Super Delegates Have No Place In A Democracy

I think that we should have called Florida a tie in 2000 and had them vote all over again. Settling a presidency in back rooms, even if the back room is the supreme court, is not good for our democracy. It reinforces the idea that we have a rigged system

And the same is true of the 795 ‘super delegates’ that are up for grabs and who will surely determine who is the democrat nominee for president

I read this quote in today’s New York Times:

‘The remaining undecided superdelegates … in many ways (are) the final contest of the nominating battle’

Apparently there are about 300 undecided super delegates. So this comes down to back room deals made with these 300 people?

In the book ‘The Bronx Is Burning’ there is a story about the runoff between Ed Koch and Mario Cuomo for the mayor of New York in 1977. There was a short period of time between the first primary and the runoff. During that period Ed Koch ran around promising whatever he had to give away to get the support of leading elected officials, unions, and other big democrat power bases. Cuomo refused because he felt it would impact his ability to govern. Koch won.

We can all see the same kind of thing going down in the democrat party and I don’t have to say who plays Koch and who plays Cuomo. That’s obvious

Howard Dean, Al Gore, Nancy Pelosi, and the DNC need to broker a deal now that forces the superdelegates to vote for the candidate who has the most regular delegates or who won their state or something similar. Otherwise this nomination process will be suspect and the party will be damaged in the fall contest and for years to come.


Comments (Archived):

  1. Marc Hedlund

    Hear, hear.Ted Kennedy endorsed Obama in part because of Obama’s ability to inspire younger voters and bring them into the process. I’ve supported Obama for about a year now, and I’ve loved watching him go from a long-shot to a leader on that inspiration. Back-room dealing to push forward an establishment candidate will likely have exactly the opposite effect: it will teach Obama supporters everywhere that the political process doesn’t work.

    1. stone

      I’m not trying to argue with you but if Obama loses it will be because the party doesn’t think he’s qualified enough to be president. I normally vote for moderate democrats but this time will vote for McCain because he’s “by far” more qualified than Obama. I suspect that many intelligent people will switchover to McCain when faced with the choice of thin verus thick resume.

      1. Zaid

        I would argue the opposite: the more time you spend in Washington piling up experience, worse you get.McCain was very respected in 2000. But take his recent actions: voting for Iraq war; singing to the tune of “Bomb Iran! Bomb Iran!”; voting in favor of torture just a few days ago. If this is what a “thick resume” gets me, no thanks, I’m fine with the “thin resume” candidate who opposed the Iraq war and voted against torture.

      2. terrycojones

        McCain is certainly more experienced, that’s beyond question, I think. Does that make him more qualified? I don’t think so, but that’s perhaps just a matter of definition.The main point, and this is what Fred is pointing out and what you don’t seem to agree with, is that if Obama loses it will NOT be because the party doesn’t think he’s qualified. Who’s the party anyway? Since when did the mass of normal folks who get out and vote, and clearly express their preference cease to be the party. If Obama loses it will be due to backroom dealing, phone calls, favors called in, promises made, perhaps threats. And it’s very clear which side has the deepest and oldest and strongest ties into the superdelegates. We can only hope the superdelegates somehow collectively see that going against the will of their constituents would cause (as someone else put it) civil war within the democratic party. I agree that the superdelegates should not exist. Their existence is a transparent attempt to cling to power while in theory giving normal people the power of the vote.

  2. stone

    Um, er, shouldn’t the system change *before* the election begins, not during? I know the ultraliberals, the folks that want taxes to increase, are extremely interested in getting into power, and Obama is the chance, but the concept of a superdelegate exists for a reason. It’s clever for Obama supporters to cry foul now because it shields people from the real issue — Obama’s very *thin* resume and experience. I would argue that a highly successful Internet entrepreneur — anyone that sold company for more than $300M, is more qualified than Obama to be president. What precisely is the thing he’s done that qualifies him to be president? I’ve asked this question any number of times; no one wants to answer it because it’s very hard. He’s a good campaigner — that’s the answer. We can all read a teleprompter. Anything else?

    1. Tom w.

      Fred, I totally disagree for a couple of reasons.1. There’s no rush – we’re barely half-way through choosing the regular Democrats. Wait till the whole thing’s done before brokering a deal. It’s freaking February, not June.2. This is a party election, not a public election – it’s how the political party chooses its candidate, not how the USA elects its president. That race is in November. Political parties have stupid, quirtky rules – some favor one candidate (un-democratic caucuses where bullying is allowed) and some favor another candidate (superdelegates). It’s up to the party to change its rules.3. This won’t be a backroom deal – it’ll all be very much front-room – lots of lobbying, public arguments, etc. most of the SDs are elected officials who have to face the electorate anyway.To answer Marc, the result he describes is precisely 180 degrees from the truth of it – this arduous contest will teach Obama supporters everywhere that the political process DOES work.There is no crisis, and if Clinton wins this political party, she will win the Presidency – my hope is that Obama will also be sworn in that day, as VP.

      1. Jed

        Hear, hear! Particularly with point #1. Let’s wait to see how things play out in the next month or so, then start worrying. The only reason we’re hearing stories about it now is because newspapers have to fill column-inches, and it’s the only interesting thing going on in “Election 2008” right now.

    2. fredwilson

      I voted for and support Hillary and I am crying foulfred

      1. Tom w.

        But crying foul on what? This process won’t even go into effect till after the last primary – and it’s a process the party has had for 25 years.

  3. Charlie

    Funny, I just wrote about the same thing, and I hadn’t read your post.If you haven’t noticed, though, it’s not my candidate that’s trying to make the superdelegate voting an insider deal, it’s yours.Getting the superdelegates on her side regardless of where the other delegates are is such an obvious part of Hillary’s plan that I think you’re remiss not to mention it and call for her to follow where the actual voters fall out on this one.

  4. Jeffrey McManus

    The thing that really concerns me about the superdelegates is that some of them are elected officials (congressmen, etc.) but some of them are just unelected party hacks who are answerable to no one. That’s not how democracy is supposed to work.

    1. Jim

      It could be pointed out that the primary is not really a democratic process. Each party is nominating their candidate, so the parties make the rules. Any group or other party is free to put up their own candidate with or without a nominating process.

      1. Aydin Ghajar

        That *would* be a fair point if we weren’t locked into a two-party system where anyone outside of the parties has almost no chance of getting elected. This monopoly on our real options in November makes the nomination process perhaps the most important part of the election. Saying that it’s “not really a democratic process” undermines the validity of the entire system.

  5. dave

    I think Obama is much more savvy than that, and that he’s campaigning for the superdelegates now as he was campaigning in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina etc.He’s not only the force in the Democratic Party for the forseeable future (i.e. the next decade or so) but he’s got the power in the US (lots of Republican support) and that will eventually translate into enormous political power around the world.That’s the picture he’s painting for the superdelegates, all of whom are very seasoned and realistic political operators. It would be as if Sergey or Larry wanted you to encourage your portfolio companies to support a new search API and Steve Ballmer came around and said that you can’t because of some rule. You’d find a way to do what Sergey and Larry want you to do, wouldn’t you?The superdelegates are not stupid, they see which way the wind is blowing.Obama will sweep the remaining primaries, and by March 4 it will be apparent to everyone but perhaps Bill and Hillary that it’s over. The superdelegates will adjust to get in line with reality.

    1. dave

      PS: Not that Sergey and Larry have ever exerted a nanojoule of leadership with developers. (A fatal flaw, imho, that will eventually catch up with them.)

    2. stone

      I don’t know how the rest of the world is going to respond to a president that hasn’t had a distinguised career in government or the private sector. It’s hard to recall a president in the modern era that had a less distinguised career (than Obama) before being president.

