Questions arise from time to time regarding the nature and fairness of the manner by which the two major American political parties select their nominees for President of the United States. The selection is made at national conventions after a lengthy process during which each state selects delegates proportionate to their population in a variety of different manners ranging from caucuses to primaries. How “democratic” this process is remains open to interpretation, particularly in the Democratic Party, due to special rules for delegate selection.
Following the 1972 nominating process and the selection of George McGovern as the Democratic nominee to face the re-election bid of President Richard Nixon, the party attempted to make sure that a repeat of that landslide defeat would not happen. One of the safeguards put in place to make it more difficult for an extremist to be nominated was to appoint a certain number of Super-Delegates, primarily party members elected to public office, to participate in the voting at the convention. The thought was that they could balance out any tendencies among voters to select another nominee who was likely to go down to a disastrous defeat, potentially taking down House and Senate candidates of their party with them.
The Super-Delegate issue did rear its head during the 2008 election cycle, as many of them were pledging themselves to Hillary Clinton, despite the fact that the primary/caucus selection processes were heavily tilted in Barack Obama’s direction. The process resolved itself amicably prior to the convention, and the past eight years of the Obama Administration proved that the system could work despite what could have developed into a nasty floor fight.
The Super-Delegates comprise about twenty percent of the total. They could easily become the deciding factor in a close contest, especially if their votes were distributed in a disproportionate fashion. The people’s choice could be subverted by the party establishment. This situation could potentially be a cause for a danger rift in the party this year, with the advent of Senator Bernie Sanders as a viable candidate. Since Sanders comes from outside the ranks of the party (he has been an independent member of the House and Senate for the past 25 years), party establishment delegates, heavily weighted with centrist elected Democrats, could easily negate a lead over the left-leaning populist contender and provide added impetus to select the more moderate Clinton, based to a certain extent on perceived electability in the general election. The idea is to avoid the fate of the GOP, which in recent years lost several key Senate races by nominating Tea Party candidates over establishment moderates and couldn’t swing the general election.
One problem with this is that the inclusion of these delegates adds to the suspicion among many (not without valid reason) that the system is rigged to favor establishment corporate-backed candidates less likely to fight for change to a corrupt system that allowed them a seat at the power table. Recent court decisions increasing the political clout of rich donors and corporations over the average American citizen. The almost total destruction of campaign finance laws and the rise of Super PACs with hidden funding sources do little to enhance the confidence of most of us that our lone vote even counts and that the elections will be won and lost on the basis of sound truths instead of the amount of money spent on advertising.
The American people deserve to select their preferred candidates to govern in their interest. Gaming the contests to favor one candidate over another or others on the basis of fundraising ability in an economy that already places a vast majority at a distinct disadvantage (because of economic, ethnic, gender, racial or other arbitrary criteria) makes a mockery of the democratic notion of one-person-one-vote. The nature of some of the electability claims is flimsy at best. Polls definitely have shown no preference of the perceived moderate over the perceived progressive in this race vs. any potential GOP opponent. The idea that this process of giving undue weight to another privileged group allows the people to increase chances of electing a government that better meets all our needs is dubious at best.
The arguments currently being bandied about, primarily but not exclusively by the Clinton campaign, similarly do not justify abandoning democratic principles. Whether Sanders or Clinton is better suited to accomplish any more than the other in terms of passing needed legislation in the morass that is today’s Congress is anyone’s guess – even if we all agree that nobody on the GOP side of the Presidential sweepstakes is anywhere near where they need to be to acceptably perform the duties of President and Commander-in-Chief. However tempting it may be to win at all costs, expecting voters to accept a continuation of policies that have repeatedly failed them because it is impossible to change them (or at least prohibitively too difficult) is not a viable option. We endured the nonsense of trickle-up economics and decreased opportunities for way too long already. Preemptive attacks on new proposed policies as being “unrealistic” or “way too expensive to implement looks to many as unimaginative excuse making. That none of the GOP alternatives is acceptable does not mean we need to choose the Democrat most like them politically just to keep them out of office.
There are many other imperfections in the nominating process. No uniformity exists in who gets to vote in primaries. Being a member of neither party eliminates millions from the process entirely. Vigorous voter suppression efforts disenfranchise millions from even voting in the general election. The process in current state of PA is a closed to all but previously declared party members. My previous state of VT permits voters to vote in the primary of their choosing (one, not both). Caucus states use a different process entirely. Which ends up selecting the best candidates is open to debate, but in my opinion, the method that is inclusive of the most eligible voters possible will do the best job of selecting people who will serve the interests of us all. Get big money out of politics. Bernie has shown it can be done while waging a competitive campaign. Let “boots on the ground” come to mean activists organizing grassroots political campaigns, rather than fighting murderous wars.
Who ultimately become the Democratic and Republican Presidential nominees remains to be determined. Both parties need to start doing a better job of addressing the needs of the American people as a whole, while simultaneously decreasing their emphasis on securing undue advantage for the privileged elites. Democracy is a farce when it is used as a sham deceit covering up the exploitation of the many in the pursuit of augmenting the avarice of the few. If they do not do so, the time will come when the number of disenfranchised becomes larger than the combined membership of both. A new, more equitable, power-sharing arrangement must be reached, either involving multiple, more representative parties or which forces the parties which exist to more adequately meet the needs and enable the realization of aspirations of far more people than are currently being served. This must be accomplished at all levels of government, not merely the Chief Executive of the federal government .
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