The Green Papers Commentary
 

LOOKING AHEAD
Part Two: the DEMOCRATS

Monday, April 25, 2016

by RICHARD E. BERG-ANDERSSON
TheGreenPapers.com Staff

Likewise, it may seem equally hard to believe that, exactly three months from the day this one is posted (in fact, the next time the 25th of a month will fall on a Monday), the 2016 Democratic National Convention will be first gaveled into session in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

In Part One of LOOKING AHEAD, I noted the following:

The Democrats have ever been what they say they are: champions of democracy as unfettered as possible-- letting as many amongst The People, regardless of station or status, participate as directly as possible in the political process and generally (with admittedly some exceptions, mainly those that oxymoronically "prove the rule") supporting such things as registering people to vote on Election Day itself and/or at many State agencies for purposes other than overseeing elections (hence, nearly a quarter century ago now, "Motor Voter"). From the Age of Jackson, that Party has been 'the Democracy' (an older nickname), the "Party of the People" (one more recent).

But, when it comes to actually nominating the candidate for President of the United States put forth, come the General Election, by 'the Democracy'/"the Party of the People", the Democrats seem to have much more become a pro-democracy Party with an 'elite' problem: an elite in the form of the so-called "superdelegate" representing the leadership cadre or corps of that Party...

and 2016 might still become the first time since such "superdelegates" first emerged back in the 1980s that this "problem" could well come back to "bite" the Democratic Party per se, institutionally at least- if not electorally come this November's Presidential Election. This almost happened- but didn't- at least once before: only eight years ago now, in 2008.

"Superdelegates" first came into being for the 1984 Democratic presidential nominating process: the term itself was originally (despite its long since- and, often as not, without quotation marks- having come into general use) pejorative-- no, the "super" in 'superdelegate' was not at all meant to be complimentary! Rather than conjuring up an image of 'Superman' fighting for Truth, Justice and the American Way, it much more- at least at the start (as it has ever since for opponents of the concept)- evoked the "Superpower" (perhaps even a potentially adversarial one) sitting atop a stockpile of nuclear-tipped intercontinental ballistic missiles in a context of 'Mutual Assured Destruction'!

The Hunt Commission "re-reforms" (opponents to which might have, instead, preferred to use the old-fashioned term "counter-reforms") of the early 1980s- these being further reforms (or, again if you prefer, "reforms" in quotation marks) of the original McGovern-Fraser reforms that had already transformed the Democratic Party nominating process (as well as, in truth, more than a few aspects of the Republican presidential nominating process [as outlined in the second half of my 18 April Commentary]!) coming out of the 1970s- were responsible for what were (and, indeed, still are) officially termed 'Unpledged Party Leaders or Elected Officials [PLEOs]'...

these 'Unpledged PLEOs' (again, themselves at first denominated "superdelegates" by those most fervently opposed to this very idea) were primarily intended to do the following:

 

