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Democrats Should Be More Democratic


There was unfortunate symbolism in Barack Obama's choice of Des Moines as the place to celebrate his delegate milestone on the day of the Kentucky and Oregon primaries. The Iowa caucuses were the first contest of the nominating process, and Obama's success in them launched his campaign into the big time. But they were also the start of a deeply undemocratic process.

The caucuses produced no vote count. There were no secret ballots — but instead a public two-hour tussle that disenfranchised many parents of small children, shift workers and those who couldn't drive in the dark. Certain caucus-goers enjoyed several times the clout of others — it depended on where they lived. The result was not an election of delegates but of "delegate equivalents," a term with an Orwellian ring.

Obama didn't make these rules, and one can't begrudge him for playing the game so well. But at the end of the day, his resounding "victory" was the product of having a crack team of activists take advantage of a crazy system.

So Hillary Clinton has a point when she adds up a popular vote in her favor that excludes certain caucuses from the count. The undemocratic nature of the caucuses became especially transparent in states that held primaries as well as caucuses.

In Washington state, Obama won over 51 percent of the primary vote to Clinton's 46 percent. But he walked off with twice as many delegates because he did far better in the caucuses, and Washington Democrats use only caucus results in determining delegates.

Texas held both a primary and caucus on the same day, and both produced delegates. But while Clinton beat Obama by 4 percentage points in the primary's popular vote, she fell three short in delegates because the Obama supporters maneuvered so effectively around the caucuses.

Of course, Clinton can't get away with including the Florida and Michigan primary results in her popular vote count.

They broke party rules by moving up the dates of their primaries, and Obama's name wasn't even on the ballot in Michigan.

But the Democratic National Committee still has a diplomatic solution at its disposal: Simply hold new primaries in Florida and Michigan. Just do it, and stop all this talk about punishing these states for jumping the gun.

Speaking of guns, the Democratic National Committee is putting one to its own head by denying voters in two key swing states their say in the nomination process. These are Clinton strongholds, where many Hillary supporters are already enraged for a number of reasons. They went to the polls in good conscience. Why are they being punished?

But the DNC will almost certainly not choose to re-do the two primaries. Instead, it will probably pile insult onto injury by trying to cut the baby in half — that is, seat only half the delegates from these states. Wonder how these voters will respond to this application of child psychology: "Your leaders misbehaved so you only get half of your dessert."

Let's be honest: Delegates and not the popular vote determine the winner here. Obama seems the inevitable victor in delegates.

But the Democrats' discussion of delegate math is already moving to Electoral College math, and here the skies turn cloudier for their likely candidate. One fear is a repeat of 2000, when Democrat Al Gore got a plurality of the popular vote, but Republican George W. Bush won on the basis of the Electoral College tally. Not very democratic, was it?

If Democrats ever intend to again argue that the raw numbers should determine the next president — and not an archaic system that can frustrate the democratic will — they might start by setting a better example.

To find out more about Froma Harrop, and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate web page at




3 Comments | Post Comment
You, as always, are predictable in your discussion of issues (pro-Hillary and anti-Obama). It is a weak intellect who cannot see many different sides. It seems more like propoganda and agenda over and over. Sorry, I am not trying to instigate anything - merely pointing out the obvious -- you are a surrogate not an expert or analyst.
Comment: #1
Posted by: Graham
Thu May 22, 2008 9:19 PM
I agree with the p-v- in your column, and it goes along with what I found out about primaries (esp. the Decmocratic ones) in this current election campaign. Thered was no rhyme or reason in the way the Democratic Natiional Committee made up its method of choosing delegates. What the DNC did use not only makes no sense, but was grossly un fair to all voters who voted in anything, primaries or caucuses or whatever. I was not watching closely during the earlier primaries, and of course (as the column points out) resented the way Iowa seemed to matter so much, with such a narrow way of choosing delegates--by caucus, which was very undemocratic. Wha reallyh gotd me maad was to see the result of the voting in prdimardies for New York and Califordnia. Here are two okf tdhe top four or five statges in population, and when delegates were selected--Hillary won both states---tdhe result was as if n o advantage had resulted from these gtremen dous victories for Hillary. She even lost all of the advantage California might have given, by some arcane, mysterious manner of "apportioinment" of delegates--so th at people in Calif. might as wsell not have voted.
The DNC should really quickly get rid of the present system, primary delegates, caucuses, and all, and start over with a more truly democratic process. It should move toward four or five regional primaries for all delegates.
Comment: #2
Posted by: E Hungerford
Sat May 24, 2008 11:40 AM
Could NOT disagree more with your 'opinion'. The RULES were well known (Ickes, with the Clinton campaign, even help write the darn things for the DNC) Seems Edwards, Dodd, Biden's campaign, and others understood how a caucus worked - why couldn't Hillary?

Is it time for a female in our White House? YES! I have supported Obama from day one and as an Independent was ready to vote for ANY Democrat that got the party nomination....WAS is the key word. Two months ago Clinton lost my support and has dug her hole wider and wider with each day of her campaign follies. She has, in my opinion, put a huge black mark on the woman's movement in this country and in the process has left this as her legacy to my granddaughters and all young girls in this country:

1. Changing the RULES of the game after it started is OK.
2. It's OK to whine or shed a tear to get your way.
3. Scratch, spit, stick your tongue out, and lead with your fists swinging when you feel threatened. You are a female and the male 'bullies' can't hit you back.
4. Writing bad checks is OK. It's even OK if you charge, charge, and charge some more - you can always find a 'sugar daddy' that will pay off your debt.
5. Dreaming up story lines that you have experienced danger(s) and telling them like they are true is what will make people believe you are strong.
6. When confronted on a negative issue that may be damning - it's best to say, "I don't recall". Always turn the negative issue to someone else - anyone else!
7. Stay in a game until the end even when you have lost and there's no feasible way to win. (you never know, the other team's star player may get hurt and not be able to play in the Final Four game!)
8. When it get tough cry "foul" on the boys in the game! Let the girls that are watching in the stands think that the reason you aren't winning is because the darn boys 'aren't playing by YOUR rules!"
Comment: #3
Posted by: Mary
Sun May 25, 2008 11:55 AM
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