorties. In fact, in this particular election, the less one must attack, the better. This is the election to begin realizing that political cockfighting is not the only way to campaign. Betsy Markey can be a transformational character because of what she has accomplished so far and how she continues her political success. Watching the national elections is indicating that perhaps the general public is finally getting tired of the negative attacks and perhaps wants more discussion. Less patriarch warfare and more presentation of comparable values might be the cure of the day. Betsy Markey has held a slight advantage over Musgrave since August and no negative campaigning on either side has helped. It is perhaps an election where we seek the challenge of working on solutions rather than the comfort and tradition of fighting over them.


Schaffer Versus Udall: Clash of Negatives

August 28, 2008

If this wasn’t a presidential election year, this one could be put on pay-per-view. Bob Schaffer, with oil and gasoline exuding from his pores, clashes with Mark Udall, spotted owls flying from his nostrils. One is a fascist. The other is a communist. They are both faithful, poison-tipped spears from the far right and left. Both of these fine demons from different hells will fight until humanity is annihilated just so they can get elected to the U.S. Senate.

In many senate campaigns, one can hardly tell the difference between Democrat and Republican. Ken Salazar demonstrates this all the time. As candidates dance to the middle to get elected, they hide from their extreme bases and their core beliefs. This will not be happening in the Bob Schaffer – Mark Udall Armageddon, I mean Election. Colorado will have a wild choice to make. Some will call this a Hobson’s Choice because of the extremes to choose from.

So far, the campaigns have spent over 8 million dollars in negative advertisements (Michael Riley – Denver Post, Public Ad Buy Information – 8/22/2008). By the last total on Friday, August 22nd, the anti-Schaffer forces have spent 2.68 million. The anti-Udall forces have spent 5.95 million. For a senate race in Colorado, that is a whole lot of character assassination!

The Schaffer camp wants to paint Mark Udall as a deep ecologist, willing to let American children starve rather than drill next to a couple of caribou and gulf water shrimp. They want to show him as a flip flopper and an absentee legislator.

The Udall camp wants to frame Bob Schaffer as a hired mercenary for the oil companies, hoisted up into this campaign to make sure that Colorado’s beauty is strip-mined of its shale and that Exxon-Mobile can ravage the earth with impunity.

Now these are 527 hench-groups, with some of their own agendas and freedom to be looser with the truth. However, the messages are not being renounced or forbidden. The war is on. Schaffer and Udall have already met in debate. Schaffer successfully cornered Udall to promise he would keep Congress in session until an energy bill regarding offshore drilling was ironed out. Udall’s plane was late getting back to Washington and he was blamed for ruining the lives of millions of people.

This is only the taste of things to come. Bob Shaffer is an admirable and terrifying debater. Many people in Colorado politics remember how he disemboweled a rather highly regarded but political inexperienced Pete Coors in a primary contest. T.R. Reid wrote it well how Schaffer outplayed his fellow Republican:

In a debate, the wily Schaffer demanded to know whether Coors agreed with Paul Martin on U.S.-Canadian trade. Coors fell right into the trap. “I’m not sure I know who Paul Martin is,” he said warily. Schaffer pounced: “A U.S. senator needs to know who the prime minister of Canada is.”

-T.R. Reid, The Washington Post, 7/25/2004

In a debate meant to address energy issues, Shaffer pulled a great debating trick over Mark Udall on the Iraq question. He quoted one of Udall’s pre-Iraq statements that was pro-invasion. The crowd exploded with cheers and boos. The anxious mediator implored the crowd to stand down. The war continued.

Udall gave an answer but Schaffer won this joust, knocking Udall off his horse. Udall’s campaign will be wise to avoid too many rounds with the debater from hell. He will have to rely on his personal appeal and on Schaffer’s attachment to oil companies. The environmental 527’s have done this well, highlighted, in my opinion by a well-designed commercial from fingerprintbob.com and the League of Conservation Voters.

This fight will be energetic because it plays to two sides of Colorado culture, both wanting more power than they have. Bob Shaffer represents true conservatives. Mark Udall represents true liberals. They have to get nasty to influence those in the middle. Believe it or not, most people in Colorado want energy independence and a protected environment. Most people in Colorado are more reasonable than the ads that have played and that will come. The winning candidate may very well be the one who convinces Colorado voters that the other is farthest to the extreme, whether it is to the left or the right. The war will continue.