  1. allow the Democratic Party leadership no little say in a case in which a race for the Democrats' presidential nomination was close enough to otherwise potentially divide the Party coming out of its National Convention and heading on into the General Election (in effect, a majority [at least, hopefully, it would be a majority, and a sizable one at that!] of the Democratic Party leadership cadre would be placing its imprimatur upon the Party's ultimate choice to be President of the United States). It can be fairly argued that the "superdelegate" element within a Democratic National Convention- at least once- has actually worked in this regard: for this is precisely what happened when then-Illinois Senator Barack Obama nipped then-New York Senator Hillary Clinton at the post back in 2008 (one well shudders to think what might have been the political ramifications for the Democratic Party itself had at least some "superdelegates" once seemingly committed to Mrs. Clinton not later given their blessing to the nomination of now-President Obama! Strong passions in favor of each candidate at that time had been well rubbed raw [I myself personally know of at least one liberal Democratic acquaintance of mine who didn't even deign to go to the polls on 4 November 2008 because Hillary Clinton was not the Democratic Party presidential nominee: now, multiply in your own minds just such an attitude a thousandfold, ten thousand-fold, a hundred thousand-fold, if not even a million-fold and then consider what that would have meant!]). The top Democratic elective officeholders being present- and voting- at that year's Convention in Denver, in the end and over time, well smoothed things over and, in addition, if you who read this happen to be a Hillary Clinton supporter now in 2016, even allowed for Secretary Clinton's current campaigning for the Nation's Highest Office (something that would have been a much more difficult "road to hoe" had the 2008 Democratic Convention adjourned sine die amongst much more intra-Party acrimony).
  2. have the Democratic Party leadership in a position to prevent the nomination of an "unelectable" candidate for President by the Party, as well as preventing the adoption of the "wrong" Party agenda in the form of its Platform. The first part of this has, historically (and pretty much going all the way back to its origins during the 1980s), been the most controversial aspect of the very existence of the "superdelegate": for what exactly makes a contender for the Democratic presidential nomination "unelectable"? (certainly those who voted for said candidate in Primaries or at Caucuses wanted to elect him or her!)-- and who at the Party's National Convention over and above the duly chosen and credentialed pledged delegates on the Convention floor should even get to decide just such a thing?! Yes, clearly the Hunt Commission that had proposed the "superdelegate" well had in mind the nomination of George McGovern only a decade before (McGovern was to end up buried in a President Nixon re-election landslide that Fall of 1972)-- but it also had in mind not so much the "unelectable" candidate per se but, instead, the "wrong" candidate who would, while not actually winning the presidential nomination itself, yet have enough political clout at the Convention to force the adoption of Party platform planks out of sync with the agenda of the Party's own presidential nominee going into the General Election (this is what seemed to have happened [only two years before the Hunt Commission came up with its "re-reforms", by the way] at the 1980 Democratic National Convention- about which I myself have already written as part of [about 2/3 of the way down as you scroll through] this piece of mine; at the time, the emergence of the so-called 'Reagan Democrat' was [wrongly, now in hindsight] seen to have been but a temporary benefit to the Republicans, one in large part caused by the Democrats having moved too far left in its 1980 Party Platform and, thereby, alienating General Election voters who might otherwise have brought about the re-election of Jimmy Carter instead of the first election of Ronald Reagan). In truth, it is this second aspect of the purpose of the "superdelegate" outlined here as # 2- that is, keeping the Convention from adopting the "wrong" Party Platform- that might actually be the more 'elitist' aspect of the very existence of "superdelegates".
  3. permit the input of the Democratic Party leadership to offset any skewing of the pledged delegates (those regularly chosen via Presidential Primaries and/or a Caucus/Convention process during the pre-Convention period) toward a less mainstream ("mainstream" here meaning 'outside the "bell curve" of the ordinary Democratic Party rank-and-file' [for there may well be election cycles in which even the "mainstream" within the Party itself might not, in fact, be mainstream overall (that is: more to the left of 'left of center') just as can also happen to the Republican Party (when it is more to the right of 'right of center')]) potential presidential nominee as a result of the use, in many States, of either open or at least modified Presidential Primaries or Caucuses in which non-Democrats are allowed to vote. This, in its own way, is an even more controversial aspect of the existence of the Democratic Party "superdelegate" than either aspect of #2 above! And certainly more so this time round: for the Bernie Sanders campaign, as well as everyday supporters of the Vermont Senator, are- besides trying to get Senator Sanders actually nominated- seeking to increase the participation in (as well as the potential political power within) the Democratic Party of independents along with those who might well be described as "not so regular" Democrats; to this, the "regular" Democrats who make up at least most of the leadership cadre of the Democratic Party, well demur. But, of course, the very nature of "superdelegates" gives such demurral on the part of most Party leaders much more voice come the National Convention this summer and it is, in fact, this "much more voice" that the average Sanders supporter sees as but a resurgence of the very Party "Bossism" the original McGovern-Fraser reforms of four decades ago were supposed to already have well driven out of the Democratic Party.

