...But Was It Good For Democracy? Parsing Super Duper Tuesday

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Robert George, New York Post editorial writer and Ragged Thots blogger, David Epstein, professor of political science at Columbia University, and Benjamin Barber, professor of civil society at the University of Maryland, senior fellow at the think tank Demos and author of Consumed: How Markets Corrupt Children, Infantilize Adults, and Swallow Citizens Whole (Norton, 2007), take a look at the primary process.


Benjamin Barber, David Epstein and Robert George

Comments [46]

spine from Boston

As an Iowan who has lived for some time on the east coast (in Harlem, now in Boston), I hear lots of complaints about Iowa (and New Hampshire). What many people here don't seem to understand is that having a couple of small states at the start, receiving attention and testing organization over a process of years, does everyone a huge favor.

Romney is out of the race as of today because, in my opinion, he never overcame failing to win in Iowa. He spent so much money there, so much time there, and had a huge lead there early on (because he spent so much on television). But over many months, Iowans had the chance to get to know him, and his lead evaporated. The same with Clinton, to a lesser extent.

If you have regional primaries, without that personal contact, the race turns out to be something like Iowa in the middle of last year -- before Iowans got to know Obama, while Romney was still just a handsome TV face. The regional primaries would lead to a big TV campaign and lots of bad candidates getting nominated.

The real lesson of this year is that the system is working. Obama had time and opportunity for Iowans to get to know him, and he won. Clinton benefited from having real competition, and we're having a great race.

Feb. 07 2008 05:44 PM
figa from Brooklyn

I got Benjamin Barber's book, "Consumed", for solstice, and it was pretty lousy. I think I requested it after hearing him on BL. I'm about as sympathetic to his cause as one could get, and I found his arguments haphazardly constructed and poorly thought through. I'd post this on Amazon, but I have to sell my copy first :) Buyer beware!

Feb. 07 2008 05:33 PM

go to:

Feb. 07 2008 12:59 PM
Steve from Ossining

As a registered Independent in NY, I am disenfranchised from the primary election process. While residing in MA, I was able to retain my Independent voter status until Primary day, when I was required to choose a Democratic or Republican registration before entering the polling booth; immediately after voting, I would then reinstate my Independent registration. I learned from the Board of Elections in Jan that here in NY, by law I cannot participate in the Primary election, unless I had registered in a party no later than 25 days prior to the last general election (at the beginning of October). This is unfair. Why should millions of NY voters be excluded from participating, while those in other states have a say? I take pride in my Independent status and value the privacy this status insures, and I consider this penalization of disenfranchisement to be an outrage.

Feb. 07 2008 12:28 PM
J.C. from Minneapolis

Sorry for the 3rd posting, but I did want to sound off against using precinct caucuses to select national convention delegates. Every state should hold a primary because so far it's the only way everyone who wants to vote can have a fair shot at being able to cast a ballot.

As has been said before about Iowa, caucuses favor people who can leave their house in the evening. My 88-year-old grandparents could not caucus last Tuesday because they couldn't leave their house.

I'm a Hillary supporter (so Obama folks, feel free to say this is "sour grapes" if you feel like it), so I'm very interested in the explanation for the discrepancy between a pre-Super Tuesday poll for Minnesota and the caucus results.

A MN Public Radio poll showed Clinton leading in MN by a few points before Tueday.

But then Clinton lost MN by 34 points. I suspect if MN had held a primary, Obama would never have come close to the blowout he achieved because his supporters were better able to get out to the caucuses (and stand in lines that streched around the block, especially for the caucus in my neighborhood). Granted, the MN Democratic caucuses, unlike Iowa, involved everyone casting secret ballots whose results bound the state convention to elect delegates in proportion to the votes the candidates receieved, but the overall problem with the caucus process remains.

Precinct caucuses have their uses, but not for picking presidential delegates.

Feb. 07 2008 11:22 AM
Chestine from Brooklyn, NY

I agree with Bob.

Feb. 07 2008 10:55 AM
Bob from Brooklyn, NY

These eggheads can't make their case. Excuse me, we were taught democracy meant a tally of the votes. Try your academic emperor has no clothes model of delegates on a room deciding to order take out food. Try delegates and high falluting lies there. Won't work. Why? Because people are normal. Delegates and electoral college is a lie told by academic windbags.

