The Democratic Primary: A Look Back in Laughter


The Democratic race is wrapping up as I write this, with various political tickers bending upward as superdelegate after superdelegate endorses Barack Obama. It's fairly surreal. The numbers are changing as if this is a baseball game and someone keeps knocking balls out of the stadium. But what's actually occurring, across the country, is well-fed Democratic hacks shambling over to telephones and podiums and announcing that, yeah, sure, they support Obama after all.

It's a Fellini-esque conclusion to an idiotic process that Adam Nagourney unpacks here, with great quotes from forehead-slapping Democratic officials.

"The calendar is a disgrace and it has to be changed," said Gov. Ed Rendell of Pennsylvania, a former chairman of the Democratic National Committee. "We can not go through another election cycle like this."

Donald Fowler, a former Democratic National Committee chairman, said: "Our whole system is a mess — I think it requires a complete renovation. I don't think the system added to the closeness of the contest. But the closeness of the contest revealed all the weaknesses of the system."

It's all a bit like the electoral college, another Cujo's breakfast of a voting mechanism that works until it's actually tested in a close election. If you've got a clear frontrunner, who cares if almost 800 people (including total buffoons) have as much individual clout as a few thousand voters? Who cares if a one-vote switch that pushes someone over the line from 62.4 percent of the vote to 62.5 percent in some district adds a net two delegates to his/her total? Who cares if you horsewhip a Michigan or a Florida by "taking away their delegates"? Once there's a nominee, you can add those delegates right back into the winner's column. Unless there is no winner. Then it's Selma by way of Harare unless you count every delegate from those cheating states.

As Tom Edsall points out, Barack Obama is going to be the Democrats' nominee because his staff understood the rules and planned around them for maximum advantage. Hillary Clinton will lose because she thought, as frontrunners usually have the leeway to think, that the rules wouldn't matter. (This even though her aged staff actually helped to write some of these rules.)

In primary states, Clinton won 1,557.5 delegates, 16 more delegates than Obama's 1,521.5. In caucus states, Stewart found, Obama won 366 delegates, or 191 more than Clinton's 175.

In private, a number of Clinton strategists now acknowledge that they made a disastrous, if not fatal, mistake in failing to recognize the profound impact of the caucuses on the delegate count."

We just thought we'd win the primaries, and the caucuses would follow along," one key Clinton strategist said. "It's on the top of the list of things we'd like to do over."

This is why I roll my eyes when Clinton's people whine about "the popular vote," and I roll them even faster when the Republican National Committee gloats that "nearly 18 million voters in the Democrat (sic) Party's nominating process" didn't vote for Obama. Their nominee was basically chosen by better understanding the rules, too, and betting everything he had on the 200,000-odd voters of the New Hampshire GOP primary. It's foolhardy to look for the will of the voters in these contests. Either the parties move to same-day national popular vote primaries or they decide it all in smoke-filled rooms. There's no point whining about the inadequacies of the system they agreed on in order to cover their own asses.