Stephen Noriega


Is Biden Good for McCain?

August 28, 2008

So now that the Democratic National Convention is in full swing, buzzing with promising speeches, celebrities and well-meaning anarchists, let’s talk about the Republican. John McCain, and the rest of us, now knows who the vice presidential candidate will be. Barack Obama announced Joe Biden as his running mate at 3:00 in the morning (Saturday) in a texting blitz to his closest trillion followers. Joe Biden is an interesting and strategic pick for Obama. Biden’s acceptance speech at the DNC was serviceable, almost paling in comparison to his touching biography and introduction by his son, Beau Biden. Joe Biden looked really happy to be the candidate for Vice President and his energy and smile looked younger than his years. For McCain, there are openings to go at Biden as a VP choice but some serious pitfalls as well.

AP Photo by Charles Rex Arbogast – 8/7/2007

Joe Biden is a seasoned senator and politician with decades of experience in Washington. This length of experience is jaded less by the fact that he really seems to be a good, Catholic family man, avoiding the personal scandals of many of his colleagues. Joe Biden is a gray haired (Hair Club for Men?) sage character with plenty of spring left in his step and lots of wind left in his lungs.

That is where McCain can get him. Joe Biden has probably said more words while in the Senate than any other politician. Ever. He is famous and infamous for his verbosity which at times has run him afoul of the press, the people and even his own party. Some patience should be required but Biden will probably say some things that get him in trouble. He will know how many houses he owns but he will also end up offending the Realtor Association and immigrant house contractors.

Gary Markstein, Copley

McCain shouldn’t think that one episode of Biden’s foot-in-mouth disease will carry him through to the election. Biden is quite capable of apologizing for remarks (something he has had to do many times) and his friendly charm gets him forgiven quickly, often within a news week (Monday at 8:00 to Friday at 3:00)

Another caution McCain should take is not to extrapolate Biden’s loose tongue and treat him like a dolt. Actually, McCain has known Biden since the beginning of the Triassic and he will not underestimate him. If his campaign does, they will pay the price. Joe Biden is an expert on international affairs. He talked about the federalism of Iraq before others and worried about Afghanistan when most eyes were still in Baghdad. His acumen and experience might make him an insider but he is a very capable compliment to Obama’s fresh look and perceived inexperience. Biden is a classic lawyer and has kept his debating knives sharp and serrated for any unprepared schmuck that might face him on television in the fall.

The McCain campaign must use four things against Biden to neutralize him as an effective vice presidential candidate.

  1. Biden’s mouth.
  2. Biden’s time in government.
  3. Biden’s plagiarism trouble in the past.
  4. Biden’s hair (for radio pundits only)

We have already discussed his mouth, so just wait and play when he oververbosifies.

Joe Biden won his first election to the Senate in 1972, making him one of the most senior members. He sits on very prestigious committees, like the Foreign Relations Committee. Sometimes this is good to demonstrate experience. This can also be held as a walking symptom of government that does not work, crushed by the weight of career politicians. At the same time, McCain must be painted as the Maverick or else the same argument can be hoisted upon him

Joe Biden “borrowed” a speech written by a British politician (Neil Kinnock) in 1987 during his first presidential campaign. That pretty much ruined his run at the white house (http://www.famousplagiarists.com/politics.htm). In his first year in the Syracuse Law School, Biden was accused of plagiarism on a paper. He was not disciplined as far as the records indicate but the suspicions can carry their own weight (http://www.americanthinker.com/blog/2008/08/joe_bidens_plagiarism_problem.html).

This can be brought up again to erode at his credibility, especially if he happens to give a great speech. The attack dogs can wonder out loud, “Geez, I wonder where he got that one?”

Biden has some interesting hair. He is obviously bald when viewed from the back. However, he had a nice, gray bird’s nest in front. Who knows if those are plugs or a runaway comb-over or what. The official campaign should leave it alone but if any intelligence comes in about bit, it should be disseminated to the Limbaugh network. The comedian/pundits will tie the comb-over in with insincerity and “follicle plagiarism” if they can.

The McCain campaign should not go after him as an elitist or some rich guy with a trophy wife. Joe Biden has a very good reputation for working for the common person and less wealthy groups. He also championed the National Domestic Violence Volunteer Act in 2007 (Huffington Post, 2007), something that McCain and others voted against. Joe Biden lost his first wife and daughter in a car accident in 1972. He remarried after an appropriate time of mourning in 1977. Joe Biden goes to church, for real. His wife is attractive, but not right out of high school (Thompson) or looking like she’s worth 300 million dollars (McCain).

