Thursday, February 14, 2008

The Delegate Selection Process

NPR talk show host Diane Rehm continues to hammer at the super delegate system. This week she had a whole hour segment on it. While she wasn't as vociferous this week in her opposition to it, she still has obvious qualms about it.

A related issue is the Democratic rule denying delegates to Floroida and Michigan because they held their primaries ealrier than that permitted by party rule. Diane asked incredulously, "How can this be Constitutional?" Uh, Diane, don't you know the Constitution says nothing about political parties, let alone how those parties select their convention delegates? The due process and equal protection clauses only apply to governmental entities, so they would have no application to non-government entities like political parties. The fact is, parties can select their delegates any way they want to. There are *no* Constitutional issues involved!

The interesting possibility arises that there will be a challenge at the convention concerning the Michigan and Florida delegations. Past experience on this type of problem is instructive. In 1912 there was a titanic struggle between Teddy Roosevelt and Taft at the Republican convention. Roosevelt actually clobbered Taft 278-48 in States that had direct primaries. However, there were 1078 delegates total, so that left most to be selected by other means, I suppose comparable to the "super delegates" system at issue today. At the convention there were 254 seats in dispute, and there was the issue of how this dispute was to be resolved. It fell to the National Committee to decide who to seat, and since it was controlled by Taft, it gave Taft 235 of the 254 disputed seats. The Roosevelt supporters took the battle over the disputed seats to the floor of the convention, and Taft prevailed, but only because delegates whose seats were being disputed were allowed to vote on their own cases!!

This show the importance of having good, sound rules in place to govern convention business. Had Roosevelt prevailed, he obviously would have been a much stronger candidate for the Republicans in 1912. Even running as a third-party candidate, he trounced Taft in the general election.

Now fast-forward 40 years to 1952, and we find the Republicans embroiled in an identical delgates dispute, this time betwen the Eisenhower and the Taft forces. Unlike with Roosevelt in 1912, here the Eisenhower forces were successful in getting a Motion passed saying delegations opposed by more than 1/3 of the National Committee could not vote on the credentials of any other delegation. With a fair vote thus assured, the convention overruled its credentials committee and seated the Eisenhower forces, by a vote of 607-531.

One can only hope that in 2008, the Democrats will have rules assuring fundamental fairness, and that there will not be any bruising fights that will leave a permanent rift in the party. The pundits seem to be less obsessed with he super delegate issue than are journalists, as most pundits say these super delegates want to nominate a winner and will not go against the will of the people, even though the ones who have declared their preference to date are overwhelmingly for Clinton. Most, however, remain officially undecided.

No comments: