Sunday, 12 March 2006

Logic, Democratic style

Only the Democratic Party could conclude that their main problem in the 2004 election was that the people who nominated John F. Kerry were too white:

An influential Democratic committee on Saturday endorsed the idea of adding as many as four state primaries and caucuses to the early presidential nominating season, now dominated by Iowa and New Hampshire.

The goal, they said, was to add more racial, ethnic, regional and economic diversity to the process of choosing a Democratic nominee.

Iowa, whose caucus marks the opening of the nominating season, and New Hampshire, which holds the first primary, have long been criticized as far too homogeneous and atypical to exercise such a powerful influence over the process.

Back-to-back victories in those states can set a candidate on a glide path to the nomination — as they did for Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts in 2004 — before the bigger and more diverse states weigh in.

And, just to prove that the DNC is in complete disarray, they can’t even figure out what the problem is in the first place:

The commission also debated using bonus delegates to reward states that move their contests back in the season. This is an effort to deal with another criticism of the nominating process — that it is too “front-loaded,” with too many states bunched together in the early weeks.

So, the problem is that the nomination process is too front-loaded, so the solution is to have six states decide nominees before February 5th, instead of two. My mind truly boggles at the concept.

I hesitate to give advice on this matter to either major party, but the party that figures out first that the primary and caucus process is a giant waste of time and money and goes back to using the conventions to select nominees will probably end up nominating much more credible candidates.


Any views expressed in these comments are solely those of their authors; they do not reflect the views of the authors of Signifying Nothing, unless attributed to one of us.

I agree that the primary system is broken. I have a whole series of notes for my southern politics class tracking the rules changes for primaries and conventions for the Democratic party in the mid- and late- twentieth century and how it let to disarray ….with the nomination of Clinton (i.e. an electible Democrat) being more of an aberration than a product of the system.

However, I offer your suggestion of moving back to conventions (not that I am dismissing it…or even disagree with it…I just need to know how it would work) the same critique I offer my well meaning leftist friends…which are (1) how…how will the proletariat rise up…how will you transfer ownership from the bourgeoisie…yeah..I know..“take it”...but how will you order and manage the assets and maintain the integrity of the system to prevent a slide to entropy (how will everyone continue to get oil…etc.) (2) then what…Great! The revolution is over…you’ve won…you have crushed the neck of the oppressive bourgeoisie under the heel of the revolution…now what…how do you regulate access to, well, everything…you’ve seized all private property, but now you’ve got 5000 people wanting to use 500 boats this weekend on the lake…who gets them…which boats…[sidebar…my two favorite answers to this question thus far (a) boat lottery and (b) boat voucher system…to which I suggested that a market for buying selling and trading vouchers would arise….that went over well] you give merit pay (or do you…the brilliant professor get paid the same as the slacker, non-researching professor)...blah, blah, blah.

I usually get some inane sputtering about oppression and the claim that I am a tool of capitalist oppression when I do this (...I won’t argue with the tool part…)

Anywhoo…I ask you…“how”...and “then what.” How would this theoretical change back to conventions work…what EXACT rules would you suggest for selection and how would the mechanisms work…then what…how would you prevent a devolution back to the bad old days of back room convention deals and ensure that outsiders aren’t once again permanently relegated to…well…the outside?

I’m not sure that a suggestion to go back to conventions without those details is any better than simply stating “the current system sucks.” Which it does…..except for making SC a lot of fun to live in every 4 years.


At some level, the “how” is pretty simple: eliminate pre-pledged delegates from the primary/caucus process by convention rule (either by zero-weighting their votes for the nomination, or outright excluding them from the chamber). Without pledging, the primary goes from a low-information environment to an almost-zero-information environment, participation dwindles, and thus delegate selection essentially devolves back to the party regulars.

It’s no accident that the two-party duopoly hasn’t been broken since the Progressive reforms and elevation of the “public utility” status of the two major parties. Without the privileged place of the major parties, outsiders would be free to influence politics from the outside rather than trying to hijack the existing party apparatus.

With the exception of the 1912 GOP convention and the 1968 Democratic convention, I dare say the “backroom deals” approach has produced far better nominees on average than the 1970s and beyond approach, particularly on the Democratic side, which has been historically the more obsessed with “inclusiveness” and other factors that have little to do with getting viable candidates. Not that an interest in inclusiveness is unwarranted, given the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party experience, but it inherently de-optimizes the primary as a viable means of selecting good candidates to compete for the median voter—who is, for all intents and purposes, a white suburban male or female.

Comments are now closed on this post.