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While I am an Obama supporter, I try not to be unfair about it.  I was originally for Feingold, then Gore, then Edwards, then thinking about Dodd, before finally deciding on Obama once it became a two-person race, so I'm not a "cultist" blinded by Obama's brilliance.  I'm mightly impressed, though, by his intellect, his character, his forthrightness, and his apparent ability to attract people from across the ideological spectrum to his side.  That is what determined my decision.

But I also have to give proper due to the other side.  Hillary supporters have made the argument that delegates have to use their independent judgment.  Hillary's supporters are right about that.  They tend to leave out that part of that judgment has to be whether their making decisions that go against the apparent popular will, as expressed in nomination contests, would be seen as stealing the election and thus ruin the party, but they are correct that superdelegates have to be concerned for the good of the party, even at some insult to majoritarian rule.

This diary considers when superdelegates should intervene in the election.

Superdelegates and Spitzer

If I were to offer two words that can explain why superdelegates might be called upon to upend popular will and drive the vote towards another candidate, those two words would be "Eliot Spitzer."  If Spitzer were running for President -- as had apparently been his longterm plan for some future year -- and the prostitution story had come out at about this time in the campaign, I would expect the superdelegates to lower the boom on him even if he thought he could stay in the race.

They are the party leaders, after all.  It would be up to them to convince Spitzer's pledged delegates that they had to abandon his doomed candidacy and support someone else, and it would be up Spitzer's superdelegates to lead the rush for the door by declaring themselves independent.  That is part of protecting the party.  It would be "undemocratic," and we would certainly hope (and demand) that they would listen to constituency groups (including the netroots) in deciding who the nominee should be, but it is a completely proper role for them to play.

Hillary is in part hanging on, I believe, in the hope that some similar lightning bolt (n.b.: in Hebrew, "barak") will strike and wipe out Obama's candidacy.  We Obama supporters cannot just say "there are no possible grounds under which superdelegates could flee from Obama"; instead, our argument is that those grounds have not occurred.  I suggest that two things must be present for superdelegates to have the moral right and political cover -- as opposed to the legal right, which no one disputes they have -- to abandon the frontrunner and subvert the popular will: (1) the damage to the frontrunner's campaign must be completely devastating and (2) the alternative choice must be clearly better in light of that devastation.

Let's not underestimate how grave -- albeit conceivable -- of a decision this would be.  You have to go back to 1968 to see when superdelegates played this sort of role, and that was in the wake of the RFK assassination on the night of the final primary, when obviously some drastic decisions had to be made, and only party leaders could make them.

Superdelegates and Wright

The statements of Pastor Wright might be examined to see whether they would be such a damaging strike.  Are they going to hurt Obama at all?  Let's assume they probably will.  Will they hurt him much?  It's hard to say.  Will they hurt him more than wresting the nomination away from him based on their having occurred would hurt an alternative Democratic candidate?  Almost certainly not.  Hillary supporters mut be intellectually honest as well, and they have to give a fair assessment of what it would mean to the Democratic coalition for a nomination to be wrested away from the frontrunner on this basis.  I'm happy to hear their arguments that it would be no big deal, but I'd be hard to convince.  What will have to happen in the wake of the Wright statements is that Democrats will have to coalesce behind Obama and explain that the continuing anger of particularly Blacks who were involved in the civil rights era leads them to say some things that many of us would not like to hear -- as Martin Luther King Jr. did more than once -- and that those statements "in prophetic voice" cannot be laid at Obama's feet.  On the other hand, fixing the fracture of the party if Obama were to lose the nomination based on those comments -- I can't imagine a solution.

Superdelegates and Clinton

The other part of the equation is: what is the alternative?  Can we be assured that nothing will blow up the alternative candidate's campaign?  In this case, the answer is very clear that we cannot be so assured.  We have the failure to release tax information since 2001, we have the dealings with donors to the Clinton Library, we have the as-yet-almost-uncommented-upon problem of Hillary having almost $400MM in earmarks to Obama's under $100MM and McCain's $0 -- we have lots of reason to worry about Hillary not being subject to scandal and to devastating attack, and that's without factoring her high negatives and lower ability to attract support from independents and honest (as opposed to tactical) support from Republicans.

