Hey kids! Remember back in the spring of 2008, when the entire world was consumed with the fiasco that was the Democratic Party's presidential nomination process? Anyone who paid attention to the way the Democrats conducted their business during that period would have had to conclude that the whole process was in dire need of some major reform. Well, I am sad to report that the Democrats have decided to retain one of the more controversial features -- the so-called superdelegates.
Do you want to run for president as a Democrat? Okay, it's an incredibly easy process! Every state has a primary. Except the ones that have caucuses! Except for Texas which, for reasons known to no one, has both simultaneously. Voters in each state go to voting booths, or assemble in caucuses, or attend the cockfight in their Texas Primacaucus Thunderdome, and vote for/select/bet on roosters assigned to the candidate they prefer. Then, depending on what state you're in, votes are counted, or caucus groups consolidated based upon the individual state's rules of run-offs and post-first vote bargaining, or the blood and viscera of dead chickens is collected in tubs and hefted for weight. And then the winner wins, and the loser also sort of wins!
This is important! The GOP, which also stages these contests, assigns the victor ALL OF THE DELEGATES. Very quickly, the Republican nomination process finds a clear frontrunner and victor. But on the Democratic side, delegates are awarded proportionately, so while the victor gets most of the delegates, it's common for second and even third place finishers to take delegates as well. You'd think this would be easy to understand, but let the record show that Hillary Clinton's entire campaign was based upon Mark Penn's belief that each state's contest was winner-take-all.
Mark Penn was, as they say, a dumb man. And because of his inability to know something basic about politics, the entire 2008 nomination came down to the 800+ superdelegates, who, for a long while, collectively had the power to decide the close nomination race by themselves. Superdelegates are, by their very nature, stupid and insane: one gets to be a superdelegate by being a former party leader or elected official or honorary holder of some vague mini-fiefdom within the Democratic Party.
Some superdelegates are less super than others and only get half a vote. I think that once you've embarked on a process that allows for half-a-vote to be cast, it's time to rethink things.
Superdelegates basically take on the role to retain their close ties to the party and to receive various perks and privileges, like the joy that comes from feeling slightly more important than everyone else. In return, it is the fondest hope of most superdelegates that their vote ultimately doesn't matter -- they prefer to simply support whomever the rest of the country is supporting.
But in 2008, there was a problem. Obama's delegate lead reached a point where it was essentially insurmountable, given the fact that there was a) a proportional distribution of delegates in each state and b) very few opportunities for Clinton to win the massive share of the popular vote necessary to cut into the lead in any meaningful way.
But at the same time, the superdelegates were numerous enough to tighten, perhaps even decide the race. And so there was this prolonged period where the superdelegates lived in fear of getting calls from Terry McAuliffe, and the country wondered if the Democratic Party -- you know, the party of the little guy! -- would allow its collection of big-wigs and swells to supercede the actual voting public.
It was a sorry time for all involved, filled with flare-ups of toxic internecine war, needlessly exacerbated tensions between Democratic core constituencies and a whole lot of yelling at Sam Stein. Anyone with any sense would have had to agree that the age of the superdelegate had to be brought to a swift end. Unfortunately, "anyone with any sense" and "Democratic Party officials" are two groups that rarely, if ever, intersect. And so when the time came to consider a proposal to strip superdelegates of their nominating power, per Newsweek, this is what happened:
But the [DNC Rules and Bylaws committee] took a dim view of this proposal. While endorsing recommendations to dilute the superdelegates' influence (mostly by increasing the number of ordinary delegates), it quietly nixed the redefinition of their voting powers at it July 10 meeting. How quietly? Enough that even some members of the change commission hadn't yet heard about it when NEWSWEEK spoke to them last week.
And so, the end result of all this wrangling is to reduce the power of delegates from 20% of the total to 15% of the total. But why not just get rid of their voting power? Here is the inexplicable rationale:
"People ask: isn't it enough for folks to have floor privileges and a hotel room and not have an actual vote?" says rules-committee co-chair James Roosevelt Jr., a grandson of President Franklin D. Roosevelt. "The answer is: what you're doing is creating two classes of delegates, people with the vote and people without the vote. Clearly, the people at the grassroots level should be the predominant voice. But if you don't give elected officials a real voice, they are basically second-class citizens."
So there you have it. Because a group of Democratic party fat cats refused to accept the status of "second class citizens," the Democratic primary process will continue to be a needlessly befuddling and problematic ordeal for everybody.