 

The Hunt Commission itself must have been well aware of possible charges of "Bossism resurgent" in response to its putting forth the 'Unpledged PLEO' "superdelegate" for the 1984 Democratic Party presidential nominating process, for it also seemed to purposely try to keep the overall number of such "superdelegates" relatively low as compared to the total number of delegates to Democratic National Conventions (in fact: during the early period of use of the "superdelegate", only 4/5 of the Democratic members of each house of Congress even got to attend the National Convention as such "superdelegates"; any other Democrat among the 1/5 thereby "left out" in either the U.S. Senate or House could only go to the Convention as a Pledged PLEO). Since most of these "superdelegates" would be major Democratic elective officers (State Governors along with, again, U.S. Senators and members of the U.S. House of Representatives), then when things happened to have so recently been going well for the Democrats electorally, there would- or so it was thought- be more such "superdelegates" and, of course, fewer of them whenever things might have not been so rosy at the polls for Democrats across the country of late.

For example, at the 1992 Democratic National Convention that first nominated Bill Clinton for President, 787 superdelegates (22 of these from either outlying US Territories or representing Democrats Abroad casting partial votes only) made up slightly more than 18 percent of the total Convention delegates; the 2000 and 2004 Democratic National Conventions that nominated Al Gore and John Kerry, respectively, had superdelegate numbers which totaled closer to 19% of same and the 2008 Democratic National Convention which nominated Barack Obama had a number of superdelegates just over 19% of the Convention total...

by contrast, the number of "superdelegates" at the 2016 Democratic National Convention will be just under 15 percent of the total delegates at that Convention.

Nonetheless, the supporters of Bernie Sanders now complaining about the influence such "superdelegates" still well have the proverbial "point well taken":

for how can a Party truly claim to be "the Party of the People" if an elite- a leadership corps- within that same Party can so easily (even with but 15% of the total Convention vote instead of the 18-19% once more common) reverse, if they alone might feel the need to do so, the will of those people who have been so willing to vote in Democratic Presidential Primaries (or participate in Democratic Precinct Caucuses)- regardless of whether or not they are "regular" Democrats (whatever "regular" might mean here) or even Independents (where these last might, indeed, be permitted to vote in what are "first step" delegate selection events of at least one Major Party [if not both])- instead of voting/participating in the concurrent Republican presidential nominating/delegate selection process (or, for that matter, even just staying home!)?

Donald Trump ever complains that the Republican Party delegate selection process is rigged against him as well as (oh, yeah-- by the way) against those amongst the "grass roots" who most fervently support his presidential bid: but Trump is voluntarily running for the presidential nomination of a Party the very political DNA of which, as I already pointed out in my previous Commentary, is largely made up of indirect input from the People (popular sovereignty, yes: but only to a point), such input generally sifted through institutional (that is: republican) filters. Just as the Electoral College so filters the popular vote for President of the United States every four Novembers (although, yes, 2000 showed us all what can happen when such sifting might go awry), the very institution of Republican National Convention delegates- themselves actually delegated to act as the representatives of both the Republican rank-and-file and the Republican Parties in each State or Territory entitled to send delegates to that Convention- acts as just such a filter within the Republican National Convention itself acting as, effectively, both the quadrennial Supreme Legislature and 'Court of Last Resort' of the Republican Party US.

Trump has made much of the fact that his campaign is self-funded: clearly, he could very well have run no less self-funded for President as an Independent (although the issue of gaining ballot-access, State by State, for such an Independent presidential campaign [let alone its less likelihood of ultimate success in a Republican Democracy with a long history of a strong Two-Party System] likely skewed the Cost-Benefit Analysis of just such an endeavor well towards the debit side of the ledger: how much better- and, in the long run, perhaps even cheaper- to, instead, gain the formal presidential candidacy of one of those two Major Parties!). Thus, he purposely chose to run for President within a Republican Party with just such the republican 'culture' as already described above: truth be told, it is too late for him to complain about this now!

