Chris Matthews had a Sanders campaign grandee on last night, and directly raised the question of the legitimacy of the Democratic Party nominating process. In the response, the outlines of Sanders’s charge against the party were apparent. Phrasing them as questions, we have:
- Sanders polls better against Trump than does Clinton, so given the fact that Sanders has momentum going into the convention, why doesn’t the party prefer him as their presidential candidate?
- Sanders polls better among young people. How can the super-delegates ignore that constituency, the future of their party?
- Sanders polls better among independents, and independents are a growing part of the American electorate. How can the party ignore those voices?
The conclusion drawn starkly by the Sanders grandee was that the preference for Clinton was evidence of old-fogey prejudice.
Matthews was sympathetic, not necessarily to the charge that the party had been unfair to Sanders, but to the goal of making the nominating process more a reflection of the will of the voters. So the question is: do super-delegates represent the will of the voters? On the face of it, the answer is “No!” Sanders has the support of a far smaller percentage of super-delegates than is reflecting in the overall campaign standings.
But to be fair, you have to ask “Which voters?” The voters that were able to show up for a ten-hour caucus, a requirement that biases against the working poor? Superdelegates are not a random collection. They are party “big-wigs” – often candidates elected to state or national office. They were selected by the voters in an actual election. Many have held office over the long term, and so can be considered to have faithfully implemented the will of the voters. Is including the voice of the larger electorate (which includes independents, obviously) through super-delegates truly a form of bias, or a means of including those that cannot participate in a primary?
Sanders also needs to recognize that his success in influencing that national debate was dependent in large part upon the existence of the party. Without it, there would be no persistent voice to counter the irrational and self-serving ranting of the Republican big-money donors. Isn’t it the job of the Democratic Party to represent the will of those that choose the Democratic Party? Sanders, as an independent, sees a vote as a vote. But this is a nominating process for a general election, not the general election itself. If independents really wanted permanent influence in the formation of national policy, they’d form or join a party. Why should they be allowed to come in and pirate the institution nurtured for more than a century with the time, money and passion invested by actual Democrats?
Get a clue, independents: the Democratic Party is the Democratic Party. It represents Democrats.
As a Democrat, my counter to the charge of bias by the Sanders campaign would run like this:
- If Sanders is so popular among self-proclaimed independents, shouldn’t his campaign motivate more of them to register as Democrats?
- Why shouldn’t the voice of the working poor be heard in the primary process through the institution of the super-delegate?
And there is a last point, not so fundamentally democratic: our Constitution enshrines a bicameral legislature: a House that represents the will of the people, and a Senate that represents the voice of experience. I see a similar structure in the Democratic nominating process, with the passion of the voters leavened by the seasoned voices of the super delegates. These are people that know how to get things done. They are office-holders that need to be led into the future by the President, and that must support the President if the party’s platform is to have any chance at implementation.
The unanimity of the super delegate support for Clinton indicates that the Democratic Party’s elected office-holders trust Clinton. They have seen her under fire, and admire her tenacity and principle. They have campaigned with her, and trust her commitment to Democratic principles. Clinton has earned their loyalty.
The Sanders campaign, echoing the hippies, characterizes this loyalty as “the Establishment” that must be overthrown by revolution. That is not only uncharitable, but actually, in undermining faith in the Democratic Party, threatens the party’s survival.
As a man that campaigned against the party for more than thirty years, however, you wouldn’t expect Sanders to care.