By Brigitte L. Nacos
Much has been said and written about the role of superdelegates in the Democratic Party’s presidential selection process. The so-called superdelegates, mostly elected officials such as members of congress and governors, were created 25 years ago to give party insiders a voice in the selection of their party’s candidate for the highest office. After the selection of George McGovern and Jimmy Carter by primary voters, the idea of superdelegates made sense in order to make intra-party compatibility more likely. After all, in the American shared power system, presidents and their partisans in congress need to have common ground on important issues. The idea that superdelegates must to cast their votes along the lines of their respective states’ primary results is contrary to the rationale behind their creation.
As far as Senators Clinton and Obama are concerned, their views on superdelegates may well be colored by their current delegates’ counts. When I saw an op-ed article by John Yoo in today’s Wall Street Journal, I wondered why the law professor would weigh in on this issue. As an official in the Department of Justice during George W. Bush’s first term, Yoo found legal arguments against adhering to constitutional provisions, statutes, and international human rights and anti-torture agreements in the “war on terrorism.” Now, he thrashes the Democratic Party’s presidential selection model as undemocratic and contrary to the will of the Founding Fathers with a partisan slant. Thus, Yoo writes,
“That the 2008 Democratic nominee for president will be chosen by individuals no one voted for in the primaries flew for too long under the commentariat's radar. This from the party that litigated to ‘make every vote count’ in the 2000 Florida recount, reviled the institution of the Electoral College for letting the loser of the national popular election win the presidency, and has called the Bush administration illegitimate ever since.”
He looks to the Founding Fathers to support his argument that the superdelegates amount to an undemocratic “super disaster” for Democrats arguing that the superdelegate scheme “wasn't anything the Framers of the U.S. Constitution dreamed up. They believed that letting Congress choose the president was a dreadful idea. Without direct election by the people, the Framers said that the executive would lose its independence and vigor and become a mere servant of the legislature.”
Mr. Yoo ignores conveniently the difference between general presidential elections and the intra-party selection processes. The framers did not concern themselves with political parties. While James Madison and others feared the undue influence of factions, the constitution they framed does not contain one word about the roles of political parties. They are private entities. And while a binding primary system is preferable to the selection of candidates by party officials, the current models have far more problematic features than the participation of superdelegates—including the ability for cross-over voting.
Yoo claims that deals between candidates and superdelegates in the congress will result in many commitments for a future president and thus “threatens to sap the presidency of its independence and authority by turning it into the handmaiden of Congress instead of the choice of the American people.”
In the end, the whole exercise of the op-ed article boils down to Yoo’s long-standing support for unfettered presidential power.
The good news here is that Yoo seems to believe that the “super disaster” selection model of the Democratic Party is likely to produce the next president. Why else would he bother?