Yet, even though Donald Trump received but 46% of the vote in Arizona-- and all of Arizona's delegates (for at least 1 ballot); 46% of the vote in Florida-- and all of Florida's delegates (for at least 3 ballots!); 33% of the vote in South Carolina-- and all of South Carolina's delegates (for at least 1 ballot)--- I, of course, could go on-- the very process (that is: the State GOP rules filed with the RNC under Rule 16(f) some months ago now [well before anyone could know precisely how the 2016 Presidential Primaries and Caucuses or Conventions would actually play out]) is, somehow, rigged against him. But if it is, indeed, so rigged, how is it that- as I now type this- Trump is still that which he has pretty much ever been: the 2016 GOP front-runner and, in addition, one currently holding a good 300-delegate lead over his nearest rival, Ted Cruz? Evidence of rigging would much more be seen where the results of the actual voting in GOP delegate selection events so far would have been the same and yet, somehow, Cruz would be the one with 840+ delegates and Trump the one left with but 550 or so...

whatever Donald Trump might say about Ted Cruz in this regard, at least the numbers don't lie!

In contrast, the Democratic presidential nomination process is- if only in a narrow sense (and I will explain my use of this very phrase later in this piece)- rigged: after all, the Democrats have their own version of the same indirect input from the People as regards that Party's presidential nomination (in the form of pledged National Convention delegates) as have the Republicans (and, indeed, also had it long before the creation of the "office" of 'Unpledged PLEO "superdelegate"'). The requirement of Proportionality within Democratic delegate selection/pledging to presidential contenders (especially in a two-person race for the nomination in which it is almost always certain that both contenders are going to clear the 15% of the vote threshold, no matter which one actually wins a given contest) tends to- unlike re: the Republicans in all too many cases- much more keep the percentages of pledged delegates won by each candidate to at least something close to their respective percentages of the vote (in New York last Tuesday, for example, Clinton and Sanders split the popular vote 58%-42% and the pledged delegates 56%-44%)...

but, with the institution of the "superdelegate"- no matter how few, or how many, of same there might be- this already indirect input of the People taking part in Democratic Party delegate selection events (that is: the Primary voters or caucus-goers influencing, if only in the aggregate, the presidential preferences of actual delegates who will be attending the ensuing Democratic National Convention) seems not to be enough-- indeed, not to even be good enough-- to be, in and of itself, the ultimate foundation on which the very legitimacy of the Party's presidential nomination (or, for that matter, its Platform) every four years rests. Within a self-identified "Party of the People", this has to certainly- and at the very least- be most disconcerting!

Having said this, though: the rules are the rules and the Democratic Party- as an institution- is not now going to change those that impact (however adversely or not) upon a presidential nominating process already well underway (even though, however only theoretically [and as is the case in the rival Republican Party], the National Convention's own Rules Committee could report out rules changes/new rules which, if thereafter adopted by a majority of the Convention as a whole [yes, including "superdelegates"], might well serve to mitigate this very thing in future- going on into 2020 and beyond [however unlikely such changes are, in fact, going to be adopted in Philadelphia this coming summer]: it is simply too late to really do anything about the Democrats' presidential nominating process of 2016!)...

and this is the reality, on the ground, that Senator Sanders and his supporters- no matter how passionate, no matter how much they might Feel the Bern, no matter how much at least some (or even many) of them might also be "bern"ing with anger (anger at "the system" no less than that coming from a much different political direction within at least the core of those who so strongly support the presidential ambitions of Donald Trump)- must ever face as the Vermont Senator and those who most fervently want him- and not Hillary Clinton- to be the 2016 Democratic Party presidential nominee attempt to now move on, post-New York, and still try to find a path to victory.

Right now, the "overgrowth" hiding- as well as also potentially blocking- just such a "path" for Sanders is the Democratic presidential nomination/delegate selection process's very Proportionality (the one thing, overall, that is most pro-democracy within that process [for reasons already stated above]) and this, at least until the Democratic Convention itself first meets, involves the pledged delegates alone, not at all the "superdelegates"!...

for whenever- and wherever- Senator Sanders wins a Presidential Primary the rest of the way, Secretary Clinton is going to still get a fairly large share of that same State's Democratic National Convention delegates no matter what (unless Sanders can, somehow [as well as consistently!], "blow Mrs. Clinton out of the water" in the vast majority of each and every remaining contest); and, wherever and whenever Hillary Clinton might win a Presidential Primary, Bernie Sanders (although he, too, will [unless Hillary herself defeats Bernie by a huge margin] get a fairly large share of that State's delegates) will then once again fall at least a bit further behind in pledged delegate count...

