Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Politics: Magic Realism and Presidential Politics


How about this? Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton are both saying that the popular vote should determine the Democratic presidential nominee. How weird is that? The idea is certainly not in the rules as laid out by the DNC, or in the laws on the books in fifty states, or in the constitution of the United States.

Obviously, they have their reasons. Obama is most likely worried about the recent hue and cry that, even though he is a mathematical shoe-in for the nomination, he “can’t close the deal.” Should the superdelegates buy this argument and fall back to more familiar territory — two decades of Clinton party leadership — he’ll point to his lead in the popular vote and say they shouldn’t cheat the voters. Hillary on the other hand, really only has one chance at making a case to the superdelegates to be the nominee; if she casts the primary vote totals in the framework of a national election. Even this doesn’t supply her with a supportable position unless Florida and even Michigan's popular vote totals are included. To heck with the fact that both states' delegates were declared null and void by the DNC.

The television landscape is even more bizarre. Cable anchors periodically explain that the nomination is based on the delegate count. They'd be remiss not to mention it. But then they'll spend the next two hours interviewing dozens of talking heads about every possible scenario of which candidate is ahead of the other based on popular vote, exit polls, demographic groups, uncounted superdelegates, endorsements and whether the candidate is elite, effete, female, black, bitter, truth challenged, yada, yada, yada. CNN has actually trotted out three specious popular vote scenarios, all with different results.

Focus Pocus

The definition of Magic Realism according to Encyclopedia Britanica is “a … literary phenomenon characterized by the matter-of-fact incorporation of fantastic or mythical elements into otherwise realistic fiction.” Yep. That pretty much describes the way the Democratic primary process is being foisted on us.

Let’s see if we can get on the same page here. For the first hundred years or so of our history, the political parties in each state selected their delegates and representatives at party caucuses. Primary elections are a relatively new innovation, introduced (ironically) by Florida in 1904. As originally conceived, primary elections bind party delegates to vote along the same lines of the results. But in the last thirty years, the national Democrat and Republican parties have made significant changes in their processes to better insure control over the outcomes of the primaries. With gerrymandered districts, select early primary states, superdelegates, delegate apportionment and a host of increasingly arcane party rules, the road to the conventions are an unholy mess. Small wonder that it's blown up in the Democrat's face this year.

Jefferson's Genius

Thomas Jefferson said,“A democracy is nothing more than mob rule, where fifty-one percent of the people may take away the rights of the other forty-nine.” As a key framer of the Constitution, he firmly believed that each state should have a sovereign and self-determining government and that the federal government should be limited in scope to matters pertaining to trade and national security. The Federal government was devised as a caucus of state congressional and senate delegates, administrated by the executive branch.

In my mind, there is no more compelling an argument for Jefferson’s rectitude than what we have witnessed over the last year. As we have watched the Democratic and Republican primaries unfold, each state has had a very distinct personality, with its own priorities and issues. What better way for these candidates for our highest national office to get a first-hand education about the people of America? Unfortunately, unless they are being disingenuous, these lessons seem to have gone over the Democratic candidates' heads. If you suplant nomination by delegate with nomination by popular vote as they are now both suggesting, the primaries become a national election and you marginalize each state’s political primary process and weaken each state's party influence on the national committees.

We are used to the Clintons saying whatever is expedient to suit their purpose. But it’s most definitely a strange assertion for Mr. “Bottom-up Change” Obama to make.

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