February 17, 2008

Endorsements and Super Delegates

After the American Century

Perhaps it is appropriate that the US celebrity culture relies so much on endorsements for political candidates. It does not happen much in the Nordic countries, where a singer or actor's political views are seldom thought to be worth extensive coverage. I have never seen in Scandinavia anything like the "Yes We Can" video made by star supporters of Barack Obama. One might see it as a new genre, the political speech remade into a collective song. I saw it almost as soon as it appeared, and I was moved by it. However, some Europeans I have shown it to find it both attractive and unsettling. One woman took a strong dislike to it, feeling that such things had no place in a political campaign! I report this as it may interest the growing number of Americans who are reading this blog. With many months ahead in this campaign, one can only expect more inventive forms of endorsement, and even more extensive use of the Internet. 

At the same time, the ultimate result for the Democrats may depend on that more traditional technology, the personal telephone call. The press is saturated with reports of former President Clinton calling undecided super delegates, seeking their public endorsement of Hillary. Obama also has his surrogates on the line. Yet it appears that the super delegates are not easily swayed. Some of the most famous and influential want to hold out and let the popular contest run its course first. Notably, Nancy Pelosi, Al Gore and Jimmy Carter all refuse to make an endorsement yet, and seem to be holding others back as well. But each day a few do seem to decide. The New York Times, after consulting with both the Clinton and Obama camps, indicates that more than half of the 796 superdelegates have now made public endorsements. Apparently, something like 350 people remain on the increasingly uncomfortable fence.  

It is difficult to reconcile this spectacle with the idea of democracy. Whatever happened to the ideas of equality and "one person, one vote"? Another problem is that two of every three super delegates is male, and almost half are white males who were elected governor, senator or to the House. The Democratic Party might want to revise its rules (again) before the next presidential campaign. The Republicans seem to be better off without super delegates and letting the winner take all. But a back-of-the-envelope calculation strongly suggests that neither Obama nor Clinton would have much of a lead were the Democrats to give all the delegates to the one "first past the post." Perhaps there is no perfect voting system to help adjudicate between two equally strong candidates – which may make endorsements all the more important.