Adult Supervision

Does a delegate go to a political convention to lead? To represent? To decide?

I had always thought their task was to represent and, based on that, to decide. After all, the very word “delegate” itself implies a transfer of power, a representation—and not duties of leadership. In today’s New York Times, however, Geraldine Ferraro tells me that I’m wrong. At least, I’m wrong in relation to the so-called “superdelegates.” In her view, they are essentially different from mere delegates:

But the superdelegates were created to lead, not to follow. They were, and are, expected to determine what is best for our party and best for the country. I would hope that is why many superdelegates have already chosen a candidate to support.

Ferraro justifies this through a paternalist argument: We let you try it on your own, but you messed up so badly in 1980 that we had to step in a straighten things out. We are the adults, and know what is best for you and the party. Besides, we understand the big picture that you children just don’t get:

Besides, the delegate totals from primaries and caucuses do not necessarily reflect the will of rank-and-file Democrats. Most Democrats have not been heard from at the polls. We have all been impressed by the turnout for this year’s primaries — clearly both candidates have excited and engaged the party’s membership — but, even so, turnout for primaries and caucuses is notoriously low. It would be shocking if 30 percent of registered Democrats have participated.

So, the superdelegates are going to make up for that lack of participation, representing those who didn’t vote?

Yeah, right.

Besides, you can’t have it both ways. In the first quote, Ferraro, you are saying that the superdelegates are supposed to be making the decisions. In the second, you imply that they are there to represent the unrepresented (circumventing, by the way, our system’s use of voting, and not polling, for elections).

When people set themselves up as leaders, they have to either convince their constituency that they know better and will make the best decision—or convince them that they will carry out programs the people have already decided they want. In a convention situation, the “leaders” are specifically tasked with representing constituencies, not with developing new programs.

Even so, the superdelegates aren’t about leadership at all. In fact, the convention isn’t about leadership. Yes, we are deciding who our leaders are through the process, but the superdelegates and the convention are about that process, and about control of it. By a sleight-of-hand that wasn’t noticed until this year (for its results had never been significant). The Democratic Party assured, with the creation of the superdelegate system, that what looks like a process where the voters decide isn’t that at all. Now we see that, rather than making our own decision, we’re still under “adult”supervision.

And I don’t like that at all.

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