Thursday, February 14, 2008

What's wrong with "Super Delegates?"

Perhaps it is because I am a political junkie who finds fascinating the mechanics of government, but I really don’t understand why people are getting all bent out of shape about the concept of un-pledged delegates making the final decision for the Democratic Party’s presidential nominee.

“It’s unfair.” “It ignores the will of the people.” “It sounds like a Communist/Fascist/(insert immoral political philosophy of your choice here) plot.”


Those are the thoughts being expressed by the Professional Political Pontificators these days about the “super-delegates” who may wind up casting the final votes and deciding whether Barack Obama or Hillary R. Clinton will be the Democrat who gets to tangle with likely GOP nominee John McCain come the Nov. 4 general election.

Those people (many of whom are professional pundits who prostitute their viewpoints for money) want to think it is wrong for several classifications of delegates to be included this year in Denver at the Democratic National Convention.

While most of those delegates were either allocated to supporters of whichever candidate won the popular vote in each congressional district or which candidate took the popular vote across the state, some delegates have a different status.

Followers of Hillary R. Clinton are hoping that Barack Obama fills the same niche that Lyndon Johnson filled at the 1956 Democratic National Convention held in Chicago. LBJ tried to put himself forward as a presidential candidate, but his time in the White House didn’t come for another seven years. Photograph provided by Chicago History Museum.

THE DELEGATES WHO were allocated based on elections results are obligated to go to the nominating convention and support (at least initially) the candidate for whom they declared support early on.

When former Illinois Attorney General and state Comptroller Roland Burris (one of the delegates I voted for in a district that solidly went for Obama) travels to Denver, he is required to remain true to Barack. Only if the convention turns into a free-for-all with no candidate being able to take a majority would he be allowed to consider changing his mind.

Then, there are the un-pledged delegates, also known as the “super-delegates.” They do not have to declare a preference, and they can vote at the nominating convention for whichever candidate they choose.

The triple-P’s of the world would have you think that all these “super-delegates” are craven individuals who are going to ignore the will of the people in their respective states and pick a presidential nominee based on which one is willing to offer them personally the best perks.

THEY ALSO STATE these “super-delegates” are, “elected by no one” and are, “accountable to nobody.” They want to believe this is the equivalent of the days of old when Tammany Hall and Chicago Machine politicos would cut political deals that did not have the interests of the public in mind.

I don’t buy it.

For one thing, it is not true that the “super delegates” are un-elected. In reality, they are elected government officials – they just weren’t elected specifically to be “super-delegates.”

In each of the 50 states, the “super-delegates” include every member of Congress (including the two senators). Also included are the governors and other high-ranking state officials. There also are a few slots in each state that are filled at the last minute, and party officials usually pick people who are reliable when it comes to voting along with the mood of the political party.

IN ILLINOIS, THERE are 35 super-delegate slots among the delegates at the convention. Of those, 32 are set and the other three will be filled some time in May.

Some choices are likely to be made based on the desires of the Democratic Party to have a convention of presidential nominators that bears some resemblance to the overall racial and ethnic makeup of the United States of America. There also are party rules that require the delegations from each state to consist of an equal number of women and men.

The bottom line is that for those of us from Illinois, the Democratic “super-delegates” are going to be people like Sen. Richard Durbin, Gov. Rod Blagojevich, Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, and Rep. Rahm Emanuel, D-Ill.

I expect Mayor Richard M. Daley also will be a “super-delegate,” unless Rich decides he doesn’t feel like spending a week in Denver this summer. In which case, he will probably arrange for one of his brothers (former Commerce Secretary William or Cook County Board member John) to fill the slot.

THESE PEOPLE WERE elected to their positions of influence in large part because they know how to reflect the moods of the people who live in their respective districts. If they really behave in a manner as reprehensible as the triple-P commentators would have us believe, we can always take it out on them come Election Day.

Would Sen. Durbin (who probably is a shoo-in for re-election to his third term in the U.S. Senate) really be willing to risk the wrath of the voter and give his token Republican opponent a legitimate campaign issue to use against him? Does Blagojevich want to stir up the wrath of Democrats even more than he already has by cutting a sleazy presidential deal?

There is another factor to consider.

The “super-delegate” issue only comes into play if the regularly chosen delegates who are publicly bound to a specific candidate cannot reach a decision on their own as to who the presidential nominee should be.

THE CRITICS WOULD have you think that the “will of the people” was being ignored by the super-delegates. In reality, the “will” is uncertainty. If the will of the people was as strong for one candidate as these pundits want us to believe, then one of the candidates would wind up with a majority of the elected delegates.

There would be no need for the next step of “super-delegates,” whose purpose would be to serve as a tiebreaker mechanism used by the political party if the majority of declared delegates become hopelessly deadlocked and cannot choose a candidate.

Insofar as political mechanisms are concerned, “super-delegates” sounds to me like a reasonable way to break ties. At least those individuals have to put themselves on the record, and their political legacies (always a priority with elected officials) would be at stake if they truly voted for someone the locals hated.

I always hate it when government matters are decided on something that is the equivalent of a coin toss. For those who think I’m exaggerating, all too many decisions with great effects on public policy were made by dumb luck.

HAD THEN-ILLINOIS Secretary of State George H. Ryan reached into the antique glass bowl once used by Abraham Lincoln and picked out the name of a Democrat in 1991, Republicans likely NEVER would have gained control of the state Legislature in the 1990s.

But Ryan picked out the Republican name, and the commission that drew political boundaries for the decade used their influence to favor their political party. Likewise, Democrats gained control in the 1980s and in the current decade because that same random drawing ended in their favor.

Would you really want the Democratic Party’s nominee being chosen by putting the names of Obama and Clinton into a hat (perhaps one once worn by Franklin D. Roosevelt), and picking one out at random?

WHAT I FIND ironic is that both Clinton and Obama (in their roles as U.S. senators from New York and Illinois respectively) are “super-delegates” themselves. Both will get the chance in Denver to personally try to sway their “super-delegate” colleagues over to their side. It’s not like either one of them will be at a disadvantage due to access.

Besides, the concept of political party officials getting together to decide who should represent their party for president is a good thing, particularly if the convention turns into a debate.

The last thing that a healthy Democracy needs is a nominating convention that is a pre-set schedule of events intended to be a candidate coronation or an over-glorified political pep rally.

REGARDLESS OF THE celebration that one campaign will do at convention’s end, the other side will wind up the loser. Then, the winner has to reach out to the losing faction and remind them of the issues they have in common (which in the case of Obama and Clinton is most everything). If the winning Democrat can’t do that, then we the people of the United States of America get President McCain.

It will be messy to watch the politicos at work while they figure out whether we are better off with Obama or Clinton at the top of the ballot. But the “mess” IS Democracy at work.

Democracy is often rambunctious and raucous. It is not neat and pretty. As far as I’m concerned, anybody who would want “neat and pretty” politics is asking for something that is really and truly Un-American.


EDITOR’S NOTE: Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., D-Ill., who also is a “super-delegate,” has a problem (,0,4373892.story) with the concept that his colleagues at the Democratic National Convention may actually have to decide amongst themselves who the political party should nominate for president.

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