      1. fredwilson

        I’ve expressed my concerns about Obama but Abraham Lincoln comes to mindFred

        1. stone

          Fred,I’m no presidential scholar but i do know a little about Abe Lincoln and have to say that I see very little camparison between him and Obama. Here’s why: Abe Lincoln was a very distinguished lawyer and political thinker in his state many years before he was president AND he had the courage to take on slavery — one of the most divisive issues in american history. He debated his way into office courageously espousing an unpopular position, especially with factions within his own party. He championed one of the great issues in the history of the world. Obama? I rest my case — sorry.

      2. terrycojones

        Recall? You don’t need to look back at all – just look at GWB. One of the criticisms of Bush in the run up to 2000 was that he was very inexperienced in gov’t (e.g., foreign policy) and a (some would say “criminal”) failure in the private sector. As for his stint as governor, you might (in case you haven’t already) read one of the late Molly Ivins’ books, either Shrub or Bushwacked, to get some idea of how he distinguished himself in Texas.Whichever of McCain, Clinton or Obama – presuming we’re down to just those three – is elected, will certainly be well respected.

        1. stone

          I’m no fan of GWB but have to say that he somehow managed to buy a baseball team and run one of the largest states for several years. I don’t like him one bit but, on paper, he looks way more impressive than Obama. Look – I’m trying to raise questions because I think it’s fascinating that no one can answer the question: what has Obama done to deserve being president?

          1. tim

            Obama is over 35 and a natural born citizen of the US. That is the only qualifications for being president. If you want to pick other arbitrary qualifications go right ahead. But I contend that neither Hillary or McCain have any additional qualifications than Obama has for being president. Really what does being a Senator for Life and a husband of a former president really have to contribute to the presidency?

          2. stone

            That’s a really interesting approach to hiring. Well, I have a different approach. After selling my company last year I decided to try something new — start another company but hire someone as CEO to run it. I’ve decided to be Chairman and board member. I spent the last three months talking to people, sifting through resumes, looking on LinkedIn, and lots of interviewing with the goal of finding the right CEO. The main criteria: experience and execution. Yep, call me crazy, but I do require more than a pulse and good articulation to get this role. I’m also looking for a CTO. The requirement is pretty much the same — work ethic, technology vision, ability to build quality products “on time” and ability to build a great team. I also needed someone that wasn’t a BIG company person, which means I need someone that will roll-up their sleeves and make stuff happen.Yep — I’m an experience kind of person. I’m weird in that way. As for the most important job in the world? Yep — weird stuff (again) but I do require that the person I vote for has to be a very experienced person. They have to have a proven track record of amazing excellence over a long period of time. I guess I have high standards.

          3. stone

            Just caught the “senator for life” comment. I assume you’re referring to John McCain. The same John McCain that fought courageously for this country, got shot down, and was tortured before coming home. He then dedicated his life to public service — a noble calling and we’re a better country because of his service. It’s an amazingly “borderline” comment and exposes your intellect.

  6. Jim

    The same article points out that many of super delegates in states one by each candidate have already committed themselves to the other candidate.The whole primary process is a mess. Why do people in early states like Iowa and New Hampshire get so much say? By the time the primary rolled around to my state, by favorite candidate was already out of it.

  7. bradfarris

    Democrats are faced with 2 “rules” issues in this primary. Enforcement (or non-enforcement) of each of them favors one or the other candidate. Party members will likely accept a decision which is consisrtent wrt both issues. If superdelegates are compelled to vote with their states (in cintravention of the “rules” established before the election), then it’ll be hard to make a case for excluding Michigan and Florida delegates. After all, if you’re going to bend the rules in one instance, why not in the other?I agree with those who prefer to wait a bit. The night is young. Let’s wait until we’re sure the system is broke before we set about fixing it. We set up the rules before the game started, let’s just see how things play out. It’s Republics who are known for not trusting the system (e.g. torture anyway, don’t let suspected terrorists participate in the criminal justice system, etc.), not Democrats. Let’s stick to the high road, and leave the low road to others.