Reversing the popular will is a huge step; how huge depends on the scope of that majority.  If Obama goes in with a two-vote lead in pledged delegates, superdelegates can probably do as they wish without upsetting a party still smarting over Florida 2000; if he goes in with 200 vote lead in pledged delegates, it should take something huge -- though not as huge as the Spitzer revelation -- to knock off his candidacy, and even then only if there is a stronger alternative.

If Hillary wants to be seen as that alternative, she needs to release those tax records now, give stronger answers about Geraldine Ferraro's statements, explain what the former President has been doing for his donors, and lots more.  Yes, superdelegates can override the popular will, Senator Clinton, but if you want to take that ride all of the above are part of the fare you must pay.

Superdelegates as Referees

The superdelegates can pre-empt (as opposed to override) the popular will to preserve the welfare of the party as well.  In a circumstance where one candidate is clearly ahead by a solid though not decisive margin, they can referee the state of play.  So long as the race remains positive and substantive, there ought to be no problem with the race going forward.  But if the trailing candidate adopts a scorched earth strategy, then the superdelegates -- like umpires watching the gathering storm descending on the stadium -- have the moral and political right to call the game early.  If Hillary is damaging the party, then her superdelegate lead has to stall, reverse course, evaporate, and finally become an overwhelming deficit.  If she can remain in the race without wrecking the party, that's fine; superdelegates are the ones who can make that decision.

Conclusion

I'm torn about whehter Hillary should stay in the race even if she can stay positive and constructive.  There are costs (largely in terms of money that could go elsewhere) and benefits (largely in terms of getting a jump start on local organizing in the states to come.)  But one thing I am not torn about at all.  For the nomination to be taken away from a candidate who has a solid lead in pledged delegates, there had better be a damn good reason.  That means a serious scandal, a complete blow-up, and a compelling alternative.  And Hillary not only isn't close to showing that that is in the offings, she hasn't even done her part to show that she could be considered less likely to sink into scandal!

I remember back in 1992, when Bill Clinton was running third in the wake of the revelations about Gennifer Flowers and the like.  Like many other Democrats, I wished that the nomination could be taken away from him and given to someone like Mario Cuomo, who was considered the party favorite had he chose to run.  But people understood that for something of the sort to happen, Clinton's campaign would truly have to implode.  The Clintonistas should show that they understand that as well before making arguments about the role superdelegates should play in determining the outcome of this contest.

Originally posted to Doane Spills on Sat Mar 15, 2008 at 03:32 PM PDT.

Poll

If Obama has a __-person lead in pledged delegates, he's the presumptive nominee

34%30 votes
0%0 votes
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5%5 votes
0%0 votes
0%0 votes
3%3 votes
4%4 votes
20%18 votes
0%0 votes
1%1 votes
0%0 votes
6%6 votes
2%2 votes
19%17 votes

| 86 votes | Vote | Results

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Comment Preferences

  •  The superdelegates CAN do many things (5+ / 0-)

    Let's agree on that.  But let's also agree that that is a separate question from what they should do in light of political and ethical considerations.  The latter is what we should actually be discussing.  Now -- let's see those tax returns.

    Before we can repair the Constitution, we must continually remind people that it is broken and that repairing it is our patriotic obligation.

    by Seneca Doane on Sat Mar 15, 2008 at 03:33:15 PM PDT

    •  SuperDelegates should monitor Tracking Polls (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Seneca Doane

      If, come convention time, HRC is comfortably ahead of BO, and if she is polling materially better than BO against McCain, then the SuperDelegates have the OBLIGATION of supporting HRC.

      And I say this as an BO supporter.

      With respect to 1992 and President Clinton, I recall President Clinton being comfortably ahead of Bush by the time convention time came around.  Moreover, as President Clinton was about to accept the nomination, and Perot dropped out, I recall polling that indicated an INCREASE in the margin of victory (exit polling of the 1992 election shows that Perot took more votes from President Clinton than Bush).

      Anyway, I'm pleased that we haven't yet picked our candidate.  The last thing we want is for Wright's HateLaden sermons to have been brought out weeks before the GE.

