Monday, 26 May 2008

Told You So

Looks like Clinton has finally (and in all likelihood accidentally) fessed up to why she's still in the race, there's still the possibility that some calamity will befall Obama and leave her to pick up the pieces.

Which is what I've been saying for a while now. Of course, I assumed that when she was imagining scenarios they were along the lines of Wright-esque political crises, rather than Obama getting all murdered and shit, but then she's running out of hypotheticals at this point.

I also pointed out that this strategy would be even less likely to work once she admitted to it, so she's messed up on several levels here, although at this stage in the game it would be all but impossible to not see what play she's calling anyway.


cpcarrot said...

Out of curiosity, what's your view on how you think it will pan out when Mrs Clinton wins the popular vote (which is looking rather likely now, yes I know Michigan didn't have Obama on the ballet but even if you give him a percentage of the votes that he was likely to have got she is still slightly ahead)? While previously when it was looking like Obama was going to win both the deligate count and the popular vote it was fairly clear cut, should Mes Clinton take the poular vote AND have much stronger results in all those pesty swing states, what should the Democratic party do? Makes it a bit more of a difficult choice at the very least.

SpaceSquid said...

Not really. Gore won the popular vote too, in fact if memory serves he won more votes than any other presidential candidate in history up to that point. Clinton may well keep whining that the rules aren't fair, but as people have been pointing out for a while now, she was perfectly happy with the rules going in; it's only now she's losing by the accepted metric that she's whining that there should be another one.

As for the swing states, I don't think it really matters as much as some might suggest. She's had better results in some swing states, and Obama in others. More importantly, it's been shown that the demographic break-down of primary voting bears no resemblance to the demographic break-down of presidential voting. Despite some of the lunatic screeching on the fringes, I don't buy into the idea that people are so passionate about Clinton (or Obama for that matter) that if they're chosen candidate doesn't win they'll take their bat and ball and go home. That's stupid on a level that even the American electorate can't manage. Even if every swing state preferred Clinton to Obama (and bear in mind that I haven't seen a single caucus or primary in which Clinton has done as well as she was predicted to at the start of all this, each state's voting has been on a scale from "We want Obama" to "We want Clinton, but not nearly so much as we thought we did"), it hardly means they will prefer Clinton to McCain (I'm deliberately not putting too much weight in current hypothetical Candidate X vs McCain polling, the general election campaign is a notoriously fickle beast and getting the guy on the street to predict the winner at this point is pretty dumb).

And as a final point, giving the nomination to Obama is to say "Yes, there is a flaw in this system, but for now it's the system we've got, and you were OK with that before". Giving it to Clinton is to say "We are changing the accepted metric because we don't want the guy who won it". Which would cause a lot of damage to the party even if we neglect the fact that the guy you'd be saying "no" to is half-black.

People have been pointing out for a while that the constant demands for Clinton to end her campaign have been both unrealistic and unfair (she has, after all, still been winning some of the primaries), and I agree with that. But right now the argument seems to be that because a lot (an awful lot) of people have been, in a variety of ways, total douches to her means she has some moral claim to the throne is ridiculous, especially given the extended temper tantrum she's apparently been throwing lately behind closed doors.

If anyone amongst the super-delegates thinks the electoral college system is broken (and it is, though not necessarily for this reason), they should start lobbying for a change in the rules. What they shouldn't do is arbitrarily decide they'll change them now, on a whim.

So no. I don't think it's a difficult choice at all. It might not be the choice that maximises the chance of a Democratic Whitehouse (although I'm fairly sure it is), but that's not the idea behind the primaries in the first place, and anyone who thinks it does should keep that to themselves if they don't want to start a borderline civil war.

cpcarrot said...