  8. S.t

    Their website is like Joe McCarthy’s wet dream! a WHOLE LIST of Gov’t Officials engaged in anti-American activity.

  9. cortland

    Fred said, “Super Delegates Have No Place In A Democracy”But we don’t live in a pure democracy. We elect people to represent our interests and the interests of the political jurisdictions in which we live. As long as we do, superdelegates will have an important role in the process.Superdelegates help to ensure that Democrats nominate a Democrat. With primaries increasingly open to independent voters, the nominating process could be overrun by outsiders and the Party could then be stuck with a candidate who doesn’t support its principles. Superdelegates serve as a type of firewall, helping to keep non-Dem candidates out of the nomination.Having Dean, Gore or Pelosi “broker” a deal that forces any delegate to vote a certain way is the worst kind of back room deal and is not in the interest of the party, the country or the eventual nominee. Superdelegates are smart enough to make up their own mind and vote for the candidate who they believe to be the best. Forcing them to vote in lock-step with how their respective state voted is short-sighted, dangerous and uncalled for.We don’t need anybody to broker a deal, force votes or disenfranchise delegates, super or not. Let’s just hold the primaries, go to the convention and get behind whoever comes out of Denver with the nomination.

    1. James

      I agree with the above gentleman’s post.Though, i do fail to see how your example, Fred, is an argument against the backdoor brokering that you mention? Wouldn’t that be an argument for backdoor brokering? Begining with Koch the city began a long slow recovery to it’s former glory and look at us now. We live in the best city in the world – in my humble opinion (I think I can say that with a certain level of qualification having traveled to 24 counties and countless foreign cities). Koch, as you will recall, was not the party favorite and the first candidate to break with the old democratic political machine and had that of not happened, even if Cuomo turned out to be wonderful – and he very well may have, we may have never ended up with Bloomberg and we would be stuck with the mediocrity that haunted this city in decades past.Secondly, I don’t see how one can reasonably compare NYC politics to any other political machine let alone the national political system. NYC politics is unique only to NYC and is a totally different animal even in different parts of the state, especially the relic of the of the 1970 political system.

  10. Druce

    If it’s truly a dead heat and the superdelegates break the tie in favor of Clinton…there will be some back room dealing and Obama will be the VP candidate. I won’t be much exercised about that.If Obama wins even a slim but clear majority in the primaries, and Clinton steals the nomination via the superdelegates, I would probably boycott the election or vote for McCain.I am seriously annoyed with guys like Ickes saying the primary votes are irrelevant, superdelegates will be decide, FL and MI delegates should be seated. ( http://youdecide08.foxnews…. )20% is too many superdelegates. The whole caucus / sparsely attended primaries over a long period of time seems awfully anachronistic with way too much emphasis on Iowa and New Hampshire, activists.Isn’t it time for electronic voting, with one (or more) rounds of national voting where voters could express preferences for all candidates via ranking, and a final head-to-head runoff?BTW Hillary admits she gave Bill the authority but didn’t think he would actually use it to attack Obama – http://satiricalpolitical.c

  11. Ted Walters

    It does not matter that we have had it for over 25 years, the process is just undemocratic. It was the Democratic party’s attempt to avoid having a McGovern situation. I find it condescending at best. A bunch of politicians who know better than we do.Also, I get sick and tired of all these people who have an opinion on Michigan and Florida. First, there are differences in the two as Florida had everyone’s name on the ballot. Michigan did not. I voted in the Michigan primary, but considering we were told that the vote did not count i crossed over party lines and voted for Huckabee as I felt he would be the easiest Republican to beat in November. I know of at least 20 others personally who did the same. So if they seat the delegates, I will be pissed. Not everyone who did not vote for Hillary chose “non-committed.” At the time of our primary, I was an Edwards supporter.I really feel that a generational schism could occur based on what happens to the superdelegates. Our senior Senator, Carl Levin is suggesting that he will vote what he feels is right, not necessarily what the people want. That irks me. Levin knows that his seat is safe here which is why he can take such a bold posture. I suspect those in other states or regions may have to consider the will of the people.I have finally reconciled my views on the two remaining Democratic candidates. I like Hillary, but I think that she will just perpetuate the 51% mentality (mind you, that is not her fault, but rather because of bias and an insane hatred of her on the right). I like Obama’s message. I don’t always like his supporters. I know that you expressed concern about lack of details. I am of the belief that all the organization and plans mean squat. If you govern optimistically, it will lead you down the better path in my opinion. We have a president now whose policy is entirely guided by fear.

