May 2008 Issue
by James H. Ewert Jr.
At this point in the presidential primary season it should be safe to say that Illinois Senator Barack Obama is the presumptive Democratic nominee for president, but it’s not. Obama is leading rival New York Senator Hillary Clinton in delegates won and in the popular vote, but despite the numbers, the reality and the fact that there is virtually no way for Clinton to make up either of these deficits, she remains in the race — with the odds of her pulling out looking smaller than ever following her April 22 primary victory in Pennsylvania. While this was a state she was expected to win and while her 10-point victory doesn’t really change the dynamics of a race in which Obama still holds a clear lead, the dirty 6-week campaign leading up to the primary did succeed in weakening Obama and further throwing the nomination and the nominating process into chaos. In the lead-up to the Democratic National Convention this August in Denver, the possibility of Clinton becoming the nominee not only hangs, but ominously looms…
The nightmare scenario that the Democratic National Committee has been fearing for months — a scenario in which neither candidate in this close race has enough pledged delegates to win the nomination, thereby forcing unelected “superdelegates” to make the final decision, is looking a lot like the Supreme Court decision of Bush v. Gore in 2000 — a verdict that helped turn off a generation of voters to politics. With nine more primaries to go in this contest with some states expected to go for Clinton (West Virginia, Kentucky) with others leaning towards Obama (North Carolina, Oregon), the candidates are now laser-focused on the newest battleground state of Indiana and its May 6 primary. Unless Obama can score a big win in the Hoosier State (where late-April polls showed a statistical tie) as well as in North Carolina (which votes the same day and where he holds a big lead), there seems to be no way of imagining Clinton pulling out of the race — and of the Democratic party from tearing itself apart.
What would happen if Obama were to go to the convention this August with a lead in every voting category that counts but were to leave as something other than the Democratic nominee for president? For one, the term “democratic nominee” would instantly become an oxymoron because the nominee was not exactly elected “democratically”, but more importantly the Democratic Party would essentially be telling half of its constituents that their votes take a backseat to aristocratic party politics. What’s more is that a great deal of new voters genuinely energized by Barack Obama and this election season would stay home in November, bitter and regretting their gullible optimism, hope and faith in America.
It’s been an election season of self-discovery for a lot of people so far: Obama and Clinton are learning about themselves and the company they keep, veteran voters are determining how race and gender effect their longstanding views and new voters are getting acquainted with the treacherous underworld of presidential politics. While many of us are hearing new terms that both confound and intrigue — things like “pledged delegates”, “superdelegates”, and “nonbinding caucuses” — many are also realizing for the first time that our election system is not a simple matter of “whoever gets the most votes wins”. All the election terms and realizations have a ring of familiarity, but upon closer inspection seem hauntingly Orwellian. So, before we go any further, let’s get some of the vocabulary terms out of the way.
Pledged Delegate: Some party ass-kisser not capable of holding public office but whose ass-kissing is so good that party leaders throw them a bone. It’s kind of like being the boy who finishes last playing “yummy cookie” with his friends. This poor sap is forced to vote according to the candidate he’s representing.
Superdelegate: A simple definition would be: Some unelected asshole that’s causing a lot of people to become disinterested with the entire political process. A more complex explanation would be: To attain superdelegacy, a party crony must be chosen by his peers in order to receive ordainment into the upper echelon of the party. The process, which is largely unknown to the public, works in pretty much the same way a Pope is selected by the Catholic Church — with smoke-filled rooms, secret envelopes and smoke signals. Some speculate that the initiation is like becoming a saint or pledging for a fraternity. A superdelegate can do whatever he or she likes and are expected to use their money and influence to ensure that the party will not nominate a candidate who will deviate from the norm, make waves or cause too much damage to the status quo.
Party Convention: These conventions are much like any used-car dealer convention or Player Haters Ball — it’s basically a drunken and debauched party where whores are bought quietly in hotel room suites and people do things with each other they never talk about later and probably would rather not remember. Each state has an allotment of delegates based on its Democratic-voting population. About two-thirds of all party delegates are pledged delegates, with their convention votes determined by their state’s primary elections, with the other third unelected superdelegates who can vote for whoever they want. Traditionally it was at these conventions — and not during primary elections — where a nominee would be selected. Voters were largely held out of the nominating process until the 1968 convention in Chicago. This year’s Democratic National Convention will be especially fun and grotesque because it will be the American public’s first glimpse into the incestuous world of party politics in recent history. Because of Denver’s indoor smoking ordinance, there most likely will be no smoke-filled rooms, but lots of booze and prescription drugs instead.
As if picking a candidate wasn’t hard enough, Democrats will also have to make a decision on the fate of convention delegates from Florida and Michigan, whose delegates have been stripped of their voting rights at the convention because their states explicitly violated party rules by holding their primary elections too early.
For a majority party coming off big wins in the 2006 mid-term elections and facing a crumbling, homosexually-repressed and panicking Republican Party, it really is too bad that the Democratic Party will be too busy bickering about bureaucratic details to capitalize on this once-in-a-generation opportunity. The presidency is basically being handed to the Democrats and they are missing the forest for the trees. If there were sane people in charge, they might be looking ahead to the congressional races and trying to increase their party’s majority in the House and Senate. Instead they seem to be more interested in fighting with each other than against John McCain and the specter of another Republican in the White House. Will the Dems finally get their shit together and pick a candidate before both of their candidates are too damaged to win the general election? The answer to that question could determine who is elected president this November.
CI Political File #007