Hmmm… Interesting. How about this:

1. Assume for a moment Mrs Clinton gets the popular vote (looking likely, and basically if she doesn’t I don’t mind shutting up)
2. Your quite right that the primary vote is very different to the presidential vote and I just did some quick working out how it would stand if the primary was done on the same rules as the presidential elections (i.e. using the same votes cast but assigning delegates the same way they would be assigned if they were the electoral college representatives). The result would be quite a big win for Mrs Clinton (in rough terms she would get 300 electoral college votes Obama would get about 220).
3. Again no question she accepted the rules. BUT the rules include the super delegates having the right to make up their own mind and pick the person they think is the best person to win. Therefore why wouldn’t the super-deligates pick the candidate that has won the popular vote, has done better in ALL the big swing states, i.e. Florida (27 Electoral College Votes), Pennsylvania (21 Electoral College Votes), Ohio (20 Electoral College Votes), Michigan (17 Electoral College Votes). By the rules simply winning more pledged delegates does not make you the noninee, the rules include these super delegates, so why should they not pick Mrs Clinton?

SpaceSquid said...

1. Fine.

2. I'm too lazy (almost wrote too busy, but who would buy that?) to check your maths, but I have no reason to doubt it. My point, though, isn't that the primary system uses different rules from the presidential one, it's that Clinton doing better in swing states isn't really such a big deal as everyone says. Take Ohio, which went 74to 67 in favour of Clinton. If for the sake of argument we assume the delegates are handed out proportionally, we get that 52% of the Democrats who voted prefer Clinton to Obama. What exactly does that tell us about the general? There are four groups of voters the Democrats need to consider: Democrats who do vote in Primaries, Democrats who don't vote in Primaries, Independents, and Republicans that can be peeled away from the bloated corpse of the GOP. Just because the first group are the only ones we have voting data (as oppose to polling data) on right now, it doesn't follow that we automatically assume they're particularly good indicators for the general.

3. There is nothing within the rules preventing the SD's from choosing Clinton, obviously. I'm not arguing there is. What I'm arguing is that it would be, whilst entirely legitimate within the established framework, a spectacularly bone-headed stunt, for the reasons given. You're still talking about shifting the metric based on very shaky evidence that it might increase the chances of beating McCain. If that were the only concern, I'm not sure there even needs to be a primary season. An awful lot of Americans take this stuff pretty seriously, and I seriously doubt the public would take it well were it to be revealed that all they've been doing over the last five months is rehearsing candidates so the super delegates can make the decision regarding "electability" come the convention.

And, as I said before, fair or not, reasonable or not, if you take the first front-running Afro-American candidate for president in history and tell him that despite winning the majority of delegates, he is to be turned down in favour of someone "more electable", the party is just going to detonate (obviously a very similar argument would hold for Clinton had she been ahead at this point). The two largest voting groups the Democrats count on are women and black people. The supers would be out of their minds to risk alienating either one of them. And whilst Clinton (who I like less and less each time she opens her mouth) continues to insist her losing is comparable to trying to silence the suffragette movement, the reality is that the only way to have any hope of keeping everyone, if not happy, at least not openly rebellious, is to say "Fine, Obama did better at what he was supposed to do, he can have it".

The immediate corollary to this is: why do we have Super Delegates at all? Thus far, I have absolutely no idea.

cpcarrot said...

If we accept your view that they should simply follow what the pledged delegates have done then there is no point to them. One assumes that the point of having the super delegates is to provide an independent view from party leaders who are highly experienced in the workings of the political system. They can then vote for the candidate that is best for the party as a whole. Whether or not that actually happens in practice is a matter for debate. As is if they should cast their vote based on who has won the most pledged delegates or who has won the popular vote…

SpaceSquid said...

Which is exactly why I don't think they should exist at all. If they go along with the crowd, their irrelevant. If they counteract it, then millions of voters are being told their voting was entirely irrelevant, since the super delegates know what's best for them.

Interestingly I came across an article not ten minutes ago about this very question. The argument there went that we need rid of these people as quickly as possible in case this situation arrives again and the delegate count is much closer than it is this time.

Otherwise you get into the very dangerous territory of the unelected deciding whom you get to elect. If the supers themselves were elected, it might be different, of course; but they aren't.