Dr. Jill Biden – flickr.com

So McCain can neutralize Biden but must be smart about it. Joe Biden could be a valuable asset for Barack Obama. If he can keep his feet on the floor and out of his mouth, his value rises past any strategy on McCain’s part. If he does slip, then his other faults can be exploited and the McCain campaign can drag Obama down by the tongue of his vice presidential pick. So far, in five and a half days of campaigning, he hasn’t left an opening for the McCain camp.

Stephen Noriega – The McBeat


Democrats Ascendant in the Rocky Mountain West

August 12, 2008

It’s been a long exile for Western Democrats. The last time Denver hosted a Democratic National Convention was over one hundred years ago, with the William Jennings Bryant Democrats of 1896. Since those heady days for Western Democrats, the Western path to the presidency has been something of a lost El Dorado. Rather than looking to the interior mountains, Democrats have conventioned in Chicago, New York, San Francisco, Dallas and Miami, avoiding altogether the flyover states of the Rocky Mountain West.

But the tectonic plates of American politics shifted in 2004, when several Western states elected Democratic state houses, governors and Members of Congress; followed by the big electoral earthquake of 2006, which shattered the old mold and revealed a new electoral geography.

The West is turning blue.

Democrats are suddenly running and winning in races from Arizona to Montana, all across the once reliable eight-state Republican region. Leading strategists (here, here or here are advising the Democrats to drop their southern infatuation and follow the Western route to the presidency, and once again the Democrats are bringing their national convention to Denver.

“I have long believed that the essence of a Democratic victory goes through the West,” Party chair Howard Dean has noted.“If we are going to have a national party, we are going to have to have Westerners to vote Democratic again on a reliable basis.” The demconwatch.blogspot.com website presents a plethora of insider excitement over rising Democratic prospects in the West: “In the West, it is our time,” stated Denver’s DNC host committee president, Councilwoman Elbra Wedgeworth, upon learning that Denver had been chosen to host the 2008 DNC. Colorado Senator Ken Salazar added that “Colorado is an ideal site to showcase the Democratic Party’s resurgence and our hopes for the future,” while Harold Ickes (deputy chief of staff for President Clinton) weighed in that “I think Denver, Colorado and the Rocky Mountain West are an area that’s increasingly in the Democratic focus and out to be”.

Colorado is the showcase of the changing West, electing a Democratic state legislature and a Democratic Senator in 2004, choosing a Democratic Governor in 2006 and sending a Democratic delegation to the U.S. House

Montana, a state that hadn’t elected a Democratic House and Governor for decades, recently turned its state house and Governor’s office over to the Democrats, and sent a Democrat to the U.S. Senate.

Five years ago, the eight-state Rocky Mountain region boasted eight GOP governors. Today, there are only three. Even Wyoming has a Democratic governor.

And that’s why the Democrats are coming to Denver for their convention. Win Colorado or New Mexico, and Al Gore wouldn’t have needed Florida, back in 2000.

What accounts for the Democrat’s Western strength? Some point to the Latino surge—Latinos are rapidly growing in the West, and they vote Democrat. Certainly party strategists and scholars are focused on the behaviors of this growing Latino vote.


Some point to the Cowboy Democrats as the source of western change—its all those libertarian rural cowboys, fed up with a GOP that has lost its way; they’re turning Dem or sitting it out.

And, some (here or here) point to the Californians—its all those new creative class liberal transplants pouring in from the Coast—they’re Californicating Colorado.

I’m part of a research team covering this subject, and we’ve run the numbers for a forthcoming article, and here’s what I can tell you. It’s the Californians. The engine of liberalism in the West are those migrating in from other states—with California the biggest contributor.

What about the other two theories? Latinos are indeed growing in the west, and they tend to vote Democratic, put the fact is that Latinos post very low voting rates (many of them are ineligible to vote, and many others have simply not yet been mobilized into dependable political participation). Every year, this group grows as an electoral force, but to date it cannot be said that Latinos are voting at high enough levels to be the driving force behind change in the West.

