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Tuesday, February 05, 2008 

Super Tuesday Special - Polishifter - 'And We Call It Democracy…'

To cover the US primaries, Buckdog is featuring Guest Bloggers today and tomorrow from the American political blogosphere. First off the mark is my friend Polishifter from Pissed On Politics. Polishifter has a real edge to his progressive commentary and I am proud that he prepared this post for Buckdog today!

And We Call It Democracy…

America. The word itself has become synonymous with Democracy. This Nation was founded on the principle that All Men Are Created Equal and have the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. As such, it was determined that Men would vote for their ruling class in what was this new country in 1789, the year The Constitution was ratified by all the 13 former Colonies. We would no longer be relying on Royalty and Heredity to determine our leaders or so it would seem. No longer would someone tell us, We, The People, who would rule over us. Instead, we would select our leaders.

A novel idea to a certain degree borrowed from Ancient Rome where every Citizen of Rome was allowed to vote. The operative word here of course being Citizen. Indeed Roman Citizens were few and tended to be members of the ruling class, business class, and warrior class. Serfs, Slaves, and Women could not vote.

You may notice in my opening paragraph I put an emphasis on ‘Men’ and there was a reason for that. In America for the first 150 or so years women were NOT allowed to vote. Women were second class citizens akin to property meant to be seen and not heard. In addition Slavery was legal and as such slaves were not allowed to vote but slave owners could count their slaves as 3/5 a human being. It wasn’t until 1913 that American Citizens could vote for their own Senators. Prior to that Senators were appointed by State Legislators.

So here we are now in 2008. Surely America has become a Democracy, right? Slavery has been abolished, women have the right to vote, and we even vote women and people of color to higher office. To hear George Bush tell it, we’ve got so much democracy that we’re now spreading it like so much butter over bread in the Middle East.

Well, if you have been closely following this year’s primary election in the United States then you just might be wondering what kind of Democracy America has if it has one at all. If those are your thoughts, you would not be alone. This year’s primary election has many Americans not just scratching their heads but pulling their hair out as well.

You would think in a Democracy that each citizen of that nation would get to vote for the candidate they choose. At the end of the day, we would just count up the votes, and whoever got the most votes would win, right? Well, not so fast.

America still uses what some would deem, myself included, an arcane system based on delegates. That is, in the Primaries, The People vote for who they want to be President. Then, the delegates in that State decide who to cast their vote for at the National Convention depending on who The People voted for, though they are not obligated to do so. Delegates are typically people within the political parties with prominent stature.

Delegates typically cast their vote at the National Convention for whom got the most votes in the election, though in some cases they are called ‘uncommitted’ and can vote for whoever they want.
Then we have what are called Super Delegates. These are all members of Congress, Governors, high ranking party officials, as well as other elected officials. Super Delegates do NOT have to cast their vote according to who The People voted for, though they typically do.

After all the elections are over, both parties hold their own National Conventions were the delegates meet and cast their votes. The candidate who obtains a simple majority of delegate votes gets proclaimed the Presidential Nominee for that party.

Did I mention the United States is a two-party system? Just to confuse things more, the United States has two prominent, entrenched, and established political parties known as the Democrats and Republicans. To make things even more complicated each Party gets to decide their own election rules to a certain degree State by State.

For example, one of the controversies that occurred in this election cycle was that two States, Michigan and Florida, moved their primaries ahead of Super Tuesday (Super Tuesday, geez, did I mention that?). As such, both major political parties in America punished these States. The Democratic National Committee (DNC) stripped Florida and Michigan completely of all their delegates. This means that The People in those States who voted, well their vote isn’t going to count. We’ll get to that later. On the other hand the Republican National Committee (RNC) stripped each State of half its delegates.

Ok, so let’s back up for a moment. The name of the game in a Primary Election is winning enough delegates to get the nomination to run for President of the United States (POTUS) for that particular political party. A Candidate just needs to win a simple majority of delegates to win the nomination. There are 4,049 delegates up for grabs which means a candidate needs 2,025 delegates to win the nomination.

Remember the delegates? Just who are these people and why isn’t my vote counted?!? Don’t worry; you’re not alone in your frustration…

To make things even more confusing, The DNC tends to award delegates proportionately where as the RNC tends to have winner take all primaries. I say “tends to” because ultimately the political party in each State gets to decide its own rules after consulting with the National Party. So, in most Democratic Primary Elections, the winner will get the most delegates, the second place candidate will get some of the delegates, and the third, fourth, and fifth etc place candidates will pick up delegates proportionate to the number of people who voted for them.

In stark contrast, most Republican Primaries are winner take all. That means if a State has 50 delegates up for grabs and for example, McCain wins the most votes by 1 vote, then he gets all 50 delegates. In that same State, if let’s say Hillary wins 48% of the vote and Obama wins 46% of the vote, then Hillary would get 24 delegates whereas Obama would get 23 delegates.

So, if it’s not confusing enough yet then we can throw a monkey wrench into the works by discussing open vs. closed Primaries. For the most part political parties in each State can decide whether or not to hold open or closed primaries. A closed Primary is one where only members of a particular political party can vote for a particular candidate. In other words, to vote for Obama, you would have to be a registered Democrat. In an open Primary, anyone could vote for McCain including registered Democrats. Then there are some States that have pseudo-open Primaries where, if you are ‘declined-to-state’, which means not in any political party, you can vote in any Primary. But if you are registered Republican or Democrat, then you have to vote in the Primary of the party you are registered for.

