Thursday, March 06, 2008

The Reality About Legitimacy

The A-List Blogger Boyz have their collective knickers in a twist about that nasty, mean, spiteful Hillary Clinton refusing to withdraw gracefully from the campaign and allow The Precious to be coronated. Oh, the damage she does by not conceding! How dare she harsh our mellow! The sheer selfishness of her behavior! Nay, the immorality of forcing a destructive battle on the party who needs to unite behind The Golden One and glide to victory on promises of bipartisan love! And ponies for everyone, natch...

Among the punditocracy (among whom I place the A-List bloggers), Golden Boy Barry's legitimacy is presumed, that he simply must be the most adored, most preferred candidate of them all. The count of the pledged delegates is a sacred relic within the cult, the objective symbol of The Precious' status. This is repeated constantly despite clear patterns in the votes to spell out his weak points and as though there are not structural advantages in voting procedures that over emphasize his popularity.

The converse is also a matter of unshakeable belief, that Hillary enjoys no legitimacy, that she is presumptively an illegitimate candidate, and that there is something inherently good in trying to defeat her. What Nevada, the Florida Primary, Super Tuesday and yesterday's smashing victories in Ohio and Texas demonstrate is that Hillary Clinton has broad, deep and diverse support among Democrats, and that she is seen by them as a worthy and legitimate candidate for President. This is important because the animus against her among the leftist blogs and many party elites is that she cannot rally support, that she is not a popular choice candidate. In fact, she is the strongly preferred choice of millions of Democrats. Because her legitimacy cannot be acknowledged, the phenomenon of her really kicking ass and winning big time must be diminished, rather in the same way as Grover Norquist wanted to reduce the Federal government and for much the same objective.

Hence, the fetishization of the pledged delgate count among the punditocracy. The super delegates must vote the way the majority have voted, they protest. This is the express will of the people and must be bowed to. But, is it? The delegate count is not unequivocally legitimate, and this casts an increasing pall of illegitimacy on Obama. There are three significant points where the pledged delegate counts are not obviously the will of the people.

ONE: Open vs. closed contests. Just which people are being counted? For a very long time, Obama's margin of victory was among Independents, not Democrats. He has run the notorious "Democrat for a Day" operation in at least three states (California, Florida, Nevada), explicitly urging Republicans to switch parties simply to vote against Hillary. To the degree that his support does not come from the party, his delegate count is suspect. What would contests look like rebalanced to show only Democratic support?

TWO: Caucus vs. Primary. This, to me, is a far more pernicious and delegitimizing situation than open primaries, because the structure of a caucus has two anti-democratic effects.

First, it reduces popular participation by being limited in time and place (there are far fewer caucus locations than polling places) and by removing the secret ballot. The time issue is two-edged. First, the participant must be available at the appointed time, which is unfavorable to shift workers. It also requires you to be available for a significant amount of time, usually several hours. This is a great burden on people who work, who have caretaker duties, and/or who are physically unable to attend, such as my mother. As for the secret ballot, that has been shown over and over to be essential to free exercise of political preference. Peer pressure is difficult to resist. It is interesting that Hillary won the New Mexico caucus where the votes themselves were cast secretly. Every caucus contest has come replete with reports of Obama supporters bullying and threatening Hillary supporters. The Texas caucuses may result in criminal charges.

The second effect is to exaggerate small differences of support and slight margins of victory, as well as allow a far smaller number of voters to be represented per delegate. A vote margin as small as three people may create a 50/50 split or a 70/30 in terms of delegate allocation. One-tenth the turn-out in a caucus state may earn the same number of convention delegates as in a primary state.

With both Washington State and Texas, we saw the difference between holding a primary and a caucus, using the same pool of voters. In WA, Obama won both, but with a significantly smaller margin in the primary than in the caucus. In TX, Hillary won the primary handily, but may be edged out in the caucus, which is composed of a sub-set of all primary voters. The pairing of these two states demonstrates that it is entirely possible Obama would not have won some of those caucuses (Iowa would probably have gone by a tiny margin to Hillary in a straight vote, and Nevada would have gone to her even more than it did). In short, the contests where the process itself is more democratic, Hillary has gained more support. The allocation of delegates is inconsistent and exaggerated. The disparity between delegate counts would be far less if all states had been primaries, even if Obama had won all the states he currently holds.

THREE: Michigan and Florida being excluded from the counts. The Florida and Michigan delegates are not being seated because they would allow Hillary to win. Period. Unlike the first two issues, which are structural, this one is political. In a pathetic attempt to stack the primary season for John Edwards, the DNC shoved these two, must-win states out in the cold, probably figuring they would fall in line and support the eventual nominee and all damage could be fixed before the convention. Michigan is a self-inflicted wound for The Precious. He took his name off the ballot to try to deligitimize Hillary, and the strategy backfired on him. In Florida, he ran campaign ads and came off a power-house victory in South Carolina, only to be thoroughly snubbed by the voters of a state the Democrats must win in November (hmm, I'm sensing a pattern here) . While a formal argument might be offered that Michigan shouldn't be seated because of the ballot - though it was Barry's choice to do so and it was done for strategic reasons - there is no reason to refuse to seat Florida at this point except to prevent a count of Hillary's true support.

Something I have not seen discussed much in the blogosphere, in great part because voters who support Hillary are not seen as having cast legitimate votes, is that Florida knows it is the king-maker in this convention, and it damn well is not going to revote. In this game of chicken, Howard Dean loses. "The rules" aren't going to count for squat when Florida demands to be seated. If Obama's forces refuse to seat Florida for the sole purpose of denying Hillary delegates, he will lose Florida in the general, and probably Michigan, too, and there goes the election. To try to wrangle a win out of a convention that does not seat Florida and Michigan is to lose massive amounts of legitimacy. Do you think my mother-in-law and all her senior female friends who turned out en masse to vote for Hillary in Florida are going to vote for Obama after he denies FL a voice at the convention?

The pledged delegate count is not invalid or without merit, but it is far less definitive in the eyes of rank-and-file Democratic voters - the ones who have been favoring Hillary in big state primary contests - and they are not going to regard it as fully legitimate. The Blogger Boyz and the rest of the media whores know this, which is another reason they howl loudly to drown out the contesting perspectives.

And, here is the real rub. The contest is basically tied and Golden Boy Barry, despite his overwhelming money advantage and all the positive media attention money can't buy, couldn't close the deal yesterday and will not get to the magic number of 2,025 delegates before the convention. Hillary is behind him only because two big states are not being counted for her. I add she can't get to 2025 by the convention, either, but she has as strong (if not a stronger) argument to make to the convention - my wins are where we need to win in November, and my wins are up front and broad based, more like the national electorate than my competitor has won. My point is that what the rank and file Democrat thinks is legitimate may not be measured in the delegate count, and that the way in which Hillary and her committed supporters are treated is what will determine the final outcome.

Obama cannot win without Florida and Michigan, and they don't want him. He is going to have to compromise, else he will lose all legitimacy. And that's the cold, hard reality.

Anglachel's Journal

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