Whatever happens between now and April 22nd, the Democratic Presidential Primaries will be decided by superdelegates. There is no plausible scenario in which either candidate can get 2,025 pledged delegates, apart from the one in which one of them drops out pretty soon. Therefore the question of what are the grounds on which a superdelegate should choose which candidate to support is paramount.
Obama and Hillary have different answers to that question: according to Obama’s camp, superdelegates should not overturn ‘the will of the people’; and since the ‘will of the people’ is supposed to be expressed by the number of pledged delegates, Obama’s camp has it that superdelegates should support the candidate who’s got more pledged delegates (this argument is put forward in detail in a new website, Obama Is Winning).
Hillary’s camp argues, on the other hand, that superdelegates can choose according to criteria other than just who’s got the more pledged delegates: things like who they consider the better candidates, who better represents their own views, who they consider to have better chances against the Republican nominee, and so on.
The striking difference between Obama’s argument and Hillary’s is that, according to Obama, superdelegates shouldn’t be there in the first place. If they ought to vote for the candidate with the most pledged delegates because they mustn’t overturn ‘the will of the people’, then quite obviously they would best achieve that by not being at the convention in the first place. Indeed, if there is any point in distinguishing between pledged delegates and unpledged delegates (superdelegates), and in seating them both at the convention, then superdelegates must be able to vote on grounds other than those proposed by Obama’s camp. Their argument, then, is pretty simple: the whole selection system must be changed, superdelegates are a bad idea – let the nominee be chosen only by people who actually vote at primaries and caucuses across the country.
It is quite obvious why this is a troublesome argument: Obama’s camp is saying that the electoral rules – by including superdelegates – don’t fairly represent ‘the will of the people’. But this is the same electoral rules that Obama accepted when joining the Presidential race. So the basic problem for Obama, apart from the merits of the electoral system, is that he is now wanting to change the rules halfway through the game.
But what about the merits of such mixed system? It is difficult to argue, as Obama’s people are trying to do, that it is undemocratic. I cannot think of any liberal democracy that has a purely proportional system: I am thinking of Britain, Germany, France, Italy, Spain, to mention but a few. The US Senate itself, of which Senator Obama is a member, isn’t purely proportional – Rhode Island and California having the same number of representatives. And almost no one, in Britain, wishes for a completely elected House of Lords.
So one need not even appeal to the otherwise important fact that most unpledged delegates are nonetheless elected representatives to argue for the need to balance proportional representation: every liberal democracy I can think of – including the US – already accepts that. There are, then, plenty of good reasons to think that unpledged delegates should continue to participate in the election of the nominee. But those reasons aren’t even necessary: it is sufficient that those were the rules when Obama joined the race.