here, then, it's not at all "rigging", it's just math (the same math that allowed Sanders himself to gain two "extra" percentage points of delegates over and above the percentage he gained of the popular vote in New York last week: regardless of any and all anomalies, whether inadvertent or even purposeful, within the casting- or not- and counting- or not- of the New York Democratic Presidential Primary vote [all issues of, perhaps, rigging an election that can only, in any event, be addressed- administratively (by the NYC Board of Elections), where not even also legally (by the New York State Attorney General)- after the fact: but it's not like they're going to do the 2016 New York Democratic Presidential Primary all over again!]).

As I've already said publicly- in interviews with print reporters or over either broadcast or satellite radio (as well as on this website, of course)- whether Bernie Sanders wins more and loses only some (or, for that matter, wins some but loses more) from now through the end of the Primary/Caucus "season" in June, Hillary Clinton is (and will continue to be) doing to Senator Sanders as regards the ongoing accumulation of pledged delegates by each candidate what was once done to her by then-Senator Barack Obama eight years ago: thus, pretty much no matter what (absent a veritable "tsunami" of support- at the polls- for Sanders that, from now on, ever overwashes Mrs. Clinton's own campaign) the trailing candidate will, as a result, find it more and more difficult to eventually catch up.

Nonetheless, as I wrote back on 17 March of this year specifically regarding that which I have, again, already addressed herein (the likely negative impact of Proportionality within the Democrats' presidential nominating process upon Senator Sanders being able to gain on Secretary Clinton in the cumulative pledged delegate count as that process continues):

This does not, of course, mean that Senator Sanders is now going to go away (nor should he! As I have written often enough before on this website [and I have said this about both Democratic and Republican presidential contenders over the now 5 Presidential Election cycles The Green Papers has been online]: if you want to run for President of the United States- even against overwhelming odds against your own success- in order to put forth the public policy options in which you most fervently believe and can still manage to have enough campaign funding to do so, then- by all means- this is America and you should just do it! Whenever I am asked whether or not this presidential contender, or that one, should now drop out of the nomination race [more usually the person doing the asking is someone who supports a different presidential contender doing better in the race], my initial response is always "Why?"). Senator Sanders has every right to continue to fight on, should he (and his own supporters) wish him to- certainly so long as he has not been mathematically eliminated from winning his Party's presidential nomination, if not beyond (so as to, perhaps, present his own political agenda before the Convention in Philadelphia).

And please know, gentle reader, nothing that has happened in the 5 1/2 weeks since on the Democratic side of the 2016 presidential nomination process has convinced me to now back away at all from the above quotation of myself! Even if I were now to feel compelled to so openly proclaim "Bernie Sanders is 'toast'!" (which I'm not, just for the record), I would still thereafter write exactly what I have quoted from myself just above (and you who are Bernie Sanders supporters- with all your passion and energy for your chosen candidate- would actually greatly disappoint me, as a mere outside observer of the US Presidential Election process, were you all to so suddenly "throw in the towel" yourselves...

not that I am now at all trying to not have Hillary Clinton nominated for President! No, my own disappointment in this regard would be solely within the notion that hearty and healthy debate and discussion- 'strong positions strongly held and also so strongly defended'- is, in and of itself [and whether interParty or even intra-Party], the very essence- indeed, the altogether necessary basis- of American Republican Democracy [or, if you would prefer, Democratic Republicanism]: thus, its very failure would truly be the sign that the United States is, indeed, all too much flirting with that very "political decay" as defined by, among others, Francis Fukuyama in his two volumes The Origins of Political Order [2011] and Political Order and Political Decay [2014]...

and, if you who are reading this piece- whatever your own political leanings [Left, Right, Center or somewhere in between]- actually wish for (or, perhaps, even relish) just such "political decay" here in America, then shame on you!!)

