There has been a lot of grousing recently about the Democratic party’s use of so-called superdelegates. The complaints, mostly from Bernie Sanders’ supporters, are little more than sour grapes about a system that has served the party well since 1984. It’s like getting six innings into a baseball game and complaining that the umpires have too much influence.
The idea that the Democratic party’s chosen system – designed in part by Sanders’ campaign strategist Tad Devine – is somehow unfair only to Sanders is absurd. Unpledged “superdelegates” are not anonymous boogiemen. The are your senator and your congressman. Elizabeth Warren is a superdelegate. So is Al Franken, Sherrod Brown, Diane Feinstein, and Alan Grayson. So is President Obama, Vice President Biden, Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, Al Gore, and Walter Mondale.
So is Sen. Bernie Sanders. Bernie actually gets to vote for himself!
Here is a breakdown of who makes up the 719 unpledged delegates:
- 20 distinguished Democratic party leaders, including current and former presidents, vice-presidents, congressional leaders, and DNC chairs
- 21 Democratic governors
- 46 Democratic members of the U.S. Senate
- 193 Democratic members of the U.S. House of Representatives
- 435 elected members of the Democratic National Committee (including the chairs and vice-chairs of each state’s Democratic Party)
In short, they are the people Democrats have elected and cheered on for years. They are the people who campaigned for Pres. Obama and got him elected twice. They are the people who put their careers on the line to fight for and pass the Affordable Care Act, the stimulus bill, the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, increasing the minimum wage, and every other piece of progressive legislation put before congress whether it passed or not. They are the most trusted names in the Democratic Party. They are us.
The 435 members of the DNC who also have superdelegate status are people who make politics their careers. They know their constituents, know their city and state, and in many cases know the candidates personally. They have been to the presidential rodeo and have deep experience with state and national campaigns. In short, they know this stuff far better than the average once-every-four-years primary voter.
To say that these career politicians – all experts in their field – have less standing to be convention delegates than some local Democratic club Treasurer in Kalamazoo simply because he got 41 votes at the party’s district meeting is insane. If you were choosing someone to pilot your jumbo jetliner, you wouldn’t complain if a group of career airline pilots were in on the decision.
The presidency is not a popularity contest. Sure, primary voters get the biggest say in the matter, as it should be. But the candidates that the two major parties offer up should be vetted not only by primary voters but by experts in the field who actually know them, have worked with them, and are best positioned to assess which candidate is prepared to lead the most powerful nation on earth.
And contrary to rumors being spread on social media, superdelegates are not stealth lobbyists planted to fix the nomination for the D.C. establishment. It’s true that a few dozen of the 719 unpledged delegates are registered lobbyists or work for firms that lobby congress. But they weren’t awarded their superdelegate status because of some backroom deal. They are superdelegates because they are respected party elders, like former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (who represents Taiwan’s business interests in Washington) and former House Majority Leader Dick Gephardt (whose Gephardt Group does lobbying work for Turkey and several U.S. corporations).
These former-politicians-turned-lobbyists comprise less than ten percent of the superdelegates and little more than one percent of the total convention delegates. The idea that this tiny subgroup of a few dozen is likely to sway the outcome of a 4,765 person vote is silly on its face.
As for the argument that superdelegates are tools of the establishment, no one could have been more of an “outsider” than Sen. Barack Obama in 2008. In the U.S. Senate for only three years, he was able to beat insider Sen. Hillary Clinton while navigating the superdelegate system to his advantage. He didn’t moan about the system or Clinton’s early superdelegate lead. He simply did the hard work of winning primaries and the confidence of the D.C. politicians who came aboard to support his insurgent campaign.
This time around, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders both had 25 years in D.C. politics to establish the relationships needed to woo and win the support of superdelegates. If one of them did it better than the other, that’s part of the skillset needed to be president. Politics is about people skills. Filling stadiums means nothing if you can’t manage your cabinet and run the most complex bureaucracy in the world. If one candidate is better suited to handle the job of president, superdelegates are well-situated to make that assessment.
So Democrats, stop trying to change the rules mid-game. If you don’t trust your own Democratic senator or congressman to have a single delegate vote out of the 4,765 at the Convention, then you aren’t a Democrat.