    1. S.t

      just another example of anti-democracy by The Left — count these votes, but don’t count those –Seriously, you’d think that after the hanging-chad fiasco in Y2K, the dems would be sucking up to get every Floridian vote they could.

    2. fredwilson

      Great comment. I agree with youFred

  12. Stacy

    I learned something about super delegates from Willie Brown, former SF mayor, on CNN the other night that I never heard before. The real purpose of super delagates is to protect the Democratic party from a takeover by independents or any other group. For example someone could capitvate democrates with a new philosophy that’s nothing like what the Democratic Party stand for, but yet is very populous and get votes. So, without building a new 3rd party, they might try to hijack the Democratic party. In that case, super delagates, with voting power, would step in and vote the hijacker off the island. Without such a provision, you can see what’s possible.I doubt very seriously that they would use their super delegate power to over turn the seated delegates that people voted for.

    1. fredwilson

      If someone hijacked the democrat party it would simply be the new (and probably better) democrat partyThat sounds like a dictator trying to hang on to power, not a democratic process at workFred

  13. terrycojones

    Hi FredI pretty much agree. I think there’s potentially a real disaster in the making here for the democrats, and it’s not too early to start worrying about it. But I’m an optimist, and I think things will pan out as Dave W anticipates. BTW, I like Hillary, and I like Bill, but I greatly prefer Obama.I wrote about some of this recently, concluding “One can always hope that the superdelegates will tell Hillary and Bill to take a hike. I wouldn’t bet on it though. I think it’s more likely that by then Hillary’s campaign will have had the good sense to collapse around her.”…Regards,Terry

  14. scottfromshanghai

    Its a sad fact but isn’t it possible to make the argument that the person best able to do back room deals and convince the superdelegates is the best candidate and the best person to be president becuase thats what its all about? Need to change more than the democratic selection rules!Scott (albeit posting from a country which doesn’t worry too much about elections)

  15. TimWalker

    Fred, please pardon my ignorance if you’ve covered this before, but why do you use lower-case “democrat” to describe the party? No big agenda on this end, but if I were copy-editing that in text I’d change it to “Democratic.”Usage geeks wants to know!

  16. Luke Archer

    I am appalled with our “supposed” democratic system of government. This was the first year that I had heard really any news or pot lights on the super delegates and how money and promises buys their votes. Whatever happened to “A Government FOR and BY the PEOPLE”??? I was disgusted when Al Gore won the popular vote, but lost with the delegates…and I am even more disgusted now. How about a president that vows to let the people decide who governs them…oh yeah, then he/she would have to bite the hand that elected them…what a nightmare.

  17. Andy Swan

    I don’t know enough about delegates or super delegates to comment on that….but the notion that in 2000 Florida should have been “called a tie” strikes me as extremely UNdemocratic. “Every vote counts….unless it’s close and every vote would actually count….. then we’ll just do-over”.

    1. fredwilson

      AndyI think we need to recognize that when its really close, like florida in 2000, and the difference is within the margin of error, a recount is the only way to ensure that every vote is countedFred

      1. Andy Swan

        Agreed. Recount is VERY different than a have “them vote over again” 2nd campaign.

        1. fredwilson

          They did a recount. It didn’t solve anything. The recount was still in the margin of errorFred

          1. Andy Swan

            Well I suppose one thing we can agree on is the need for a 100% accurate vote-counting system, so that the margin of error does not exist. It makes me sick that American Idol has much more accurate systems than American Presidency.

