Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Superdelegates

A discussion question.

Is there any normative justification for the existence of superdelegates?

This page explains what they are -- I think accurately, though I don't know for sure. Basically, a bunch of high-ranking party hacks control fully a fifth of the democratic delegates, and the republicans have a similar (though smaller) number.

Those aforementioned hacks are not nominated by popular vote, and they can vote for whomever they damn well please. There's a funny vignette about a fictional one of them in Hunter S. Thompson's Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail '72, which tells the tale of a poor delegate who tries to use his position to extract an appointment. He doesn't take the first deal, and so ends up being set up with a hooker, complete with incriminating campaign photographs, ruined, smashed, you know, the classic fate of people in the Good Doctor's little morality plays.

So I can see two basic lines of normative critique, both of which seem pretty compelling.

1. It's a rat's nest of potential corruption. As HST suggests, being a superdelegate seems to be a great way to get yourself a bunch of goodies in a way that's basically completely isolated from public scrutiny.

2. It's profoundly antidemocratic. Whatever we might believe about the potential for third-party entrants, the fact is that the next president for this election and for all elections in the foreseeable future is going to be either a democrat or a republican. So defenses of the superdelegate system on the grounds that party members have some kind of right of association to exercise have an uphill battle when that right of association is hugely influential on the results of the presidential election. For surely there are normative constraints on how I ought to exercise my rights of association. (For example, I ought not to exercise them in a racist fashion. Likewise, if they're hugely influential on important public concerns, I ought to think about political values, like democratic participation.)

In the face of those objections, what can be said in defense of the system? Anything?

Comments are requested from the floor.

(p.s. SEEEE Belle! I'm posting! I'm still the most productive guestblogger!)

EDIT: Hmm... not much response, but given how split the pledged delegates are, the superdelegates question is more and more important. Let's put this in sharp relief with a fact that (I think) ought to disturb you:

The way it's looking right now, a bunch of random Democratic mayors, members of Congress, and assorted party goons, goobers, plumbers, and kneebreakers have a very good chance of selecting our next President. And you thought the Supreme Court in 2000 was bad!

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