March 17, 2008
by Charles Bierbauer
We thought we left things in good hands when South Carolina nudged the primary process forward. In January, we gave a nearly decisive boost to John McCain’s campaign, and put Barack Obama back on track for a heady two-person race for the Democratic nomination. Not a bad job for a state looking to have an early impact. Yet look at the mess we’ve got now.
Democrats in Florida and Michigan have discovered that haste makes waste. How many times have we told our children that? In their perceived urgency to reach the head of the queue, those states ignored the parental admonitions of the Democratic National Committee. You’ll lose your delegates’ seats at the convention; they were warned to no effect.
Whether Hillary Clinton was the crafty kid to stay on the ballot—just in case—or Barack Obama was the obedient child to remove his name is no longer the issue. Voters in Michigan and Florida were afforded incomplete options. “None of the above,” the choice Michigan voters had, does not constitute a vote for Obama.
With the likelihood neither Obama nor Clinton will have sufficient delegates to secure the nomination without a floor fight in Denver, the states in disarray must be addressed. Michigan Democrats want a second primary on June 3d. Can they legally do that? Why not! Enfranchising is better than disenfranchising.
Florida is contemplating a mail-in re-do. What does that portend? Need we remind you of the general election fiasco of 2000 in which ballots were lost, ballots were not counted, absentee ballots remained, well, absent, voters got butterflies when they saw one confusing ballot layout, and those dastardly hanging and pregnant chads were the bane of election commissioners and the delight of late-night comedians. Why is it always Florida that amuses and appalls us?
What’s to be done? Let ‘em vote. Who’s to pay? Frankly, I don’t care. The state parties for being unruly children. The DNC for not exercising parental authority. The campaigns. Anybody but the voters. Not their mess.
THE KEYSTONE STATE
I was born in Pennsylvania, grew up in Pennsylvania, and bleed Nittany Lion blue (also Gamecock garnet). Without being smug about it, I’m kind of pleased Pennsylvania voters have the next great say in the Obama-Clinton battle.
The race for the presidency was not meant to be decided by a few self-important states that stampeded to the head of the process. What’s wrong with all 50 states having a say in the matter? Disproportionately, yes. But not disinterestedly. Few would have guessed the race would last this long, but it’s not a bad thing. Starting so early is another matter. Perhaps in 2012 every state will want to hold back to have the decisive vote in June, July or August. Regional primaries, anyone?
Who elected them? No one. They are the anointed. Party officials, elected office holders (not elected for this role), and appointed stakeholders. The stakes, as the Democrats’ superdelegate system was conceived, were to keep the party from being hijacked by a candidate out of the mainstream. Ask Walter Mondale. Or Gary Hart, for that matter.
This year, though many superdelegates eschew the notion of a nomination being decided in a smokeless back room, the 842 supposedly “unpledged” delegates are almost surely going to hold the votes that push Obama or Clinton above the nomination threshold that neither is likely to reach by the end of the primaries.
The superdels’ dilemma is whether to vote their conscience or vote in conformity with the primary results in their home states. It’s a choice, but there’s an awful lot of hand-wringing going on. If you’re a superdelegate, you’ve got a vote. Use it. Or did you just plan to party?
Whether it’s former vice presidential candidate Geraldine Ferraro or the Rev. Dr. Jeremiah Wright, candidates bear the brunt of their supporters’ outrages and indiscretions. Muzzles are impractical. The First Amendment frowns on them.
Clinton and Obama surrogates, official or not, are free to say what they think.
The candidates, though, have little latitude. They must either acknowledge or refute those expressions, especially when they are hateful and disrespectful. It’s best when candidates act quickly and speak for themselves.
Surely, you didn’t think we’d leave out Eliot Spitzer, the latest politician to trip over his own hubris. It should be the national lament that the best and the brightest are no longer attracted to politics. ‘Nuf said.
Charles Bierbauer covered presidential campaigns for CNN from 1984 through 2000. He is dean of the College of Mass Communications and Information Studies at the University of South Carolina, though the views here are his own and not those of the university. Bierbauer is senior contributing editor and a consultant to SCHotline.com.