  18. jackson

    Let’s make it easier on everybody – I’ll pick the candidate, hell, I’ll choose the Prez even. Really, I don’t mind…..

    1. fredwilson

      I’d vote for your pick!

  19. stone

    As I said her before, lots of articulate people can read a teleprompter. Now we know that Senator Obama has been doing just that in key areas of his stump speech. The one thing he had for all you ultraliberals was his spoken word — no serious experienced running a company, a city or a state, just his magical words. Now we find out that a key section has been um, er, borrowed? Have you lost faith yet again that he’s JUST a politician trying to win? Let’s get real and stop rationalizing because you desparately want a far left liberal in the White House. This guy has a thin resume AND is not using his own original thought.

  20. Lass

    I don’t think we have a democracy. We have power brokers that decide. It is not we the people, it is media not giving us all the information and doing a “branding” on a candidate. They too are a power broker and then there is the party delegates. They protect us from our vote. then we have them disinfranching Florida and Michigan votes. Then, there is the paid superdelegates. It is unreal and by any measure not democracy!

  21. charlie crystle

    Fred,I can attest to the corruption of the Democratic Party system. When I ran for US Senate in PA, I was offered a superdelegate spot as part of a “package” to convince me to leave the primary. I turned it down, along with other suggested perks, and instead asked for a few issues-oriented things that never were done, not to mention the harassment during the campaign.It’s a patronage system, at least here in PA. It’s not democratic by any means. Progressives with new ideas and energy are pushed aside during the contests in favor of weaker characters with political favors to pay or to earn. The political animal is different from you and I; the politician first responds to power, money, or shame, then to reason, justice, and public obligation.Obama appears to be different. It infuriates party insiders like Rendell & Clinton, to see someone so talented and committed to skip line without owing the power brokers anything along the way. At least that’s how it appears. Let’s hope when he wins (he will win) that he has surrounded himself with a team who wants to accomplish things for the public good. And let’s hope the highly undemocratic system of superdelegates allows that without exacting a price.

  22. Lass

    Obama is no better. He has been taking money from Exelon, he fixed a bill so that Nuclear Companies are not mandated to notify if they leak nuclear waste. He is not who he pretends to be. He also lies on his Senate page of what actually is the truth and states he did mandate it. Truth is truth, he did not and he too is a liar.

  23. fredwilson

    CharlieI am slowly being swept away by obama like the rest of us progressives and it is this reason you cite belowHe owes nobody and thus he owes usFred

  24. Steven Kane

    my history is a bit rusty here but — isnt the whole superdelegate structure supposed to prevent backroom deals and politics a susual? doesn’t it (like the proportional distribution of delegates versus the old winner-takes-all method still used by the republicans) trace back to the 1984 race when jesse jackson and his followers complained that jackson was getting all sorts of popular votes and support but wasn’t getting any delegates or sway at the convention?any case, we should all resist the urge to let the ideal become the enemy of the good. our system is the worst… except for all the others. there is no such thing as perfect democracy or absolute democracy. there has to be a system of organization and rules, especially to deal with messy and inevitable situations like near-tiesone last thing — to all those vitriolic bush-bashers who still scream that the 2000 election was “stolen”: hopefully the current rules tangle over vote counts and delegates and superdelegates in the Democrat party primaries and caucuses once and for all demonstrates that nobody :”stole”: anything. bush and gore camps played as hard as they could by the rules, desperate to win. one can and maybe should argue that the supreme court overstepped by taking the case at all (should have been a local/state florida matter only) and maybe gore should have kept fighting to wrench it back into florida, but he didn’t, and the contest was over. senators clinton and obama will undoubtedly play to win, and will try to leverage the rules to thyeir own advantage. gee, how shocking. but lets please — PLEASE — not start vilifying our loyal opponents. can’t we stop the acid throwing and bashing and personal attacks and horrible deeply divisive nasty accusations? please…?