Monday, March 10, 2008

Democrats the Party of Aristocracy

British House of Lords, 1893

Though the Democratic Party has made use of superdelegates at its presidential nominating conventions since 1984, it is only now, in this unusually tight race for the presidential nomination between an unusually powerful woman and an African American of unusually broad appeal, that the character of the system is drawing public attention. This is quite embarrassing because, true to their name, the Democrats claim to be the more democratic of the two parties. Hence, unlike those elitist Republicans, the Democrats award delegates on a proportional basis so as to reflect the will of the people more accurately.

But then there are these "superdelegates." How does that feature enhance democracy? Well, it doesn't, if democracy strictly speaking is what you want. In 1982, The Hunt Commission sought to blunt the disproportionate influence of the highly ideological, activist wing of the party in the nominating process, having in mind the 1972 defeat under leftist George McGovern and the crippling effect of Ted Kennedy's challenge to Jimmy Carter in 1980. Superdelegates--elected and party officials--were expected to represent the more considered and seasoned view within the party and exercise a moderating influence. For a brief summary of the matter, see Thomas E. Mann and Norman Ornstein, "Delegates of Steel," New York Times, Feb. 15, 2008.

The embarrassment is that the self-consciously more democratic and supposedly more egalitarian party distrusts the democratic process in its own presidential nominating system. The "people" too often choose foolishly. So the superdelegate feature provides what is essentially a House of Lords for the review of decisions made by the all too often ignorant and passionate rabble at the grassroots level. It is telling that the percentage of the total number of delegates has grown from 14% to 20% as party insiders have crowded their way into this privileged position.

The key word is privilege. Geraldine Ferraro, for example, has a lifetime peerage when it comes to selecting the Democratic nominee. So Hillary Clinton has two parallel campaigns going at once. One is pitched at "the people" and the other addresses "the peers." So, fearing that she will come up short in the popular vote, she looks to the lords and ladies of the party to put her over the top on the basis of her supposedly greater electability and then re-electability (she is more likely to govern successfully), though ordinary Democrats have failed to recognize this in sufficient numbers.

But of course this system is more true to the actual character of the Democratic party which is instinctively paternalistic. Their health care proposals are an example of this. People cannot be trusted to make their own choices in health care, so the best solution is a centralized, government run system, or a deceptively choice based system that gets us to the single payer system as quickly as possible. They opposed the privatization of Social Security for the same reason. Washington has prevent people from losing all their retirement savings in the stock market. (Again, they're stuck back in 1936. I see this repeatedly.)

Perhaps the Democratic Party should rename itself Aristocratic Party. Although after a century in which so many totalitarian governments have called themselves "democratic," the word may be sufficiently meaningless now that all this "embarrassment" is just in my imagination.


Ymarsakar said...

Your thoughts mirror my own concerning Democrat aristocratic patronage. Thanks for doing the research and explanation on the superdelegate system, though.

Ymarsakar said...

On the same note about the aristocracy, you might be interested in reading this post I just wrote.


David C. Innes said...

Thanks. I look forward to reading that.