An undemocratic party

The party, not the people, could determine the Democratic presidential nominee.

In the Democratic primary race for president, Sen. Barack Obama’s 1,223 pledged delegates leads Sen. Hillary Clinton’s 1,198. To win the nomination, 2,025 delegates of the party total 4,409 are needed. Clinton, however, has a large lead in superdelegates , which could determine the nomination in her favor.

Accounting for 15 to 20 percent of the party’s delegates, superdelegates are members of Congress, governors, select party members, vice presidents and presidents. Their endorsements are their own – no primary or caucus result binds a superdelegate’s vote to a candidate.

Superdelegates ultimately originated from the fallout of the 1968 Democratic National Convention. Without participating in a primary prior to the 1968 convention, then Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey still controlled enough delegates – party insiders – to win the party’s presidential nomination. The anti-war candidacy of Sen. Eugene McCarthy was defeated on the convention floor as his support failed to match that of the party bosses.

As a result, the Democratic nominating process was modified – power was given to Democratic primary and caucus voters and stripped from party insiders. The voters, however, selected anti-establishment candidates to the insiders’ dislike. Following the 1972 presidential election loss of Sen. George McGovern and the 1980 reelection loss of President Jimmy Carter, party leaders and elected officials created superdelegates to reassert their presence in the process.

In the 1984 Democratic primary, the establishment candidacy of former Vice President Walter F. Mondale failed to secure the majority of pledged candidates. Though the former vice president had a slight majority over Sen. Gary Hart, it was the party’s superdelegates who gave Mondale the support to claim the nomination – not Democratic voters.

Like 1968 and 1984, Democratic Party insiders could again determine the presidential nominee in 2008. And if it is superdelegates who decide, the past has proven the establishment candidate will be chosen. No matter which candidate has the lead in pledged delegates come the convention, the superdelegates must support that leader – or face dividing the party and disenfranchising voters again.