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Fucking MoveOn

Posted by pocochina on February 14, 2008

I’m checking my email today and I got this from MoveOn (bold emphasis mine, and footnotes omitted, but it is properly cited)

Dear [Pocochina],
You’ve probably heard about the “superdelegates” who could end up deciding the Democratic nominee.1

The superdelegates are under lots of pressure right now to come out for one candidate or the other.2 We urgently need to encourage them to let the voters decide between Clinton and Obama—and then to support the will of the people.
….
[link to petition]
If we can reach 200,000 signatures this week, we’ll publish the petition along with the final number of signers as an ad in USA Today. If you’re one of the first people to sign, we’ll include your name (with your permission).

The petition says:

“The Democratic Party must be democratic. The superdelegates should let the voters decide between Clinton and Obama, then support the people’s choice.”

Please forward this email to 5 friends today so we can hit 200,000 signatures by Friday.

Who are the superdelegates? Most of them aren’t elected—they’re state party chairs, retired politicians, and Democratic insiders. They control 40% of the votes needed to win the nomination.3 [Ed: It’s technically true, but misleading, as superdelegates compose 20% of the total votes at the convention. For the 40% to be true, they all have to vote for the same candidate.] The reason they exist: to make sure the party establishment approves of the nominee.

….

The superdelegates could ignore the will of the voters and pick whichever nominee they want, embroiling the entire convention in an ugly fight.6

Superdelegates aren’t used to hearing from concerned voters. If enough of us sign this petition, we can urge them to side with whichever candidate—Clinton or Obama—has the most support from voters.

This is about democracy, pure and simple. Whoever you support, we can all agree the Democratic nominee should be decided by Democratic voters. ……
In the long run, the Democratic Party needs to reconsider this undemocratic system, but for this election, we need the superdelegates to do the right thing.
Thank you for all you do.
[signed]
P.S. Our friends at Democracy for America have launched a similar petition they’re going to deliver directly to the superdelegates. You can sign that one [link].

First of all, the ethics of clamoring for democracy and then asking the exact same people to sign two patently alike petitions are questionable. (I’m not saying they can’t or it’s illegal, but if you’re going to claim the high ground by bringing the Power of the People to the Political Elite, you shouldn’t be trying to count the same people twice strictly for intimidation.) But mostly, I’m irritated about the call for democracy criticizing only one of the frustratingly undemocratic processes in this whole nomination process – or, for that matter, the entire electoral process. I don’t like the superdelegate idea either, to be honest. They’re a way to insulate politicians from the fickle whims of democracy. (Shark-Fu said it better than I will, so I highly recommend her excellent critique.)

But why stop there? I don’t like the electoral college, I don’t like caucuses, I don’t like that Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina have more say than the rest of us, and I really don’t like the fact that Michigan and Florida voters were totally disenfranchised in order to preserve the already-undemocratic power wielded by the earliest states. These are all things that assist the establishment too. And not just the Democratic party establishment, but the mainstream media news establishment that can literally spend 24 hours a day debating “front runner” status, and making thoroughly indefensible comments about any or all of the candidates. Open primaries, where anyone not even registered as a Democrat can show up and vote, aren’t exactly conducive to a “Democratic nominee….chosen by Democratic voters.” I understand that there’s great reasons for belonging to a third party, or no political party at all, but as someone who registered as a Democrat the first instant I could, I’m quite uncomfortable with the idea that Republicans may have a voice in choosing my nominee, as I don’t want my party dragged to the center. And it’s tough enough being a Democrat in a red state, it’s got to hurt to have less say in the nominating process, too. The only way to have a truly democratic nominating process would be to use public funding for elections, from declaration of candidacy to election of the official, and have one national primary where the popular vote is the only thing that matters. We can’t unring the bell, though, we’re well into this nomination process.

Even if we could fix the superdelegate issue this cycle, how should it be resolved in this election? The superdelegates are allocated by state; should they have to rely on the popular vote in state? This would lead to a wash in a lot of cases – the senators from Washington, who have both endorsed HRC, would simply continue to cancel out the vote of the senators from Massachusetts, who have both endorsed Senator Obama. (A Slogger crunched the math and found that Senator Clinton would still carry more superdelegates, though that’s pre-Potomac primaries and NM victory, because the states she’s won are Democratic strongholds with tons of superdelegates.) Should it be winner-take-all, or proportional representation? Should they all just abstain? Even if they decide they should change their votes, is that ethical? They’ve pledged to support this candidate, after all, because they do believe that their candidate is the best suited to lead the country, and the entire campaign thus far has operated under the premises that these superdelegates count. What if we end up with a Nevada situation, where one candidate gets more raw total votes, but the other can or does get more delegates?  (And doesn’t that sound familiar?)  What about the superdelegates from MI and FL?  They’re still there, you know, sitting members of Congress are superdelegates, and if the DNC holds its hard line on those voters, those representatives will be the only representation the voters of MI and FL have at the convention.


It’s not against the rules for the superdelegates to change their minds, and voters are of course within our rights to try to get our representative superdelegates to vote our way, but for a group of self-described progressives to espouse the hyperbolic language in the MoveOn petition, while failing to put forth a peep about the other counterdemocratic tendencies of the entire nominating process, rings hollow. I’ve been a member of MoveOn since 2004, and I’ve long defended their tactics even when I wasn’t sure I agreed, but this strikes me as a cold effort to take advantage of an undemocratic system to help their candidate. It’s bloody-minded circular reasoning: we don’t like vicious party politics with unfair rules, so we want to use party politics to change the totally unfair rules in the middle of the game. Which is – y’all saw this coming – also totally unfair.

Another important thing to remember is that the superdelegates are powerful because this election is close.  Roughly half of Democratic voters prefer Senator Clinton, and roughly half prefer Obama.  The vast majority of us like both.  There’s no true Solomonic way to split this fairly.

So I’m fuming about this to begin with, when my mind catches on that word “establishment.”

Establishment. Now if there’s a criticism of Senator that’s been echoing in the Progressive Online World, there’s the one. The problem is, there’s no way the superdelegates could, by themselves, choose an “establishment” candidate over a “non-establishment” candidate.  As the petition says, they have 40% of the votes necessary for the nomination – if The People had called for Kucinich, Kucinich we would have.  Senators Clinton and Obama are sitting Democratic senators, with solid center-left voting records, both of whom have spirited endorsements from Democratic powerhouses. The superdelegates – those scary establishment types – have split themselves between the two candidates, and they include the most established members of the party as well as quite a few nutty outliers. I want a Democratic nominee who represents the Democratic party – it’s kind of what the framers had in mind. “Establishment” is a way of smacking at Senator Clinton by insinuating she’s old, or corrupt, or yet another coded way of saying “I just don’t like her.” The system is open for critique, but to insinuate that Senator Clinton is stealing the election because she’s playing the game that was introduced in 1980 is a transparent attempt to force her to shoulder the blame for all of our frustration with the entire electoral system.

I sound like I’m defending the superdelegate system right now.  I’m not.  I think it sucks.  But if we’re going to fix it, we’ve got to do it right.  Democracy is messy. Democracy means we get to suck up the outcome of stupid decisions sometimes. And right now, we’re dealing with a less-than-democratic system calling itself a democracy. But to critique it, we’ve got to be intellectually honest. We’ve actually got to be thinking about our party and about our democracy.

ETA: Digby says it much, much better.

ETA: What about calling a mulligan? It’s not as easy as it sounds.

ETA: Let the people decide, indeed.

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