Tucked inside an(other) entertaining rant about exorcising Hillary Clinton from the presidential race, Jonathan Chait makes a point about the increasingly silly "democracy" arguments rolled out to keep the contest going.
In an editorial bolstering Clinton's prerogative to stay in the race, The Washington Post insisted, "No doubt the Democrats have gotten themselves into a fix with rules that may leave the final decision to unelected superdelegates–but why is the answer to that less democracy?"
Anyone who tried to talk sense into a Ralph Nader supporter in 2000 probably heard some version of this rationale. Giving the voters more candidates is democracy, man. The decision to run is an act of civic virtue that may not be analyzed for its real-world effects. Nader himself dismissed Leahy's call for Clinton to withdraw as "political bigotry." He urged, "Listen to your own inner citizen First Amendment voice. This is America. Just like every other citizen, you have a right to run."
As Chait argued a little bit earlier in the piece:
The persistent weakness of American liberalism is its fixation with rights and procedures at any cost to efficiency and common sense.
Of course, the Clintons don't actually care about rights and procedures, and are using these arguments to browbeat a bunch of unelected superdelegates into giving Hillary the nomination by diktat. It was a mere two months ago that Lanny Davis put this out there, that if the smoke-filled rooms gave us great presidents like Adlai Stevenson (he really said this), they were good enough for the Year of Our Lord 2008. So what's actually happening is liberal saps being bamboozled by totally senseless arguments about democracy. You can't blame them: They've been told for years that "election day is the one day we're all equal," and they're wiped away tears at stories of Freedom Riders registering blacks to vote in the South (stories that Clinton is exploiting to cudgel the first black presidential frontrunner).
But this is getting everything backwards. The power of the vote in an established democracy is the power to pressure and replace the elected. There's a role for protest candidates, but it's to, again, exert pressure on the elected: To clearly state "I am withholding my support from you for reason X" and get them trembling about their vote margins. Since Clinton is trying to survive by convincing liberal voters she's as liberal on the war as Obama and as liberal on economics–trying to muddy the ideological choice and run on personality and resentment politics–voters are really saying nothing by supporting her.
Chait's right to mention Nader, because this is the central fallacy of his campaign. He's running, basically, on a platform of being able to run for president. He's getting on ballots because he thinks people should have the right to get on ballots. It's a childish view of what elections are for.