I mean, what if Obama came to the convention with 3600 delegates, and Clinton only 2800? The superdelegates could still tip Clinton over the top, if they wanted to, even though the delegates split would be more than 56/44 in Obama's favour. Would it still be OK for the superdelegates to choose Clinton because "they know what's best?"

cpcarrot said...

Two points:

a) This is not an election in the strict sense this is simply the party picking who will be it’s preferred candidate. A lot of places don't have any sort of national vote on this sort of thing.
b) The vast majority of the Superdeligates are elected into the position they hold which gives them the superdeligate vote. Superdeligates include all the Democrat House representatives, Senators and Governors all of which are elected in a Democratic election to that office. There are about 400 members of the Democratic National Committee (which are elected, although how democratic this decision is is up for debate, but they get elected by party activists in their state). I think there are about 12 superdeligates who aren’t actually elected in someway to the role (out of just under 800). So I would disagree with the idea it is unelected officials deciding things, it is in fact elected officials doing part of the job they are elected for and maybe of people disagree with the way they vote maybe tehy should have voted someone else into that position.

SpaceSquid said...

a) I'm aware of that, and it's completely irrelevant. You have to judge the effect of the superdelegates swooping in and making choices based on the system they are within: which is one based around the idea that there must be democratic participation as much as feasible. If the decision was made to scrap primaries and caucuses entirely, that would be one thing (and whether it would work and be a good idea would make for an interesting discussion), but whilst it exists it is transparently idiotic to casually overrule it.

b) I'm aware of that too, but requiring that someone have been elected to various offices before they can be an SD is different to electing someone to be an SD. I'm not sure it's realistic to expect people to vote for Congressman Blogs on the basis that he may have to help out on one side or the other of a hypothetical convention deadlock in 2012. It's too unlikely and convoluted a scenario to make it worth weighing in comparison to voting for someone who is good for your district/your country right now. I mean, Gore is a delegate because he used to be the VP. It seems unlikely anyone's vote in November will be swayed by the possibility that the veep on your chosen ticket could be in a position to help decide the presidential candidate for your party sixteen years from now and eight years from when they left office.

Put it another way. If Bush, Cheney, and Pelosi all drop dead tomorrow, Robert Byrd becomes the President, since as President Pro Tempore of the Senate he's third in line. Customarily the PPT is the most senior Senator, but the Senate can vote for whomever they want. Does that mean that the people of West Virgina were likely to consider how well he'd cope if he received an expected (but not guaranteed) position of PPT and then ended up President because Bush, Cheney and Pelosi all pass away? Or is it not vastly more likely they voted for him because they thought he'd be best at putting forth West Virginia's agenda?

As you say, the DNC process is somewhat complicated from what (little) I understand, so I'd be careful about how much faith I put in it.

I confess though that "if supers were elected" was a bad choice of words. "If supers had to be elected to the position of supers, rather than it just being a perk of being in government" would have been better.

cpcarrot said...

I would disagree with the idea that the basis is “there must be democratic participation as much as feasible” because that clearly is not the case. If they wanted democratic participation as much as feasible they would simply total up the popular vote and hand the crown to the victor. They don’t. They want the system that they have now which INCLUDES the super delegates and their ability to make whatever vote they want. It is a form of balance (which the American’s love), you have the majority of the votes being dealt with democratically but at the same time you have the party leaders (who should in theory be more knowledgeable about the political situation than Joe Public) also having a say. You could go one way or the other, i.e just take the popular vote, or just elect your party leader by votes from the politicians (like we do in the UK) but they don’t, they have selected a compromise. Now you can argue that the balance might be wrong (at the moment it’s like 80% public vote and 20% super delegate) and that’s fair enough but 80% democratic and 20% as a balancing force from the party leaders seems fair enough to me as far as compromises go (personally I would probably just count the popular vote though as I’m against these half hearted measures, but maybe that’s just me).

I do think these super delegates do get a bit of stick that is largely unwarranted and is (I think at least) just down to them voting last, as this gives the impression they are deciding things in some nefarious way. You would get the same problem if they voted first. I think they should each be assigned a State (which should be straight forward given how they are elected, just need some though into those 12 or so unelected ones) and then they vote at the same time as the Primary / Caucus. Performs the same function (or at least it should) without it creating the impression they are “swooping” in at the end.