      Learn about Centrist Economics, learn about Robert Rubin's Hamilton Project. http://www1.hamiltonproject.org/es/hamilton/hamilton_hp.htm

      by PatriciaVa on Sat Mar 15, 2008 at 03:43:30 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  That assumes her advantage couldn't be reversed (0+ / 0-)

        which in turn assumes that she has been properly vetted.

        I recognize that it's possible that the Obama campaign could be sucked down into a whirlpool of old-fashioned American racism and never recover.  But even if that's how things look in August, I would not want them to switch unless it were clear that Hillary had been properly vetted -- as she has not yet been.  And the difference in prospects had better be awfully compelling, at least if Obama comes in with a significant pledged-delegate majority.  (As I say below, if he has a narrow lead, they should do what they think best.)

        As I recall, Bill Clinton was in serious trouble between the Florida primary where he knocked off Tsongas and the Arsenio Hall show.  There was a lot of muttering about him.  And polling showed that Perot's 19% would have gone 8% to each of Clinton and Bush, 2% no-show, and 1% other.  (I may have mixed up the latter two.)

        Yes, I think that on balance it's better that the Wright speeches are out now rather than later, especially given the good quality of Obama's response.

        Before we can repair the Constitution, we must continually remind people that it is broken and that repairing it is our patriotic obligation.

        by Seneca Doane on Sat Mar 15, 2008 at 03:49:56 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  asdf (0+ / 0-)

        Superdelegates should cast their vote according to tracking polls?  Great idea, because if we've learned one thing, it's that polling is superior to voting.  

        In fact, why don't we just have the media poll a few thousand voters in November rather than wasting all that $$ on an actual election?

        When I was a kid I remember reading some Science Fiction short story about a time in the US when statisticians became so accurate they could predict the election based on how the first guy voted, so only one person got to vote every 4 years.  The way he decided didn't determine the election, but they applied a formula to it that would accurately predict every other vote.  The story, what I can remember, was basically about his indecision on how to vote, trying to figure out if voting for the guy he wanted or against him would be more likely to get him elected (I was probably like 13 when I read this so I don't remember it too accurately, probably).  I think it was by Asimov.  I remember when I read it thinking: this is nuts!  But that was a long time ago and we've made a lot of progress in our polling science.

        So maybe the time has come!

  •  Nancy said so (0+ / 0-)

    re: the poll.  Delegates win, no matter how small the margin.

    •  I think that's just silly (4+ / 0-)

      I'm highly pro-Obama, but the claim that superdelegates should be constrained by a 1-vote lead as if it were an iron cage seems ridiculous to me.  Ask yourself -- what if that 1-vote lead were in Hillary's favor?  I'd sure as hell be arguing for "independent judgment" then, and she'd be arguing it was inviolate.

      I think that our eventual position is stronger if we don't take maximalist positions now, although 50% of the responses (with 12 votes in) are saying "1 vote is enough."

      Before we can repair the Constitution, we must continually remind people that it is broken and that repairing it is our patriotic obligation.

      by Seneca Doane on Sat Mar 15, 2008 at 03:42:32 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Conceded (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Seneca Doane

        Never hurts to see a little backtracking around here.  Been away a few days, can't believe the nuttiness I've been seeing, and overreacted.  Thanks for the sanity check.  Fortunately, we won't have to worry about it being a difference of only one :-)

        •  I think he's going to be safely past my limit (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          huckleberry

          which is near the median, as I type this.  But I can't guarantee it.

          Before we can repair the Constitution, we must continually remind people that it is broken and that repairing it is our patriotic obligation.

          by Seneca Doane on Sat Mar 15, 2008 at 03:53:59 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

    •  Nancy P is just a bit hypocritical (0+ / 0-)

      I only wish Nancy P had the same absolute faith in democracy when it comes to the way Congress is run, what with the inordinate weight given to sheer age and lassitude,or should I say seniority. Not to mention the way bills passed by a democratic vote are then cut apart by party bosses from both houses through the conference process.

  •  The NY Times is teasing, (0+ / 0-)

    via Drudge, a superdelegate story.

    NYT SUNDAY: Superdelegates 'growing increasingly concerned'... Developing...

    Any guesses what their concerns are?

    •  Wish I knew (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Seneca Doane

      Could be the race overall, and the tone thereof. Could be Wright, and the damage done to the guy with the numbers to win the primary.  