Feb. 07 2008 10:52 AM
Hannah Purdy from Brooklyn/Manhattan

I agree with the "superdelegate" elitism comment ... in this instance. But also understand the counter-argument.

I am thrilled that the nomination could come down to discussion at the convention. When else have we had a more open discussion about what Democratic Party represents, and what in direction it should turn? Also, despite civics classes, we're all getting a lesson in how this whole election process works. It's not pretty, but there are checks and balances in the chaos.

Feb. 07 2008 10:49 AM
J.C. from Minneapolis

Query: Are we sure the U.S. Constitution gives Congress the power to set a national primary if it wanted to? (Should the Constitution be amended?)

But legal questions aside: The civil rights era showed the problem of letting states have complete control over electoral law, but I have a rhetorical question: isn't there something to be said about federal lawmakers not being able to write their own election law?

I agree with comment # 8.

Feb. 07 2008 10:47 AM
Taher from Croton on Hudson

The American political party system is like a free floating crap game.
Political parties are nothing more then fun raising organization. Candidates have million of dollars or can raise million of dollars run on some party line with-out much more affiliation then being registered. So the political party throws up proposal and platforms as political philosophy. The nation then gets what it get-notice the last eight years. And the con game continues.

Feb. 07 2008 10:46 AM
Jessica Irons from Bay Ridge Brooklyn

Obama Supporter - Independent.
1- I wish I could have voted in the primary.
2- RE Super delegates, I don't mind the idea that people with expertise get a say on their own, but I do mind that some of the super delegates are not currently holding an elected office, so there is no check and balance in terms of Walter Mondale, he doesn't care if a constituency gets mad at him, which shouldn't be the only deciding factor in a super delegates but it should be part of the decision

Feb. 07 2008 10:42 AM

the base does the hard work and pays for the nomination process and we can be the judge of if we're supporting the right candidate.

where does this "superdelegate" elitism crap come from? let your one guest put forward some real study that shows that the superdelegates make better decisions than the people. This is the same as the stupid electoral college where somehow we need their "superior" judgment. So elitist.

Popular vote is the only thing that can represent the people, end of story.

And seriously, who gives a damn about the founding fathers? Lets think for ourselves for a change.

Feb. 07 2008 10:40 AM
Nick Lento from NJ

The dichotomy between the "popular will" and "expertise" that was just referenced in which the "expertise" is, presumably the "super delegates"

The super delegates are party hacks; pure and simple. Their agenda is advancing their own personal POWER and the wealth of their patrons.

I can't believe that Bryan let that one go without even questioning it!!!!!!!!

It's all about MONEY and POWER!!! What's actually best for people is a peripheral issue that is only addressed when they have no other option and even then it's done in a showboat-y a way as possible.....whatever good things are done are done grudgingly.

We have a long long long way to go to achieve a real democracy in the last eight years we've gone way retrograde.

Feb. 07 2008 10:40 AM
Irving Kagan from NYC

The last caller said that the Founding Fathers wouldn't like Caucuses. But the Founding fathers didn't have a secret ballot. Many actually believed that the poor should not have the vote because they could be pressured the way that the caller suggested.

Feb. 07 2008 10:40 AM
sy from nyc

1. would have been nice if, like Italy or ISrael, we could have a vote against and stopping the recent policy in Iraq.

2. why not have one national election with FREE and EQUAL access to the media to eliminate the negative influence of money, pundits, etc.?

Feb. 07 2008 10:40 AM
Sean Dwyer from Manhattan

Why such concern about what the "Founding Fathers" intended for elections? They thought it was best to only allow white male land owners to vote. Clearly they were interested in representative democracy!

Feb. 07 2008 10:39 AM
Noah Wimmer from The Bronx

This conversation is completely irritating, let's not forget that the founding fathers also believed in slavery and thought that the masses couldn't be trusted with democracy. Our voting system is out of date and simply supports a kleptocracy. Let's make the US a real democracy and ditch this elitist democratic system.

Feb. 07 2008 10:39 AM

A popular vote system would hush any underrepresented group. If ethnic group can't build a coalition then their voice will never be heard.

Feb. 07 2008 10:37 AM
Paulo from Paterson, New Jersey

This federalism argument is bogus because we're talking about political parties... not the federal government itself. As such, the parties can pretty much organize these things however they want.

