Adult Supervision

Does a delegate go to a political convention to lead? To represent? To decide?

I had always thought their task was to represent and, based on that, to decide. After all, the very word “delegate” itself implies a transfer of power, a representation—and not duties of leadership. In today's New York Times, however, Geraldine Ferraro tells me that I'm wrong.

At least, I'm wrong in relation to the so-called “superdelegates.” In her view, they are essentially different from mere delegates:

But the superdelegates were created to lead, not to follow. They were, and are, expected to determine what is best for our party and best for the country. I would hope that is why many superdelegates have already chosen a candidate to support.

Ferraro justifies this through a paternalist argument: We let you try it on your own, but you messed up so badly in 1980 that we had to step in a straighten things out. We are the adults, and know what is best for you and the party. Besides, we understand the big picture that you children just don't get:

Besides, the delegate totals from primaries and caucuses do not necessarily reflect the will of rank-and-file Democrats. Most Democrats have not been heard from at the polls. We have all been impressed by the turnout for this year’s primaries — clearly both candidates have excited and engaged the party’s membership — but, even so, turnout for primaries and caucuses is notoriously low. It would be shocking if 30 percent of registered Democrats have participated.

So, the superdelegates are going to make up for that lack of participation, representing those who didn't vote?

Yeah, right.

Besides, you can't have it both ways. In the first quote, Ferraro, you are saying that the superdelegates are supposed to be making the decisions. In the second, you imply that they are there to represent the unrepresented (circumventing, by the way, our system's use of voting, and not polling, for elections).

When people set themselves up as leaders, they have to either convince their constituency that they know better and will make the best decision—or convince them that they will carry out programs the people have already decided they want. In a convention situation, the “leaders” are specifically tasked with representing constituencies, not with developing new programs.

Even so, the superdelegates aren't about leadership at all. In fact, the convention isn't about leadership. Yes, we are deciding who our leaders are through the process, but the superdelegates and the convention are about that process, and about control of it. By a sleight-of-hand that wasn't noticed until this year (for its results had never been significant). The Democratic Party assured, with the creation of the superdelegate system, that what looks like a process where the voters decide isn't that at all. Now we see that, rather than making our own decision, we're still under “adult”supervision.

And I don't like that at all.

No votes yet


is technically correct but this year has shown us the severe shortcomings of the way the Democrats conduct their presidential nomination. As an addition to Ferraro's piece, I had bookmarked a piece from NPR on superdelegates and a history of the nominees since Adlai Stevenson in 1952.

I find it hard to believe the superdelegates would risk overturning the will of the people this year with so many turning out to vote. The media has really pumped this story for all it's worth. This is one area where Howard Dean has been very disappointing in his leadership of the DNC. He and the DNC have done nothing to manage the press and let the story spin out of control. The DNC set this up with the bungled manner in which they handled the Florida and Michigan primaries and have failed to step up to take responsibility since that time. There is an excellent breakdown of the problem with the Florida primary and the decision of the DNC here.

Perhaps this year will be the impetus for a full review of the primary system. The system is not serving the will of the people. Caucuses are designed to build parties but leave a lot to be desired for a democratic process that allows people to participate by voting. The delegate apportionment is a train wreck and another mockery of the democratic process. I am in favor of scrapping the entire system and starting over with one that will favor the people instead of the consultants, pundits, press and everyone else who profits from our elections.

When Edwards was still running I envisaged a situation in which Clinton and Obama were neck to neck but with no where near enough delgates and where Obama would control a significant block of votes. Then I thought perhaps a brokered convention would pick him to resolve the stalemate.

I think this is what happened at the Democratic Convention in 1932. It took several times around the barn before Roosevelt was chosen as the compromise candidate.

I think there is merit in having a situation in which there is a tie or virtualtie between two contending candidates and a compromise is brokered. For example if Clinton and Obama were in a heated contest and one delegates vote could decide the difference, perhaps what would be needed was an out of the box solution to unify the opposing sides. That kind of thing.

What is being proposed by Ferrarro apprently is something quite different in which the supers would control the situation even if one of the contenders int he present two-way race is clearly ahead. Quite a different kettle of fish. I agree with you on that.

What do you think Aaron, about circumstances that might warrant a brokered convention? I think it is a very interesting subject to consider.