The 2016 campaign for the Democratic nomination has engendered wide spread discussion of how seemingly un-democratic the process is. A grassroots revolution in the Party has taken place and Bernie Sanders, not even an actual party member but an independent, is neck and neck with the hand picked, specially groomed, candidate of the Party establishment, Hillary Clinton.
Clinton was supposed to be a shoe in. The entire Part establishment is behind her. The Party has been preparing for this election for some time and it was just assumed that she would be the candidate. Most of the advance planning was geared towards winning the actual election against the Republican candidate.
Along comes Bernie Sanders. Starting behind in the polls by double digits his campaign has gained momentum. Without the many millions the Clinton campaign has taken in from super pacs, Sanders has kept up in fund raising , and has done so with massive support from individual, small contributors (a danger sign for the Clinton campaign).
So, as the primaries have gone on, Sanders has only gained momentum. He has won the last 7 caucuses / primaries and in terms of pledged delegates is only modestly behind Clinton. But the campaign has served to highlight the role of the super delegates, all Party faithful, and almost entirely going into the convention intending to throw their support behind Clinton.
This system has been the cause of outrage among Sanders supporters in states like Washington State where Sanders won the caucuses by a 70 / 30 margin, yet virtually all of the super delegates, many currently serving Democratic officials like the Governor, the Dem Senators and Congressmen, etc say that they will support Clinton. A concerted effort is being made to convince them to acknowledge the will of the voters and change their support to Sanders.
The whole process has led to accusations of Clinton stealing the nomination, the vilification of Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Chair of the Democratic National Committee, grassroots efforts to unseat Democratic officials by progressive candidates supported by disaffected Dem voters (Tim Canova is opposing Wassermann Scultz in Florida and is being supported by the Sanders campaign). In other words, the Democratic Party has a rebellion taking place that is similar to that which has caused havoc for the Republican Party which has been hi-jacked by ultra Right Tea Party activists Many feel that this has virtually destroyed the GOP.
So, I think it would be a good idea to look at the super delegate system closely, examine why it was created, and weigh the pros and cons. While I am quite firmly a Bernie Sanders supporter, and do wish my Washington State super delegates would publicly switch their support to the candidate clearly favored by my fellow Washingtonians, I am sympathetic to the reasoning behind affording the Democratic Party leaders, the seemingly out-sized role they have in picking the candidate.
There was a time when Party leaders pretty much just picked the candidate they wished to run. In 1968 the Party was being moved Leftwards by the anti-war movement. So, it was decided to reduce the control Party leaders had over the nomination process to make it “more democratic”. But the results weren’t good from the Party standpoint. George McGovern, a man with little support from Party regulars, ran a one issue campaign as the anti-war candidate. He won the nomination but manged to have one of the most ignominious defeats in electoral history, winning only two states and even losing his own home state in the general election.
Jimmy Carter later ran as an “outsider” candidate and won with Democratic supporters sick of Washington “insider” politics. But his Presidency was made difficult for him by the fact that he and his team were “outsiders” and really didn’t know how to get things done in Washington. He was widely perceived as ineffective and disappointed many Democrats and he was easily defeated in the next election after serving only one term.
So, the Party in 1982 revisited the process by which it chose its candidates and decided to give Party leaders more control, specifically to avoid inexperienced outsiders from hi-jacking the nomination by surfing some wave of grassroots support, perhaps engendered by a single issue like Vietnam, or a temporary economic downturn which had angered the rank and file.
In many ways this process makes total sense and I think it is wrong to vilify the people who support it. From the standpoint of the Party regulars, they are the ones who are there in the trenches day after day, year after year, doing the work of the Party. They try to spot up and coming talent, throw Party financial support behind them, bring them along and get them more experience with the goal being a strong , experienced, and tested candidate that can win a national election.
Imagine how these folks feel when an outsider comes along and hi-jacks this process. From the standpoint of Party regulars, Bernie Sanders simply isn’t much different than the Tea Party folks who have destroyed the Republican Party. It is important to understand that, the seemingly more democratic process by which the GOP picks its candidates (no super delegates) has lead to the current situation in which they have suffered a total loss of control of the nomination process with the resulting debacle of the two front runners being virtually un-electable in the national election and candidates that no one in GOP leadership wants in the top spot.
The Democratic super delegate system was designed to prevent just this scenario. The fact that we progressives have finally found candidate who we feel can get elected and move the Party back towards what it once was, namely a Party that is devoted to bettering the welfare of the citizenry as a whole, while hugely exciting, doesn’t mean the rules change for us. I think it is hugely unproductive to treat our fellow Democrats who have done the work to date, given the constraints of a public that has moved top the Right, a GOP dominance of the legislative process which has created government gridlock, as the “enemy”. They are not the enemy. They are the folks we elected to represent us.
Yes, we have expected more than we have gotten. But from their standpoint, they look at us and say “where were you in the mid-terms? The lowest voter turnout since 1947! All these folks who have turned out for the first time in their lives and gotten involved supporting Bernie, “feeling the Bern” are wonderful… but where will they be tomorrow? Is this a REAL movement? One that can grow or develop into something powerful enough to really shift politics and the Party back towards the progressive side, as the Tea Party folks moved the GOP to the Right? Or is this just another flash in the pan? Like all those Leftie anti-war radicals from the 60’s who just ended up being yuppies making their fortunes in the tech boom.
Professional public servants, the ones that put in decade after decade working in the system, trying to do their best to move the ball according to the rules at any given time can’t legitimately be expected to suddenly abandon their Party establishment, the network of support they have developed, and simply jump on the band wagon of a guy who, from the Part standpoint, hasn’t paid his dues, may represent a change that is too fast for the public to digest, when they have a ready made candidate that is hugely qualified and is almost certain given the GOP melt-down, to win the general election. Why should they?
Rather than vilify people who we need to be our allies in this process, we need to be persuasive. We need to have a civilized discussion about why it is in the interests of the Party and the public to change their minds. The number one most disastrous course we progressives can take in this election is to turn this into a civil war within the Left. If our progressive program is truly valid it can speak for itself. The progressive message being out forth by Bernie Sanders is specific in how it addresses our nations issues in a way that no their candidate’s platform does. It is our job to “sell it”. First to the voters… the more the voters turn out for Bernie, the more the establishment Dems start to doubt that Clinton is the best choice. But we also have to convince the establishment Dems that the public is ready, will support, what represents a radical change in direction from what we have been doing.
I think there are sincere establishment Democratic leaders who would like to see things change but feel they have to be realistic about what is possible. After all, it doesn’t matter how good your program is if you aren’t in office. You have to be able to win, in Congress and in the Presidency, to be in the game and move the ball forward. Otherwise, you are just a spectator. It is our job to show them it is possible, that we are ready for change, that we will support them if they support us. Vilification, name calling, and divisiveness are simply not the way to accomplish what we want. We progressives need to co-opt our Party not destroy it as the GOP has.