The Democrats' ultimate nightmare is that the delegate selection process ends in a virtual tie after Clinton has regained momentum in, say, two of the last three large primaries -- Texas and Ohio (March 4), then Pennsylvania (April 22). House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is surely right that delegates selected in defiance of party rules -- Michigan's and Florida's -- should not be dispositive. So superdelegates -- party dignitaries, most of them elected officials -- would have to be. What ethic should guide their decisions? Should each of them vote as did their state or congressional district? Or for the candidate who won the most votes nationally? Or should they think like Edmund Burke?I usually start off in my AP Government class the unit on Congress with Burke's speech and ask the students what they want of their representatives: for him/her to exercise judgment even if the representative's judgment is contrary to what the popular will of the district is. My students usually split in what they want of their representatives but the great majority are persuaded by Burke's argument.
On Nov. 3, 1774, Burke, an intellectual founder of modern conservatism, delivered a thank-you address to people who, upon hearing it, perhaps wished they had not done what he was thanking them for. They had elected him to represent them in the House of Commons. He told them he was duty-bound to represent the national interest, as he understood that. He said he owed them not obedience but his independent judgment of the public good -- independent of "local prejudices" or "local purposes."
Burkean superdelegates among the Democrats? What fun.
It is his duty to sacrifice his repose, his pleasures, his satisfactions, to theirs; and above all, ever, and in all cases, to prefer their interest to his own. But his unbiassed opinion, his mature judgment, his enlightened conscience, he ought not to sacrifice to you, to any man, or to any set of men living. These he does not derive from your pleasure; no, nor from the law and the constitution. They are a trust from Providence, for the abuse of which he is deeply answerable. Your representative owes you, not his industry only, but his judgment; and he betrays, instead of serving you, if he sacrifices it to your opinion.Then I bring up a real issues rather than a discussion in the abstract. What if a representative votes differently on the war in Iraq or abortion than the majority in his district? Suddenly, they're not so sure.
I'd actually been thinking of that Burke speech as the whole discussion of the superdelegates and how they should vote has come up. The whole reason that the Democrats installed superdelegates in the first place was to serve as a check on how the majority voted in the primaries. If there should be such a situation as we could face between Obama and Clinton where they could enter the convention with no declared winner, somehow a decision would need to be made. Better 796 superdelegates, many of whom are elected officials themselves, have the deciding vote than a bunch of party elders sitting around in a non-smoke filled conference room.
Luckily for the Democrats, I don't think that they will end up having to worry about it. Hillary seems to be spiraling down as the primaries continue. As Peggy Noonan wrote, she's become a reverse Sally Field.
Her whole life right now is a reverse Sally Field. She's looking out at an audience of colleagues and saying, "You don't like me, you really don't like me!"The Clintons might tell themselves that they fell before the inexorable popularity of Barack Obama. But one of the reasons Obama achieved such stratospheric fame and popularity was because he was the un-Clinton. There were a lot of Democrats who weren't enthusiastic about continuing the Clinton dynasty. That gave Obama his opening. And, having demonstrated his electability in contest after contest, those superdelegates are going to decide that he's the best Democrat that they could possibly send into the contest this November. In this case, the voters they represent and their own judgment will be in accord and they won't have to risk a Burkean decision.