Yet, despite all I have noted in the preceding several paragraphs, it must, again, be fairly admitted (and I would have to presume that Senator Sanders- along with those around him planning ongoing political strategy for his campaign- is certainly well aware of this) that, as fewer and fewer Presidential Primaries present themselves the closer we get to the end of the Primary/Caucus "season", the harder and harder it will become for Sanders- as the trailing candidate- to catch up to Secretary Clinton simply in pledged delegates. Ignoring this mathematical reality is simply a vain exercise in lying to oneself... or at least, perhaps, "whistling past the graveyard"!

However, should Bernie Sanders still somehow end up surpassing Hillary Clinton in pledged delegates over the course of the remaining Presidential Primaries (in which case I would be wrong about his prospects now, wouldn't I? But at least I'll publicly admit, if and when the time comes, so being wrong), it will be in just such a case that the very existence of "superdelegates" within the Democratic presidential nomination process will potentially be on the order of actually rigging the Party's presidential nomination itself (and it is in this particular context that I, earlier in this piece, used the phrase "in a narrow sense" when first so allowing that the very concept of the "superdelegate" itself might well render that process so rigged): for to nominate someone for President on a first, and only, ballot of Roll Call of the States within a scenario in which the majority of all the pledged delegates themselves have favored someone else risks putting the commitment of the Democratic Party to that very 'democracy' it bears within its own name at no little peril...

and this almost happened eight years ago until at least some "superdelegates"- although clearly torn between their own earlier open support for Hillary Rodham Clinton (potentially, back then as now, the first female President of the United States) and the emergence, as a viable potential presidential nominee, of Barack Hussein Obama (potentially, back then [as he, obviously, later actually became], the first African-American President of the United States)- agreed to, in the end, vote on the floor of the Convention in Denver- when the time came- for the contender who had gained the pledges of but slightly more than half the total pledged delegates to that Convention through the Primary/Caucus "season" itself...

the question of moment, then, is this: were Bernie Sanders to end up in the same situation as once had Barack Obama (that is: leading in the pledged delegate count after the last Presidential Primary), would he be given the same consideration by this year's "superdelegates" as was shown to now-President Obama back in 2008?

But, beyond this question and the appropriate answer to it, is the rather disturbing realization that the potential for "bad blood" back in 2008 between supporters of Hillary Clinton and those of Barack Obama was only largely averted ("largely" here because one still has to keep in mind that non-voting in 2008 acquaintance of mine about whom I wrote earlier in this piece: it is highly unlikely she was the only one who felt that way and, in addition, acted accordingly)- if only because the Party's own rules even allowing for "superdelegates" in the first place, of course, then meant it had to be- by an elite, yes, of the Party (in the sense that 'Unpledged PLEO' "superdelegates" are no more delegates to a Democratic National Convention than are pledged delegates-- for they, too, have only one vote) yet, at the same time, still above it (in that, of their own individual volition, "superdelegates" alone can potentially alter [except in cases where the margin in pledged delegates- whether a majority or a mere plurality of same- held by the leading contender for the presidential nomination coming into the Convention over the second-place candidate is large enough to avoid this possibility] who ultimately gets the Party's presidential nomination)...

if, and when, it might become necessary for a significant number of "superdelegates" to do the same thing now, in 2016, will they- in fact- once again be willing to do so?

Near the end of my Commentary of 18 April, I asked- of the Republican Party- how much democracy proves, in the main, to be too much for those who are, after all, Republican?.

Likewise, I now ask- of the Democratic Party- how much elite (or, if you prefer, leadership corps or cadre) oversight- where not even override- of what are otherwise democratically-selected representatives of Party-supporting rank-and-file (the pledged delegates only) proves, in the main, to be too much for those who are, after all, Democrats?

Not much different, then, from that of the Republicans of 2016 is the 'infrastructure' bubbling underneath the 'superstructure' of the Democrats' own presidential nomination race in 2016: for various, and competing, answers to that last question (also wrapped up with the battle for this year's Democratic presidential nomination) abound as well.

 


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