      More likely the former than the latter, given the apparent intensity of the story.  Also, there's been no pundits outside of Hannity calling for Obama to leave the race -- even BillO seems to be settling for smacking Obama around.  If there was a huge uproar in Democratic circles, we'd have heard about it from Politico, The Page, etc. by now.

      We'll see.

    •  Well, I've indicated how they should decide (0+ / 0-)

      If they jump over this, with as little vetting has Hillary has had, there will be blood.

      Before we can repair the Constitution, we must continually remind people that it is broken and that repairing it is our patriotic obligation.

      by Seneca Doane on Sat Mar 15, 2008 at 03:43:46 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  My guess is (0+ / 0-)

      that it might be related to Nancy Pelosi appearing tomorrow on ABC's This Week with George Stephanopoulos. Her stance is to go along with total pledged delegates.

      Poppy: You said Doctor Omar. Doctor of what? Omar: Doctor of nothing, Miss Smith. It sounds important and hurts no one. Unlike most doctors.

      by MotherGinSling on Sat Mar 15, 2008 at 03:57:59 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  half agree (0+ / 0-)

    i think you are obviously right in your view that if someone had won the most delegates, but then was caught committing a crime, the supers would be right to act. but then ALL delegates have this right & responsibility, so the supers shouldn't even be needed in that extreme case.

    on the other issues, like Rev. wright, HELL NO! the supers have no right to overrule the will of the voters, for anything EXCEPT hideous misconduct of the nominee themselves.

    still, thanks for the thoughtful diary.

    i will work to defeat any candidate who steals the Democratic nomination.

    by catchaz on Sat Mar 15, 2008 at 03:46:32 PM PDT

    •  Not just of the nominee (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      burrow owl

      Look, if Michelle Obama did something atrocious, it might well count.  I think that if that trip that Bill took with that supporter turned out to look bad enough, it could well disqualify Hillary.  There's a higher bar to clear if it's not personal conduct, but it's not insurmountable.

      In any event, in the Wright case, it would be Obama's "personal conduct" in question in that he maintained his connections to the church and to Wright despite his knowing -- or should-have-knowing -- about Wright's rhetoric.  In other words, I don't think that the distinction you offer is crisp.

      Before we can repair the Constitution, we must continually remind people that it is broken and that repairing it is our patriotic obligation.

      by Seneca Doane on Sat Mar 15, 2008 at 03:52:47 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  different standards before and after vote (0+ / 0-)

        i would agree that any conduct by any supporter is open to thought BEFORE the votes have been cast. AFTER the voters have spoken, it has to be the candidate, in my opinion.

        i will work to defeat any candidate who steals the Democratic nomination.

        by catchaz on Sat Mar 15, 2008 at 04:26:00 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  on the wisdom of superdelegates (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Seneca Doane

     The Eliot Spitzer example is well taken, but I would go further. Superdelegates are people who make their lives in politics and hence may know more about a candidate than the general public does. A judge I know, for example, hinted at something "not right" about Spitzer last year when I was raving about how great he was.
     There is a lot of such information circulating outside the range of the media and superdelegates need to be free to react based on such inside information without waiting for a scandal to become public.
      Your point that there may well be scandals in the Clinton camp that could blow up even higher than the current Rev Wright business is also well taken.
      I do think that we need to count on the collective wisdom of people who have spent their lives in elected politics to do more than just follow the crowd which is invariably fickle and less than totally informed about their hero or heroine of the moment.
     By the way, I wish now that superdelegates had pulled the plug on Bill Clinton in 1992 before he brought his cheap philandering ways into the White House.

  •  It's time for patience (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Seneca Doane

    the Superdelegates are not going to act yet.  There's not enough "break" between the candidates yet.  Their own networks and constituencies are still very divided.  It's still up to the voters.  Take up you hobby for the next month.

  •  and here it is (0+ / 0-)

    NYT: For Democrats, Increased Fears of a Long Fight
    http://www.nytimes.com/...

    Poppy: You said Doctor Omar. Doctor of what? Omar: Doctor of nothing, Miss Smith. It sounds important and hurts no one. Unlike most doctors.

    by MotherGinSling on Sat Mar 15, 2008 at 04:18:26 PM PDT

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