April 18, 2016

FORKEN | Non-Democratic Country Calls for Democratic Nominating System

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Alas, the Big Apple is finally a political epicenter in national politics. Given a prolonged Democratic race that few foresaw mere months ago, along with the potential for a contested convention on the Republican side, New York finds itself playing host to scrambling candidates grasping to secure delegates. Though Manhattan typically provides substance for a national media, it is the surrounding countryside that the candidates have crisscrossed the state to reach.

If you’ve happened upon Republican front-runner Donald Trump (R?) or insurgent Democratic candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) in the Upstate area over the past weeks, chances are you’ve heard about how the elites and/or wealthy have corrupted and perverted our supposed democratic nominating system. Take Trump in reference to a would-be contested contention, “But I will say this: It’s a rigged system. It’s a crooked system. It’s 100 percent crooked.” Or Trump on Sanders, “So I watch Bernie, he wins. He wins. He keeps winning, winning. And then I see, he’s got no chance. They always say he’s got no chance. Why doesn’t he have a chance? Because the system is corrupt. This is a crooked system, folks.” While presenting the conventions as a puppet show with elites as the string pullers furthers the outsider narrative both candidates have thus far employed, the simple truth is that our presidential nominating system is not in conflict with, or rigged against, the governing system of the nation.

Each party has unique nominating processes that detractors claim as undemocratic; critics of the Democratic system highlight superdelegates — delegates unbound to any candidate by state results — and those of the Republican counterpart point to states such as Colorado and Wyoming, which forgo a voter-driven primary or caucus and opt instead for nominating conventions where representatives chosen by attendees at earlier district-level caucuses elect the delegation to the GOP convention in July. Incorporating aspects of representative democracy into the nominating process supposedly serves as irrefutable evidence that the process is rigged against the people and towards the powerful and rich. While these inconsistencies with pure democracy may be grounds for legitimate concern in another governing system — and this may seem elementary — we do not reside in a nation governed by pure democracy. In grade school, the term is ‘representative democracy.’ Officially, the Central Intelligence Agency lists the United States government as “constitution-based federal republic; strong democratic tradition.”

Not only does recognizing the United States political system as non-democratic render any discussion of technically undemocratic nominating procedures moot, said nominating procedures are a relatively delicate burden on democracy and exist to protect the party from potentially radical and disastrous candidates. While complex and multi-layered, parties have elected leadership that, by definition of the position, serve to mold the party and its policies as well as candidates to their preference. Leadership is accountable to other facets of the party — voters, organized groups, influential partisan media — in that they must keep all satisfied, not in an abstract commitment to democracy, but to maintain said leadership position. Parties are not servants to the people aside from service that must be provided to create incentive to vote. In that vein, parties are not bound to the will of the constituency so long as they are able to withstand potential consequences. The will of the people must only be consistent with systems of government in the abstract. The Democratic and Republican parties are not the government of the country, they are in control of the government of the country — in that the people largely elect politicians with allegiances to either party, providing comfort and a degree of safety to the people and legitimacy and financing to the candidate who is simply renting an infrastructure.

Under guidelines provided by the Democratic Party, candidates are generally awarded delegates on a basis proportional to that of the statewide primary or caucus. Republican procedures are a bit trickier, with candidates earning delegates on a proportional basis or by statewide winner-take-all, and sometimes both; certain states distribute delegates as winner-take-all on the congressional level and as proportional on the statewide results. Others appropriate delegates as proportional unless a single candidate clears a vote threshold — usually 50 percent — in which case the candidate wins the entire delegation of the state.

Complex rules don’t thwart the will of the people — a will which, due to a combination of citizenship, adulthood/legal voting status and social contracts, consents itself to representation that is sometimes manifested in lower-level elected officials and other times in the rules and procedures of the parties we vote for — they reward candidates that allocate resources effectively and to a specific end, a skill that may prove useful for an eventual president.

Superdelegates are previous party leaders and elected officials of distinguished ilk, all members of the sitting Democratic congressional fleet, current Democratic governors and are pragmatically irrelevant. Superdelegates haven’t determined the outcome of a Democratic primary since 1984, the year they were first introduced and helped Walter Mondale secure a first-ballot nomination that he likely would have won anyway. Without superdelegates Hillary Clinton still leads Sanders by a larger margin among pledged delegates than President Obama led Clinton by at this point in 2008.

Claiming the parties rig the process by establishing publicly known nominating procedures is akin to claiming the NFL rigs playoff games by authorizing officials to keep the game on track. It’s their league, they can decide what to do with it, and the participants of said league are bound by such decisions so long as they continue participating with free will. Claiming the parties implement procedures that aren’t always purely democratic is akin to claiming the NFL is a danger to safety; that’s kind of the point.

Jake Forken is a senior in the College of Human Ecology. He may be reached at jrf285@cornell.edu. My Forken Opin­ion appears alternate Fridays this semester. 

One thought on “FORKEN | Non-Democratic Country Calls for Democratic Nominating System

  1. To be fair, the Democrat’s superdelegate system was created in response to the disaster that was the Democratic Party in the late 1960s and early 1970s. The Party wanted to make sure that guys like Mondale and McGovern and Carter would never be nominated again. It’s no coincidence that we went from those guys to someone like Bill Clinton soon after the system was put into place.

    The problem with superdelgates is that they don’t fit into our republican system. We are supposed to elect representatives who carry out the will of the people. Nobody elects the superdelgates. The superdelegates are not accountable to any individual or any constituency.

    And to say that superdelgates don’t affect races is misleading. Public perception is that Hillary has a huge lead when, in reality, the margin is significantly smaller. But Hillary can campaign and say that the nominate is a sure-thing, which has a lot of affect on those who are not as informed or who do not follow these issues so closely.

    Just a thought.

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