I’m conflicted about Super Delegates, the somewhat dubious process where people with standing in the party have a minority vote for how to represent the party.
It is a bit undemocratic, but then again, so is a primary. It is a vote by party members—members defined loosely in some places. It is almost stupid to point out that Republicans aren’t invited to vote in the Democratic Party. It’s obvious. Dumb. Stupid. If they were, it would be the general election. Marco Rubio is not welcome to run in it.
So why should Sanders be?
Sanders has built his career on criticizing both parties. That’s right, after years of criticizing “the establishment” (a word that is quickly losing all meaning), he turned around and asked the Democratic party to make him their nominee. He opposes a good deal of their platform, is at odds with party leadership, and has closer affiliations with the US socialist party, though he’s been quick to say Independent because it suits him. He wants into the Establishment Club, but he does not want to pay his dues.
The differences between Sanders and Clinton are as a large as Clinton and Rubio. There is a party-separating gulf between them. The idea that Sanders is part of the Democratic party is betrayed by his own statements, positions, and history. The problem with a majoritarian rule in the Electoral College is that it makes it hard for third-parties to get any kind of foothold, so I sympathize with Sanders supporters who think this insurgency is the way to go. Really, truly. The alternative here is pretty messy.
I’ve been harping on this point for awhile, but one of the things missing from the “Sander’s Revolution” is any lasting change in Congress. Sanders is running to be President opposite a pretty typical slate of Democratic Representatives and Senators. Even if the Democrats pull a trick out of their hat and take both chambers of Congress—that’s unlikely—Sanders will find himself at odds with the Democrats. They would pass a budget that contained the kind of incrementalist change that Clinton supports. What should Sanders do in that case? Veto it and cause a shutdown and try to negotiate for more? Or accept the limited power of the President? I can’t say what he would do, though it is not hard to imagine an angry, blustering Sanders in the Rose Garden gutting discretionary spending in the hopes of getting a new deal. To be clear, the poor he champions would bear that cost for his supporters.
And here is the real kicker: it is a myth that the Super Delegates are unelected. Every single one of them has stood for an election in the Democratic Party and won. They are members of Congress and party leaders who represent vested party interests. Like the US Senate, they represent a sort of institutional friction: they change more slowly and keep the nomination from transfiguring into something that does not represent the party.
I mentioned at the beginning that I’m conflicted about Super Delegates. I found it hard to stomach in 2008 that Obama might lose the nomination on the vote of party leadership—and I supported Clinton in 2008. The differences between Clinton and Obama were experience and shades of ambition in policy proposals; they were both fundamentally on board with the Democratic agenda. (How much Obama got walked back to Clinton’s positions by the Democratic Congress before 2010 should be a warning to Sanders supporters.) Sanders, by contrast, wants to seriously alter parts of the Democratic platform so that it is unrecognizable. These are, to beat this point a bit more, as big as what Rubio would change if he were the insurgent. Bernie Sanders is the reason for Super Delegates. To ensure that decades of work, consensus building, and coalition making can’t be gutted by someone from outside the party in a single, close primary.
Even if you view that as a point in Sanders’ favor, it is hard to make the case that it is the Democratic Party’s job to represent the American socialist movement. We have Super Delegates to make sure it doesn’t.