Divided We Fall

Friends, family, acquaintances, and total strangers have begun calling and emailing me on the subject of so-called “superdelegates,” and I’m exasperated with the amount of misinformation going around and the ignorance being shown.

Some of the confusion seems to originate from the use of the term “superdelegate.” The correct term is “unpledged delegate.” The only difference between them and other delegates is that they’re not required to vote for a particular candidate on the first ballot at the DNC’s Denver convention. They have absolutely no super powers — none of them have x-ray vision or the ability to fly.

Some of the problem is that people mistakenly believe the pledged delegates are selected in a fair or egalitarian way. This is untrue for a variety of reasons. Some states have winner-take-all primaries, some hold caucuses which are inherently undemocratic, and some award delegates based on bizarre mathematical formulae that don’t really represent the people’s choice. For example, though Clinton got more support in the Nevada caucuses, Obama received more delegates from that state! What’s fair about that?

Another common misconception is that unpledged delegates are something new, but the truth is they were created after the 1980 election.

Many people seem to believe the unpledged delegates are selected in mysterious ways. The truth is that every single one is elected: they are either Congressmembers, Governors, former Presidents and Vice Presidents, current and former majority and minority leaders, former chairs of the DNC, current DNC members, and other elected Democrats. Each of these people was elected to the position they hold.

But the strangest idea I hear articulated is that the unpledged delegates will vote in a way that will somehow damage the Party or cause the “wrong” candidate to be nominated.

I’m not a DNC member myself but I know a few of them well enough to understand what motivates them. These are people who have dedicated their lives to the Democratic Party. However they decide to vote at the Denver convention, Democrats can rest assured the DNC’s delegates will base their decisions entirely on what they think is in the best interest of the Party.

Clearly some of the unpledged delegates who are not DNC members have additional priorities. President Clinton will certainly vote for his wife, as will their friend and former DNC Chair Terry McAuliff. A senator who’s been promised a cabinet position by Obama will vote for him. And so forth.

What, on the other hand, is the motivation of the pledged delegates? They’re required to vote for their candidate on the first ballot, but if a second or third ballot is required in Denver, what will the pledged delegates do?

We don’t yet know who California’s pledged delegates will be, but I’ve met several folks who plan to run at the April 13 caucuses. Particularly in the case of Obama supporters, some were decline-to-state voters until recently. Many are fiercely loyal to their Presidential candidate but care very little about what happens to the Party or our down-ticket candidates. In a second or third ballot, can they be trusted to vote in the best interest of the Party?

The constant bickering about the role of unpledged delegates serves only one purpose: to divide and weaken the Democratic Party. The sooner we stop fighting among ourselves, the better we’ll be able to help our nominees defeat the Republicans in November.

  10 comments for “Divided We Fall

  1. Andrew Davey
    February 17, 2008 at 12:12 pm

    Thank you, Gila! I know tensions have heightened recently over this supposed “controversy” over superdelegates, but I don’t see why we must bicker over this. All these folks are either elected officials and/or long-time committed party activists dedicated to doing what’s best for our Democratic Party and our nation. Some of them are for Hillary, and some of them are for Barack… And I respect the decision each of them has made, and I think we should all respect the commitment all these folks have to our party.

    And as to the overall issue of delegate allocation, you hit the nail on the head with caucuses. They’re undemocratic by nature, and I hope our party soon addresses this. I campaigned in Las Vegas during the weekend of the Nevada Caucus, and it broke my heart to hear so many otherwise committed Democrats tell me they couldn’t attend their caucus either because they had to work or they had a doctor’s appointment or they were out of town for the day or they just couldn’t find a ride. If we all truly care about finding a more “small d” democratic way of choosing our “Big D” Democratic nominee, how about requiring all our states to hold primaries? And how about ensuring that everyone who wants to vote can vote?

    Now that’s real “reform” I can agree to!

  2. demmother
    February 17, 2008 at 12:53 pm

    The corporate media want a story and want to stir the pot. Everyone is speculating and as we have seen, this election appears to defy any speculation. It is too early to tell, let it shake out and have some confidence in our elected officials & DNC members. Alot can happen between now & August.

  3. rebecca
    February 17, 2008 at 2:49 pm

    Andrew, honey, it’s one thing if people have to work, but the rest of those reasons are crap excuses. You were getting the brush-off, honey.

  4. Andrew Davey
    February 17, 2008 at 6:12 pm


    I think I already explained it upthread. The caucus system is inherently undemocratic in that it’s specifically designed to exclude people. Not everyone can show up at one place at one time. When these caucuses were orginally designed in the 19th century, they were set up for party insiders to game the system. And today, they’re effectively a way for a few party activists (and in some of these states, independents lucky enough to be able to show up) to game the system.

    And even worse, these caucuses are open to all kinds of dirty business. And since caucuses are run by state parties instead of nonpartisan election officials, there really isn’t a proper referee to ensure everything’s being done properly. As we saw out of Nevada, caucuses can turn disastrous if the folks running them don’t know what they’re doing. That’s what convinced me that the caucus system has to go.

  5. Doug
    February 17, 2008 at 10:29 pm

    Nope. Terry McAuliff will not vote for Clinton. He will find a way to vote for his best buddy Joe Lieberman.

    If the delegates cast their votes in what they think is going to be best for the party, then judging by the national polls, Obama beats McCain whereas Clinton does not. If that still holds up come Denver, it’s going to be a hard sell for McAuliff , Bill and Sanchez to convince anyone that Hilliary is the best shot we have in November, regardless of what happens between now and then.

    I’m not trying to be a pain in the neck, I’m just soured by the system from the top on down to the bottom and beyond the delegate issues. I’ve supported Howard Dean and Dennis Kucinich in 2004 and 2008 respectively, and each time I’ve been cheated out of even getting to vote for them thanks to folks in Iowa and New Hampshire. I get to feel like step child right out of the gate.

    I see greater harm in going along with this process with a smile on my face, rather than complaining, because inside I will slowly drift off to where I won’t bother to vote in primaries anymore, because it’s going to be decided ahead of time anyway.

    If both the remaining Democrats were good candidates, I wouldn’t care, but they are not. I don’t like Clinton at all. (Read how Buzzflash.com fells about her) She won’t get my vote. Period. I’ll write in Mayor Quimby if she’s the nominee, and I’m not alone judging by the McCain vs. Hilliary polls.

    You can call it infighting if you want. I call it standing up. I’m not a go along get along Democrat.

  6. February 18, 2008 at 10:16 am

    Doug: by your definition I probably am a “go along to get along” Democrat. I want our nominee to win election and I want the coattails to reach to the moon.

    Coattails are a huge issue for me. We need to rid ourselves of energysucking polluters like Dana Rohrabacher. We need to stop the rise of nest-featherers like Diane Harkey. We need to elect city council members who will enact green policies that will reduce our dependence on petroleum products so we don’t need to start wars to get other countries’ oil.

    With all its many flaws, in my view the Democratic Party and its candidates represent the best hope of accomplishing those goals.

    Who we nominate and elect as President is important, and the process is important. But even more important are the zillions of down-ticket elections. The Green Party (Karl Warkomski aside) isn’t having an impact there. Those who “decline to state” aren’t having an impact there. Only the Reeps and Dems are making any difference at all in our communities.

    I “go along” to get green-friendly folks on our city councils. I “go along” to get folks on our school boards who will allow Gay-Straight Alliances in our schools. I “go along” to get people in the state legislature who will try to solve our health insurance problem. And I “go along” in hopes that the Denver convention will choose the candidate most likely to lead the entire Democratic ticket to victory.

    I truly regret that that’s anathema to you. But I’m not in the least ashamed of it.

  7. February 18, 2008 at 8:58 pm

    Doug: by your definition I probably am a “go along to get along” Democrat. I want our nominee to win election and I want the coattails to reach to the moon.

    Amen to that Gila, as you know, I think I can put myself in this category. Right now I’m more concerned about winning in November and who will be the best person to do that. Positive campaigns win and one of the biggest issues to me is the environment. My other concerns are media consolidation and universal health care.

  8. February 18, 2008 at 10:32 pm

    I’m relatively certain that the rules were known to all campaigns prior to the elections. The fact that Florida and Michigan primaries would not count was public. As were the identities of the unpledged elected/appointed delegates.
    If folks have issues with either of these, they have every opportunity to change the rules…FOR 2012.
    To change the rules in the middle of the election cycle is inherently unfair.

  9. Doug
    February 20, 2008 at 11:31 pm

    If I think the Democratic insiders are serving themselves and not the people, you bet I’ll pick up my ball and go Independent or Green. I promise you that.

    One of the advantages of being in a party is that you get to pick the candidate, but if front loading the primaries in small states whittles down my choices, whacky ruled primaries grant popular vote winners less delegates, and Unplegeded delegates decide from there, It’s too late to go Independent. I’m already there!

    Anyone who is concerned about winning in November can not be blind to the fact that Clinton is behind McCain in a head to head match up. Obama on the other hand is blowing McCain’s into the weeds. Edwards was also polling ahead of any Republican. How can any Unpledged delegate make the case that Clinton is the best candidate? When you get to the Superbowl you play your starting quarterback, you don’t start your third string and hope for a miracle.

    I know, no Tarrot cards can predict what will happen between now and November, but with the known factors, why would Democrats choose to start off in a hole? Wouldn’t a blow out, mandate sized creaming of McCain better serve the Democratic Party agenda than a loss or a slim victory? Do you want 60% of the vote or 50.6% on that Tuesday?

    You want to ride coattails to the moon? How about aiming for the stars? How about not riding the coattails of a poor and unpopular choice right under the bus?

    Why should I suck it up and be quiet? I’m not the one running behind McCain.

  10. Bladerunner
    February 21, 2008 at 12:25 am

    Doug–No one is asking you to be quiet. You can shoot your mouth of all you want. Whether you can find an audience for your message is another matter.

    Fortunately for Obama, most of his supporters are Democrats who see two very good candidates for President, they simply prefer Obama. The last thing Obama needs–if he gets the nomination–is for Clinton supporters to start thinking like you.

    So don’t be surprised if you and your Pick Up My Marbles and Leave Wing of the Democratic Party are ignored by both the Clinton and Obama camps. Naderian threats of walkouts and wearing green beenies won’t have much company in an electorate soured on the Bush Administration. Thats why a huge percentage of both Obama and Clinton supporters say they would support the other if their candidate was not successful. And for every disgruntled Clinton or Obama supporter who pulls a “Doug” there are two Romney/Huckabee/Thompson/Paul voters who will more then cancel you and your comrades out.

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