Saturday, February 9, 2008

I'm with Will

Will Rogers once, when asked about his political affiliation, famously replied "I'm not a member of any organized party--I'm a Democrat."

I just finished being the chair of a set of area Democratic caucuses out here in rural eastern Washington State (which, despite the state's overall leaning, is very strong Republican country). It's like herding cats.

I put a lot of the blame for the confusion--and there is confusion galore statewide--on the party. They apparently tried to make the printed procedures infant-simple and all spelled out in excrutiating detail. Well, they got the excrutiating part, ok. Look, I used to write procedural manuals for a living: trust me when I say that this was a lousy job, almost as if they wanted people to be unable to understand what they were doing and why (not to speak of how). The stuff read like an IRS form: take the figure from Column F and divide by that from Column D and enter the result in Column G. (That's not exact and literal, but awfully close.)

(The state party also runs a terrible web site, ill-conceived both as to layout and as to mechanical operation.)

And the whole thing was wildy ill-suited to a rural area where many precincts (or "wards", technically, in these parts) had literally zero caucusers and several had only one or two. My own precinct, despite being an outlying area, had a relatively huge draw for the day: four--my lady and I and another couple. We were for Clinton, they were for Obama, and (needless to say) none of us was able to sway the others. According to the official rules, that means we were supposed to toss a coin to decide who would get our lone delegate. Fortunately, the woman, who had no strong feelings, decided to go to "uncommitted", which gave the precinct to Clinton by an awesome margin, 2-to-1 over Obama.

Therein lies much of what has been happening in the caucuses, especially in the less-populous states: the delegate counts are often reflecting a tiny, indeed trivial, number of voters. We had one precinct, entitled by population to two delegates, for which one person showed up, one who was (as another attendee put it) essentially a "street person". He had to ask how to spell "Adams", the name of the county in which he resides--and got it wrong on the first try ("Adms"); but he sent two delegates on to the next level of caucusing, both (both being, by the way, him) pledged to Obama. Those "two" were one-third of Obama's total from out area: 7 for Clinton, 6 for Obama. There were not, by the way, such anomalies for Clinton, as best I recall; the Clinton precincts typically turned out four or five voters each.

Granted, the statewide delegate counts cannot be known accurately for some time; but they will derive in the main from today's activity, and that should give us serious pause in considering just what the much-discussed and much-touted totals nationwide represent in terms of actual voter support: when Obama "outpolls" Clinton by a large majority, or vice-versa, in a caucus state, we could well be seeing a significant fraction of those delegates as having been allocated based on whether one or two people decided to attend or stay home that day.

Meanwhile, for all the foofaraw, a point that many are overlooking, or ignoring, is that unless one candidate or the other can win roughly 80% of the outstanding delegates to be selected (including today's), neither can come to the convention with a winning total. It will be either a "brokered convention" (that is, the nominee will be decided by wheeling and dealing on the convention floor) or else the so-called "super delegates" will settle the matter if they go heavily for one candidate or the other. (Right now, those who have taken a position favor Clinton by a large margin, but a) not that many have taken a position yet, and b) even those who have could change their minds at any time.)

The problem with the "super delegates" breaking a near-tie is the uproar that would be generated if they favored the candidate with fewer selected delegates. Say the convention opens with Obama ahead of Clinton by a few delegates, perhaps as few as 10 or 20 ahead, but well short of a majority; if the super delegates divide so as to give the nomination to Clinton, imagine the reaction from Obama backers: We wuz robbed!

It is clear in hindsight--about the only way politicians ever see anything--that the "super delegates" were a super-bad idea. But that's water over the dam now: we have to live with the reality. The super delegates are going to have to support the front runner as determined by the selected delegates, unless perhaps the difference is very small, small enough that it can legitimately be called "a virtual tie" without that seeming absurdist.

Howard Dean, the national chairman, has spoken of "intervening" before the convention if it looks like things are heading for a floor battle, but it is profoundly unclear just what he could do. Taking the two candidates into a locked room for a knock-down, drag-out negotiating session that ends up with one of them withdrawing in favor of the other seems wildly unlikely: if one is so far ahead as to have it locked, there's no point in such a ploy; if they are almost tied, which of them is going to take a dive "for the good of the party" when he or she feels they have a fair chance to take the big enchilada?

Let's face it: neither of the two is going to be interested in being the vice-presidential candidate, or in the promise of any other post-election reward--each is too big for that now. So we'll just have to see.

But nothing I saw today went against, and much went for, my opinion that Obama's support remains rooted in the join-hands-and-sing-Kumbaya school of unrealism. It might even get him nominated. It might even get him elected. if so, look for 8 to 12 years minimum of Republican presidency starting in 2012.

technorati tags: , , , , .

No comments: