THE PLANK MAY 1, 2008
Over the past few weeks, I had found myself agreeing with many of my TNR colleagues who’d condemned the idea of superdelegates overturning the “popular vote” cast in the Democratic primaries. While I do agree that there are tactical reasons why this may be a bad idea for the Democratic party (particularly in terms of a backlash from Obama supporters), I’m becoming increasingly less convinced by the moral/political arguments against it.
The candidates that Americans voted for in February, March, and April (not to mention January!) were very different candidates than they are today. People in Iowa and New Hampshire didn’t know the full extent of Wrightgate or the myriad other controversies that have dogged Obama since the early days of his campaign. They couldn’t have known how tired and weary he would get after a few months on the campaign trail, losing his early luster and exuberance.
Superdelegates have the advantage of knowing all these things, and I think it is unfair to argue that they have a duty to uphold the “popular vote” when they know so much more than the voters they would be upholding. Hillary’s campaign may have gotten disconcertingly ugly in the past few weeks--but her viciousness has given superdelegates an insight into the way Obama will fare against the sure-to-be harsher attacks from Republicans in the general election. You can argue can that, despite all these factors, Obama is still a more electable candidate or will still make a better president (and so that it would be a bad idea for them to support Clinton). But I think that is a debatable question--and thus superdelegates would not be unjustified in voting against him. You can also argue that dragging this campaign out is hurting the party (and you’d probably be right); but regardless, the longer the campaign goes, the more up-to-date portrait of the candidates the superdelegates have. So while I don’t think superdelegates should flatly ignore the results of the primaries so far, I don’t think there is some sort of ethical imperative for the super-delegates to automatically support the victor of the primaries.