As for the Cowboy Democrats—the actual voting data shows that the cowboy counties (those most sparsely populated and most dependent on agriculture, especially in states like Idaho, Utah, Wyoming and Montana) are actually NOT trending towards the Democrats. The more cowboy the county, the more likely it is to buck the Democratic movement in the West and actually be trending towards the Republicans. So it’s not the Latinos and it’s not the cowboys driving the West left-it’s the Californians.

Interstate migrants into the West hail most often from California counties that are substantially more Democratic than the Western area they are moving into, they are more likely to be single, childless and white-collar than existing residents, more likely to work within the “creative class” sector of the economy; and they catalyze rising Democratic strength wherever they show up.

When new migrants pour into once isolated rural counties by the thousands, moving into the West from the coastal regions, bubbling into the rural hinterlands out of Democratic powerhouses like Denver, and bringing a new, creative economy with them—they are announcing an electoral transformation that is shaking the foundation of the existing geography of political power in America.

And that’s why Obama is coming to Denver—to ride the Californians to the presidency.


The Democratic Party is too Democratic! Super-Delegate to the Rescue!

March 7, 2008

The Texas and Ohio results are in and it looks like the fate of the most powerful office in the world is now in the hands of this guy–

superdelegate3.jpg

Photo:www.pbs.org/newshour/extra/images/july-dec04/jasonrae_final.jpg

He’s Mr. Jason Rae, 21 years old and the nation’s youngest superdelegate. Texas and Ohio voters last week didn’t decide the election after all. In fact, the voters themselves, whether in Texas, Ohio, Iowa or anywhere else, may never have a chance to decide it. In the end, it may all be in the hands of the young Mr. Rae, Ms. Jenny Greenleaf from Oregon, Mr. Awais Khaleel from Wisconsin, and their superdelegate associates, who will all be free to ignore the wishes of millions of voters in their states and across the nation.


Super-Delegates Are Meant to be Anti-Democratic

Who are these super-delegates and how did they get such extraordinary super-powers—so that each of their votes for presidential candidates is equal to about 10,000 votes of normal citizens? The answer has something to do with the paradoxical Democratic party nominating process, a process resembling a tragic creature you may have read about as a child.

Doctor DoLittle called it a pushmi-pullyu—a strange creature with a head on both ends and sadly resigned to always be pulling itself in hopelessly opposite directions. Today this tragic creature is known as the Democratic party—or at least the Democratic party’s presidential nominating process, which is built around strangely contradictory impulses towards pure democracy (the direct primary with proportional allocation of delegates) and blunt aristocracy (the automatic allocation of “super-delegate” status to party officials and insiders, who are free to vote as they choose, unbeholden to any popular vote process).

It’s a strange, two-headed creature. Speaking from one head, Democrats seem to love democracy (they were the party back in the 1970s that led the way to changing state laws across the country to require the direct primary or open caucus method of nominating presidents so that voters would control the process, and they are the party allocating their state delegates through a proportional representation system). But speaking from the other head is that same Democratic party which has had enough concern with the possibly unpredictable and unwise choices of “the people,” that they came up with the idea of super-delegates in the 1980s, automatically giving party officials and assorted party insiders an especially powerful role in selecting the presidential candidate, regardless of who the people themselves might have voted for in the primary.

Superdelegates shouldn’t be intervening in any way to overturn the will of the voters, complain some, like Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi. “I think the electoral process has to work its way,” she argues.

But then again, superdelegates using their special powers to overturn the momentum of the people is exactly the way it was designed to be, and therein lies the troubling truth about the obscure institution of the superdelegate—purposely designed as an elitist cure to the excesses of pure democracy. But will voters put up with it, if the superdelegates nominate a candidate who did not win the most states or the most delegates through primaries and caucuses in the various states? In 2008 we may find the answer to whether the voters at large will accept the “cure” against their own desires—or whether the super-delegates may even now be singing their swan song in deciding their final nomination, before being banished forever by a frustrated Democratic electorate.

Over 25 million people have voted nationwide, and Barack Obama leads Hillary Clinton by about 500,000 votes in the popular vote tally. Obama also leads among “pledged delegates”—those delegates allocated according to the popular votes in their state—by a count of 1366 to 1222 (2025 delegates are needed to win).

And yet, when all is said and done, neither Obama nor Hillary is likely to win enough popular delegates to be nominated for the Presidency. Enter the superdelegates. These are people who are allowed to vote as delegates for the Democratic nominee due their status as a member of Congress, a state party official, or a former high-ranking party leader. There will be around 840 superdelegates at the Democratic National Convention in Denver—they will be free to vote as they chose—together they will constitute over 40% of the total votes needed to win the nomination, and their preferences very well may decide the final Democratic nominee.

It all sounds sort of like the smoke-filled rooms of the party bosses of old. Voters and their pledged delegates cry out to go one way—while the non-elected superdelegates and the presidential nomination itself may very well go of in the other direction. In this election what that really means is that (based on current trends) the voters and the pledged delegates look like they will end up going mostly for Obama—while the superdelegates and party establishment may go for Clinton. Add to the combustible mixture that superdelegates are much older, and much whiter, than the voters who have surged to the primaries in record numbers this year. For example, white men make up 28% of the Democratic party’s voters, and yet account for about 46% of the superdelegates. The 21 year old Jason Rae superdelegates are few and far between among the party elite—though they showed up in record droves during the primaries.

Do the Voters Need the Wisdom of the Super-Delegates?

So if the superdelegates end up playing a decisive role, will the voters themselves put up with it? How comfortable will Democrats be, especially all those young, first-time voters that surged to Obama in the various state elections, if the superdelegates exercise their superpowers and decide hand the nomination to Clinton? Perhaps songwriter Roy Zimmerman says it best in his humorous riff on the superhuman superdelegate.

It’s been a long time since superdelegates actually overturned the preferences of the voters. So long, in fact, that standard political science textbooks give little more than passing reference to the quaint, but generally meaningless, role of ‘superdelegate”—in the textbooks you will find mostly brief and innocuous discussions of these people, who have not decided an election in years, simply because the popular vote has generally been loud and clear in terms of who the people wanted as their nominee

History of the Super-Delegates

But there was a time when party insiders were in fact a major force in selecting nominees, and when they overturned popular sentiment in the primaries to select whoever they wanted. Something very much like this happened the last time in 1968, when young idealists and other Democratic activists used the primaries to push their party in one direction (towards anti-war and increasingly liberal candidates), while the establishment party leadership went another route and nominated a more centrist candidate who had actually not won a single primary all year long (Hubert Humphrey). A week of riot in the streets of Chicago followed, as young activists denounced the party elite, the Democratic party fell apart into bitter in-fighting, and the Republican candidate won the election (Nixon).

A chastised Democratic party proceeded to open its nominating process completely to the people—banning the notion of party insider nomination by “super-delegates”—and turning the entire process over the people themselves in 1972. The problem is that party insiders became concerned in the following elections that passionate Democratic activists in the primaries were nominating hopelessly liberal candidates (McGovern in 1972) or naïve and untested candidates (Carter in 1976) that became electoral disasters for the party, losing in landslides to Nixon and Reagan. “The people,” many party insiders concluded,” cannot fully be trusted with nominating their own leaders: we need to bring back the voice of wisdom, moderation, and strategic calculation that only we party leaders have.”

And so the superdelegates were designed in the 1980s, according to political scientist Rhodes Cook, as a “firewall to blunt any party outsider that built up a head of steam in the primaries,” or (in the words of Northeastern University political scientist William Mayer) to prevent any insurgent candidate “out of sync with the rest of the party.”

The number of super-delegates were increased following the insurgent success of Jesse Jackson in the 1980s—a campaign that many party insiders felt hurt their party by associating it with the overly “radical” (though popular in the grass-roots) campaign of Jesse Jackson, an African-American thought by most to be unelectable in the general election. Party leaders expanded the superdelegate institution to better muffle the voices of impassioned grass-roots activists—who were seen as a democratic force, yes—but also a dangerous force in terms of undermining the professionalism and electability of the party at large. Current Clinton advisor, Lannie Davis (who himself was part of the team who invented the super-delegate process back in the 1980s), recently reminded Americans of how important it is to allow the super-delegates to vote for anyone they want, regardless of the popular vote in their own congressional district or state. We need to avoid giving too much power to the “narrow band of base activists” who dominate the primaries, Davis argues, by which he means to limit the power of the voters themselves, or at least those that show up to vote in primaries and caucuses.

