15 April 2008

Winner take all, some, none? Or Abort, Retry, Fail?

Steven Den Beste took some time to give a quick look at the trainwreck of the Democratic Party in this post of 09 MAR 2008 at his Chizumatic site entitled Winner take none. There are two insights in the article worth noticing one procedural and one effects based. First the procedural:

Hence the irony: the Republican primary process has mostly consisted of state level winner-take-all contests, and as a result, the Republicans now have a clear winner. The Republican convention, once it happens, will be just as meaningless as party conventions have been every four years since about 1972.

The Democrats have mostly been using proportional delegate allocations. This is, supposedly, more fair, or so they believe.

The Democrats also have "super delegates". The Republicans don't.

And that's why this nominating process has been so much fun: The nominally-fascist-awful-elitist Republicans (if you listen to radical Democrats) have unambiguously selected a candidate via the primary process. But the most likely result of the Democratic primary/caucus process is that no candidate will have a majority going into the convention.

And now the effects based:

UPDATE: Myself, I happen to think that "winner take all" is a good thing, because it represents a high noise-rejection threshold. That means the system can tolerate a great deal of noise without breaking down.

I explained it in greater depth, via round-about means, in this post five years ago. The bottom line: winner-take-all systems can tolerate a much broader range of political speech. Proportional representation systems tend to be much more nervous and tend to implement content-based restrictions on political speech.

Looking at the system, as designed and with design intentions requires finding out what the purpose of the Democratic Primary system actually is. If it is set up with the sole end-purpose of getting a nominee, then it is, as Mr. Den Beste describes, a poorly created affair. To get an idea of why it was created this way, we can turn to one of the individuals responsible for the creation of the 'superdelegate' concept. In a WaPo column of 27 FEB 2008 we see Jim Hunt defending the superdelegate system:

In presidential election years, Americans see the face of a political party most clearly in the personality, views and character of its presidential candidates. But a national political party is about more than just the president. Its senators and House members pass the nation's laws and budgets. Its governors lead the states. All must work together for progress in America.

I chaired the 1982 Democratic Party Commission on Presidential Nominations that created certain automatic delegates to the Democratic convention -- the "superdelegates." It was a good idea then, and it is still a good idea. The superdelegates will be crucial to Democrats winning the presidency in November and governing successfully for the next four years.

In creating superdelegates, the Democratic Party recognized the expertise that its top holders of public office have gained by running for office themselves. They are experts at winning. They know the issues. They are in a unique position to evaluate presidential candidates. They have a well-honed instinct for how candidates will be received in their own states and districts. In short, they can help the Democratic Party pick a winner.

But the superdelegates' value extends beyond the convention. If they play a role in picking the nominee, they will be more likely to campaign actively for the nominee in the general election.

The first paragraph is that of defining what the system is supposed to do: it is an attempt to unify all elected positions from local to State to Federal under one coordinated affair. Note that this is given a tag of 'progress in America' or progressivism, in which the unified ability of the party would trump politics from national to local level, and shift the focus from the actual political process to that of the party, alone. In doing this, however, and attempting to broaden all races into nationally influenced affair, so that federal level elections influence all levels in trying to unify the Democratic Party.

What this does, however, is fly in the face of democracy which a party elder, Thomas P. ('Tip') O'Neill had stated: "All politics is local."

Indeed the lifeblood of democracy is not uniformity of message, but diversity of message being winnowed down to those few that can fall under the purview of politics. In trying to shift this view to the highest level of office and enforce party unity for that, the local messages either get diluted due to the funds and attention paid to the highest level, or the highest level of candidates all get tagged with purely local issues due to their supporters.

Moving on from there the stated intent is to pull in 'experience' from those 'experts' at winning. This is party rule by expert, in which those that have won elections, by the fact of their having won them, are granted expert status even if they run in unopposed elections or have run on topics that have little or no applicability to the entire party. Indeed the entire aim of the Democratic Party since 1968 has been to effectively shed the 'right wing' of the party, traditionally Jacksonians and National Security Conservatives, to craft a left of center party that does not get diversity of internal debate. The fall from power from 1968 onwards and the shift in electoral politics from the super-majority that had favored the Democratic Party for 40 years is an outgrowth of this thinking.

By shifting party allegiance levels to the highest levels, those few 'winning' topics get greater play than their actual representation for the population. What is even worse is that charismatic candidates who win not based on message but on 'star quality' get equal play in this system. By shutting out the 'losers', those who have lost close races based on political differences in elections, the Democratic Party is actively removing insight into how the entire electorate feels about topics. In these two ways the Democratic Party becomes further isolated on a few 'winning' topics and becomes unable to address larger topics because of fidelity to message not to fidelity to democratic process. From that the 'superdelegates' bring too narrow a focus for a national party: their expertise at 'winning' reduces vibrancy of message input into the party as a whole.

What this also does, however, is secures an incumbent position with additional security of funding from higher levels of the party. By pulling in elected officials who have *already won* previous elections, the Democratic Party starts to take a 'trench warfare' mentality that is not conducive to voter and topic outreach, but is conducive to guarding every incumbent. The effect of this is stagnation in party politics and politics at all levels as an entrenched party starts to fight any change based on demographic shifts and popular changes in outlook. What has been humorous is not the consistent entrenchment attitude towards the Republican Party, but to attempts within the Democratic Party to get it to shift in *any* direction, left or right. For every 'Blue Dog Democrat' who has barely won by trying to get to the rightmost part of the Left, there are far left organizers trying to pull the party towards the decreasing vote counts of the fringe. In shifting to a minority creating course on the left of center and then sticking to that and not changing message or faces for decades, the Democratic Party is now Establishment Left and becoming the target of those who do not like Establishment politics of any sort across the political spectrum. Being unable to cast off the siren song of socialism, communism, progressivism and far left nihilism, the Democratic Party has drifted away from the center of the US political spectrum to the point where these two points are not even residing in the same plane of politics.

That view of top-down adherence to message where the 'grass roots' must 'support' the party nominee, even if that nominee has views toxic to the local level are toxic to democracy. By centralizing monetary support and ability to direct contributors to 'supporters' who must adhere to the 'message' so as to remain an incumbent, the message emerges that all politics is NATIONAL not local. By giving the superdelegates such a weight in the final nomination process for the Presidency, no matter WHO runs at the top of the ticket the incumbents are ensured of having someone who will pay them off for support.

In this I think that Mr. Den Beste is right in his view if taken from the view of having a robust political dialog to screen out a noise based effect and get a broader view of public opinion. By putting in a secondary feed-back system via elected officials, those officials are given a disproportionate weight per vote. If each delegate represents, say, 2,000 individuals (and I am making that up as this varies by system type for delegates), giving individual super delegates a 1/3 say in the overall process weights their vote to be equivalent of that exact, same amount. One man, one vote... one superdelegate, 2,000 voter equivalents.

This is not noise, but bias in the system directed towards a given outcome. That outcome is adherence to party message across-the-board via a rewards system for incumbents. The point of the Democratic Party primary system is *not* to get a winning Presidential candidate but to get a fealty to message directed from the highest levels of the party downwards. That is the intentional design effort in creating this system: to disenfranchise voters by giving 'The Establishment' a disproportionate say in the outcome if the plebeians can't come up with a candidate 'The Establishment' likes. It is a system set up, not to inculcate electability, but to thwart diversity of views and opinions by party members to shape the message of the party which is supposed to represent THEM.

Elitist, biased, partisan, narrow focused, and disregarding of democratic principles, that is the view of the system.

It's not a bug, its a feature in the current Emirate of Incumbistan.

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