This is a sore subject among The People. Hard core party members (such as Kos) tend to think Open Primaries are stupid. They think that only people who are active in a particular political party should be able to vote for who they think in that political party should run for President. This argument would be fine if we had several viable political parties to choose from but we don’t. We have two prominent political parties, that’s it. Hard core party members will say “well, form your own party or get involved with your party of choice (Green Party) and gain enough public support so that you can have your own primary and achieve your own viable candidate”.

The problem with that argument is that it takes decades to form a viable political party. Even then, it is in the interest of the Republican and Democratic Parties to exclude third parties. So they take every opportunity they can to thwart third party runs. That said the Green Party for example has been making in-roads in America at the State and Local level. The day may come…20 years from now, that we do have a Green Party Presidential Candidate. But the system is set up in such a way to stifle and discourage third parties. As such, in my view it seems only fair to allow open primaries so that The People can have more options. As it is now and as it has been for hundreds of years, more often than not The People are left choosing the lesser of two evils.

Let’s get back to election 2008. There is a large amount of frustration currently in America for numerous reasons. You may have noticed that the Democratic field has been cut down to two candidates, Clinton and Obama. The Republican field has been cut down to three candidates, McCain, Romney, and Huckabee. And this, after only a few States have voted! It’s frustrating beyond belief. I myself was an Edwards’ supporter. I won’t even get the chance to vote for him because he dropped out of the race before I got to cast my vote.

Today is Super Tuesday. 22 States will cast votes for potential Presidential Nominees. But by the time Super Tuesday has arrived 2/3 of the candidates have dropped out of the race. This is a sore spot for many Americans myself included. In essences, contests in a few States have decided who the rest of the States would get to vote for. The media plays upon this by pushing several popular myths about a candidate’s need to win Iowa to win the POTUS or how there has never been a Republican President who hasn’t won South Carolina. These ‘theories’ are prominent in American Politics even after such superstitions have been proven to be false. This election is no different and appears to be shattering conventional wisdom with a sledgehammer.

This brings us to the frustrating and infuriating thing about American Politics. In short it’s all about the media and money. First, it takes loads of money to run a campaign. Second, you need support from the media to get your message out. Edwards didn’t score points early on with his suggestion he would go after big corporations. Big corporations own the media. Instead, politicians have to play savvy like Clinton did by taking money from Rupert Murdoch, owner of Fox News.

Playing savvy politics however just to get campaign contributions is a huge turn off to voters. Most Americans are sick of politicians being beholden to their campaign contributors, and not to The People. That leaves a politician little choice but to choose carefully who he or she takes money from while trying not to broadcast who it was that cut the latest big check.

In the end we end up with watered down candidates that have lukewarm appeal to both The People and The Corporations. One thing however this election is proving is that money is not enough. Mitt Romney, who’s net worth is around $300 million, has been financing his own campaign. And while he’s gotten far on his own dollar, it’s looking more and more like he won’t be able to buy this election.

Lastly, let me just tell you how maddening the media is. At every turn of this election they are trying to push, influence, predict, and sway the election outcome. They do it for several reasons: For one , if they get a call right, they get to pat themselves on the back which in turn they hope will give them more credibility with their viewers. Second, if they think they have influenced the outcome of a race they get to feel important and powerful. Third, for the media the elections are a windfall. The presidential candidates combined are raising hundreds of millions of dollars. That money is going to be spent on ad time on networks which own large media conglomerates.

For them it’s a win-win. What’s worse, it’s beneficial for them to manipulate elections in such a way to create the appearance of a horse race. Thus, they will bash one candidate one week then turn and bash another candidate then next week. You may recall that all through 2007 and early 2008 Clinton was the media darling. She was the shoe-in candidate and heir-apparent to the Presidency.

That all changed when the media realized people were losing interest and tuning out. All of a sudden Obama and Edwards got more coverage turning this election into a ‘horse race’ to their benefit.

At this point, any candidate that was any real threat to the establishment is long gone which is just the way the powers at be like it. At the end of the day it will be an election of non-choices, of watered down molded, sculpted, and focus group tested candidates that no one really wants, but no one has any choice left but to vote for them.

In the end this election like elections past point to the inadequacies of our Democracy. Why do we have delegates anyway? It made sense in 1820 when we didn’t have telegraph, phone, TV, or internet. In that case, a town would vote and send their delegate off via horseback on to the convention to cast their vote for them. But those days are long gone.

At the same time, Primaries used to be completely closed. People weren’t even allowed to vote in the Primaries until the Progressive Movement in the late 1800’s pushed for more democracy. Instead, State legislators were the ones who voted in Primaries as delegates with little input from the People. Some of the results of the Progressive Movement were the ability to vote in primaries, the right to vote for Senators, and the right for women to vote.

We may be due for another Progressive Movement in America where we make the final push for true democracy: Each person gets to vote and each vote gets counted. We need to ask ourselves if there is really a need for delegates and the Electoral College.

When America was founded it was not a true Democracy. Since its foundation, America has been striving to achieve a more Democratic society. While we have come far, we still have a long way to go. I get the feeling after this election cycle that Americans, not happy with their choices or the results are hungry for more and truer Democracy, and not like the kind Bush brought to Iraq.

Visit Progressive American Bloggers

Well done. Thank you! I wish that I could vote in the election but they simply won't let Canadians do that.

Third parties are so needed. Wonderful piece.

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