Its not surprising that insurgent, grass-roots candidates who have been hurt by the superdelegate process sin the past are not big supporters of the institution meant to protect the voters from themselves. “I certainly think their influence should be curtailed,” Gary Hart says, an outsider who fought Walter Mondale to a draw in competing for the 1984 Democratic nomination among the voters themselves, but lost the superdelegates in a landslide. In 1988 Jesse Jackson won the Puerto Rico primary in Puerto Ric over Michael Dukakis. Puerto Rico’s governor nevertheless instructed his fifty-one delegates to back Dukakis. “This is clearly machine politics,” Jackson wrote back then. “Superdelegates should have nothing to do with the 1988 campaign.” .

Super-Delegates and the Theory of Republican Governance

Its easy to paint the superdelegates as anti-democratic elitists, an institution impossibly out of touch with the Democratic spirit of our times. But on the other hand, the whole idea of elected leaders and established elites playing a special role in making important decisions in our society is nothing more than the very principle of “republican” governance on which our nation was founded (“republican” in this sense does not mean the Republican party, but the “republican” spirit of respect for wise, elected leaders to sometimes know better than activist, impassioned masses of people).

If you consult the founding documents of the American system, it is clear that most of the founders themselves might have thought very highly of the super-delegates. In James Madison’s famous Federalist Paper #10, Madison was very clear that pure democracies were dangerous—they were always susceptible to fads (Obama-Mania?), and unwise and dangerous ideas often fired up the masses (immediate pullout of Iraq?). And so Madison put his faith in an representative elite—elected by the people, but also selected by other party officials—to make more wise and careful choices on everything from policy matters to who the next Senator or President should be (the original idea for the Electoral College was that it would operate as something of a college of super-delegates, deciding the president for the people). Madison felt we should trust a system of elite, representative rule to “refine and enlarge the public views, by passing them through the medium of a chosen body of citizens, whose wisdom may best discern the true interests of their country and whose patriotism and love of justice will be least likely to sacrifice if to temporary or partial considerations.”

And so the impassioned Obama voters are the philosophical “democrats” of the day, speaking of the need for a party to represent the voice and will of the people who vote—while the Clinton superdelegates are the philosophical “republicans” of the day, speaking of the need for a balanced and moderate choice that reflects broad party needs beyond what Davis calls a “narrow band of activists.” It’s a long debate in America with a historic pedigree of allies on both sides. You can view those two sides in a discussion in this video clip from CNN.


Will Democrats Put Up with Super-Delegates Reversing Voters’ Decisions?

American has a long tradition of trusting representatives to make important decisions for them. But it cannot be denied that the sweep of most history in America has been away from the republican spirit and towards more democracy. And so we must ask today– how much of the republican spirit of representative/elite influence can the Democratic Party sustain in its nominating process?

The superdelegates were created in the spirit of “filtering and refining” the opinions of the voters at large—but it is unlikely that voters today will be very excited as their ideas are filtered, refined….and possibly reversed. In fact, the very institution of the superdelegate hasn’t overturned a popular vote since the “days of rage” in 1968 (when superdelegates were simply called party bosses), and many people in the party certainly didn’t put up with it back then. Would they today?

Today, the superdelegates have become an acceptable modern institution, only insofar as they have been meaningless. Democratic National Committee member Elaine Kamarck has called the superdelegate a “sort of safety valve,” but there are many who predict that if the superdelegates “steal” the election from the popular vote winner they will be better described as a “self-destruction system” as the Democrats will predictably implode in bitter infighting and recriminations over an election stolen by the insiders, leading their party to a grand defeat in 2008.

America is a Republic and America is a Democracy, yes. And there are many things that Americans trust their leaders with deciding, from annual budget allocations to sending the nation to war. But there is one choice Americans may no longer e willing to trust to their leaders, and that is the choice of choosing who their leaders will be. Writing for The Nation, Ari Berman put it like this: “The 2008 campaign has again exposed the undemocratic influence of the superdelegate elite. But just as the activists of ’68 pushed aside the party bosses, forty years later voters can demand that the party’s nominee reflect their choice.”

One way that voters can make this demand for the party to reflect their choice for the nominee is to ultimately do away with the superdelegate institution altogether. That decision, of whether to celebrate and protect the institution of the superdelegate as a necessary brake on activist democracy, or to eliminate it altogether as elitist and anti-democratic—will ultimately be made by those people who choose to stick around and make their Democratic party their own, after the smoke of the 2008 election has finally settled.

…And now that you have finished a serious reflection on some weighty matters concerning the future of American democracy, you might enjoy this wholly frivolous diversion. Enjoy this mockumentary of a day in the life of that strange creature, the American superdelegate.