Basically leave the super delegates alone, stop picking on them just because they “might” not vote for your chosen candidate. I think it’s perfectly reasonable for them to vote for who they want to win / who they think gives them the best chance of winning as that is how the system they have is designed to work.

SpaceSquid said...

"If they wanted democratic participation as much as feasible they would simply total up the popular vote and hand the crown to the victor. They don’t. "

That's confusing "more democratic" with "closer to a first past the post according to a direct tally". Wanting a say in as much as possible regarding running the country does not inevitably translate into "popular vote" being the metric in all cases.

"They want the system that they have now which INCLUDES the super delegates and their ability to make whatever vote they want."

Who is this "they" of which you speak? You think the ins and outs of the electoral system were decided by the people at large? The people will have decided the legislature that drew up these rules.

"It is a form of balance (which the American’s love)"

The American system loves balances, mainly because the Founding Fathers were smart enough to make damn sure every branch of the government could be slapped down by the others if they started being gits. This is something else. This is balancing the power the people have with selecting government with the power the government has with selecting government. It's recursive in the way other balances aren't.

"i.e just take the popular vote, or just elect your party leader by votes from the politicians (like we do in the UK) "

Again, you're holding up popular vote as though it's the most pure, unsullied form of assessing the people's opinions, and I don't hold that as axiomatically true. Furthermore, in the UK we have no say as to who is Prime Minister directly, but whomever becomes PM has to have been elected to Parliament. This is not true of Presidential candidates, who could, in theory, come from anywhere. Jesse Jackson, for example, won several primaries and caucuses in '88, and he never held any previous political office. So suggesting super-delegate only would be analogous to our system is, I think, false. The UK voters and only the voters choose who gets into Parliament, then Parliament chooses who gets to be PM. The US system tells the public that absent a given level of support for one candidate (right now 57%, but obviously that depends on the circumstance), your party big-wigs have the right to decide your presidential candidate for you.

As to them voting at the end, there's nothing to stop them declaring themselves for one candidate or another earlier in the primary season, in fact at this point about 75% already have done so. So it's nothing to do with when they vote (I would be amazed if Clinton kept going if sufficient SD's came out for Obama to make it impossible for her to win). It's just that I think it's a sucky system. Not because I prefer Obama (and in fact the main reason why I do is because Clinton has been so remorselessly dismissive of the electoral process once it became clear she was losing said process), and suggesting I or anyone else will only object when they vote against us is somewhat unfair.

"I think it’s perfectly reasonable for them to vote for who they want to win / who they think gives them the best chance of winning as that is how the system they have is designed to work."

My whole point is that the system is badly designed, and that it needs to change, and that before we actually get to change it, it would be nice for the SD's to say "Yeah, we think this is broken too, that's why we won't exercise this power we currently possess, because we're not sure we should have it".

Another reason I like Obama is because he's said the first thing he'll do when he gets into the Oval is read all the executive orders Bush signed, and revoke all of the ones he thinks constitutionally questionable. Now, questions as to whether you believe him aside, he's at least referencing the idea that just because a rule means you can do something, it doesn't mean you should, and it may mean that you need to get rid of the rule altogether. I reject completely the premise that until something becomes impossible, it must be OK to do it, particularly in the world of politics where a) it seems to be common practice to bend the law as much as possible, as often as possible, and b) each misstep can have profound, unpredictable, and long-lasting consequences.

SpaceSquid said...

Also, speaking of Clinton winning the popular vote, I note she was quite happy to add the results of the Puerto Rico primary to that tally, even though they're not allowed to vote in the general election. It pisses me off that more fuss isn't made about the Puerto Ricans not being able to have a say about who's President (and as the West Wing pointed out, they can still be drafted, so they can be sent to die by a President they had no voice in electing), but using them as a reason why you are more electable than the other guy seems especially bad.