During the years of progressive reform before the First World War twenty-six presidential primaries had been introduced into the nominating system. After Woodrow’s Wilson bright idea of “spreading democracy abroad” while destroying it at home a demoralized public ceased to take any interest in how presidents got elected. The primary system fell into disuse. Electing presidents was returned to the party “bosses” where it was safe from the people themselves.
In the summer of 1968 at the Democratic Convention things had changed. Millions of Americans watched Richard Daly and his thugs on the convention floor rail against those who dared to challenge the party magnates while they rammed Hubert Humphrey, who didn’t dare to show up for his own nomination, down the throats of the rank and file.
Party leaders and the trade union chiefs (national ward heelers of the Democratic syndicate) saw no reason why the storm that had erupted at the Convention couldn’t just be allowed to blow over. Others within the party leadership weren’t so sure it would. They set about changing the rules that for a hundred and forty years had insured the Democratic Party was not subjected to ordinary Democrats. After 1972 delegates to the national convention would be chosen by the millions who voted in primaries or caucuses with new rules that ostensibly would keep party leaders from controlling the “voice of the people.”
In 1976 the ambitious populist masquerader Jimmy Carter applied the new rules of the primary system to his own bid for the nomination. While the Democratic rulers’ choice had been Senator Henry “Scoop” Jackson Carter demolished him in Pennsylvania by exposing to the people the fact that Jackson was merely a tool of the bosses. He made another big show of exposing other “party insiders” as part of what was “wrong with the country.”
While the Democratic party elites were not able to thwart his efforts to run as a “man of the people,” they saved that for his presidency where they started beating him into submission the moment he took office. At the end of his first four years they even trotted out the loyal party hack Ted Kennedy to run against Carter in a burst of insurgency known around the country as “Teddy-mania.”
Although Carter had had plenty of influential people back him in the first place with an all-star cast of establishment liberal hawks including Zbigniew Brzezinkski, he was not the choice of the elites of his own party. His running without them had diminished their own importance. While they took revenge and set about destroying his presidency he set about destroying himself, taking the country along with him. The Democratic party used Carter, who proved himself a worthy example, as a demonstration of what happens when “the people” elect their own president. They began changing the rules once again so the people obviously unqualified to choose presidents would be spared the ordeal in the future.
During the Reagan years when the Democratic party propped up a presidency reminiscent of its current antics in the George W. Bush years, the Democratic party elites bestowed upon themselves five hundred and fifty “super-delegates.” They announced it was imperative to alter the rules to “make it easier for the party to consolidate around front-running candidates.” Meaning that it would make it a lot easier for party leaders and the party’s money backers to rally around the candidate of their choice putting all the resources of the party behind him, to beat out insurgents and foist the guy they owned onto the voting public.
The surprise ascendancy of Barack Obama, interestingly backed by the old Carter hand Brzezinski along with numerous financial backers, has him facing competition from another party insider, Hillary Clinton, along with her own big money people. The super-delegates are finding themselves in the position of having to pick one or the other candidate in what might be an internecine falling out among thieves which only aggrandizes their own power within the party as the two candidates are made supplicants for their votes while promising them rewards.
Maybe the super-delegates is one of the reasons Barack Obama talks so much about hope. But he seemed to know early on to cover his bets. Hope may be good enough for the people but not enough for a contender. His contributions to the campaign chests of the super-delegates themselves has been substantial the past two years. Even more so than his opponent who might be doing some hoping herself lately.
Currently, enthusiastic Democratic voters are reduced to observers “hoping” that the super-delegates “do the right thing” and not “thwart the will of the people.” That the super-delegates were put into place precisely to thwart them might be a bit of old history they don’t care to think about at the moment. Why put a damper on hope when it’s the only thing you’ve got.
EVA LIDDELL is a painter who lives in the Pacific Northwest. Her email is Eva.Liddell@gmail.com