protons and politics

At a dinner party tonight, I was asked by an Italian postdoc to explain the process by which either Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton will become the Democratic Party’s nominee in the general election in November. As I got to the part about the super-delegates, it was clear from the expectant smiles on my friends’ faces that they were glad that someone else had gotten this question. Because what makes these delegates so *super* (technically, they are “unpledged party leaders and elected officials delegates”)? And doesn’t it seem undemocratic that they are not bound by the popular vote?

Also tonight, Democrat and Fermilab physicist Bill Foster defeated Republican Jim Oberweis in Illinois’ 14th Congressional District special election to replace Dennis Hastert. Call me a geek, but I like the idea of the co-inventor of Fermilab’s Recycler Ring in the U.S. Congress.

And yes, Foster will be a super-delegate (or, UPLEOD?). He supports Obama.

7 thoughts on “protons and politics”

  1. The Clinton campaign has tried to replace “super delegates” with “automatic delegates,” I think because it is supposed to sound less dodgy.


  2. I don’t know much about Jim Oberweis, but I happened upon his ads recently, and felt transported back to mid-2003: “No matter what you think of the war, we all need to support our troops.”

    I had “In Da Club” in my head for the rest of the day. Thanks a bunch, Jim.


  3. 1) That Oberweis fellow may not be good for politics, but his ice cream and milk (still sold in glass bottles!) is great. Almost as good, maybe better, than Homer’s.

    2) I actually think there’s a conflation of democracy in the political process and in the political party process. The parties are not democratic, they are quasi-private organizations. Aside from their association with democratic elections (which is of course maybe their defining quality), we should not expect them to choose their representatives in any particularly democratic fashion. There’s probably a good institutional story of the ‘democratic vote’ logic coming to overrun the process – as I think (but don’t know) that the norm used to be appointment rather than a nominally-democratic selection process.

    Doesn’t any organization with a nominating committee or some such always already subvert a totally democratic process for voting?

    And don’t even get me started on the electoral college, which is in many many ways more egregious since it is organized by the polity itself specifically to subvert popular democratic voting.


  4. So this is my first blog post ever — forgive any awkwardness over and above that expected from those of you who know me.

    Sara, thanks for the recommendation of Scatterplot!

    I think the “seem undemocratic” point is an important one, but far more complicated than it might seem at first blush. What is the demos in this particular democracy? These are theoretically elections of delegates to a convention — representing (in the political, not the aesthetic or scientific, sense) an undefined and largely undefineable electorate. In some states only those registered as Democrats may vote; in others anyone; in still others anyone *not* registered as a Republican…. so the representational rules are very heterogeneous.

    In the past few decades the Democrats implemented the current rules in order to be *more* democratic than before — the backbone of the current method being that delegates are elected in some vague proportionality to their candidates’ actual votes in the state in question. This is in contrast to the Republicans (and the electoral college) which uses a winner-take-all scheme that tends to magnify the effects of successive small victories.

    The so-called superdelegates are really an afterthought to that reform: a way of guaranteeing that a certain group of highly committed party actors will be able to be delegates regardless of the electoral margins. And remembering that this is a party, not a government, this strikes me as much less of a problem than it has been portrayed thus far.

    Andy, the newbie.


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