Feb. 07 2008 10:37 AM

Hey Paul,
I live in a mostly afluent white area of Long Island. I can hear from the locals a strong disdain for the Clintons. I guess they see them as "red necks".
They see Obama as an opportunity to experience the feeling that they do not hold any prejudism. But let me tell you, none of these neighbors have any black or non-white friends.
While I have made very well (and can confortably work from home, most of the time) my family is working class and I can undestand their feelings.
I hope you are right. But even I can vote for Mc Cain if it is not Clinton.

Feb. 07 2008 10:37 AM
Dick Howard from nyc 212 255 2704

In a previous show, you spoke of the difference of a democracy and a republic. The issue of the moment is that the US is a republic that permits the existence of a democratic society-- as opposed to a "democratic republic" of the type that came to rule in Eastern Europe (on the model of the French revolution--a very different structure). Think of the former "German Democratic Republic."

Feb. 07 2008 10:36 AM
Janet Crawford from nyc

Isnt the delegate system there to avoid tyranny by the majority? i.e., avoiding a Hitler,

Feb. 07 2008 10:36 AM
Sanjiv from Morristown, NJ

Democracy needs above all a vigilant citizenry, who are ready to take action.

Why the Judiciary is not independent and why there is no uniformity the way elections are conducted in such an old democracy? Where is the debate about the process after 2000 election, where all the problems were visible?

Gore had this problem - he did not fight for truth and justice. No politcal leader (or media) started any outcry of this injustice.

Feb. 07 2008 10:35 AM
Alan D. from Manhattan

Why wouldn't it be a superior system, for NATIONAL elections, to have a national primary of INDIVIDUALS (not parties), where the top 5 or top 10 are allowed to be on the ballot for the presidential election?

When can we discuss why we have parties and whether there is a way to get rid of them? And what would be the costs of getting rid of them?

You're discussing how party primaries should be done and whether they are "democratic." But isn't a party essentially a private organization, and it can choose whether to select a candidate democratically or not? Thus we have the superdelegates and "arrangements" are made behind the scenes. I may be wrong, but I don't think a party is an organ of the government. Isn't it ignorant to expect democracy?

Isn't the important question whether the final election for president is fair, and whether any candidates other than the top two get public/media time in debates and other events? Included in that question is whether we should have a direct popular vote rather than use the electoral college... which it almost seems you're discussing by proxy via the primary issue.

Overall, the effect in our country of all the attention given to parties and primaries is to make our political process unnecessarily long, expensive, and confusing.

Feb. 07 2008 10:33 AM

Did your guest just equate Huckabee supporters on the Right to Obama supporters on the Left?

Feb. 07 2008 10:32 AM
a woman from manhattan

The two Pauls have it wrong. Hillary will probably be the candidate (much to our dismay when all the worms come out of the can), and she will lose.

Which is just as well, because the Republicans will be dying to take the credit for ending the war in the Middle East once the Dems are out of the White House, the way quacks take the credit for getting rid of a cold in ten days. I say let the Dems take the credit after eight years of more Republican mess.

By then, we'll really really be dying for some change. I don't think America's going to push hard enough for change this time around. Wait till all those young people are eight years older, and eight years more sick of the status quo.

Feb. 07 2008 10:31 AM

Mr. Barber's argument in favor of decisive winners and losers emerging swiftly from chaos is the opposite of his prescription for a righteous Capitalist system (which seemed to call for a rounding of its corners, so to speak).

If it's not a stretch of the segment I'd be interested in hearing his (surely formed) position on the relationship between Democracy and Capitalism.

Feb. 07 2008 10:30 AM
Pat from NYC

re the guest who referenced govt. in Italy

he stated that we need solid outcome so that things can get done.

we have 2 parties and nothing is getting done now!

Feb. 07 2008 10:30 AM
Dan from NJ


Is superdelegate voting public or secret???


Feb. 07 2008 10:30 AM
RJ from brooklyn

It seems as tho the proglem isn't actually the process leading up to the convention (aside from the need for the fund-raising and amount of $ needed, which is more a question of campaign finance reforma and free access to media), but what happens at the convention, or prior to. The assumption seems to be that a close count of delegates leads to a rancorous fight. How about a process that allows for a negotiated, "best for the country" result?

Feb. 07 2008 10:27 AM
rita lasar from new york city

so we are finally at the stage where we have red state and blue state candiates within each party the country is really divided

Feb. 07 2008 10:26 AM
CH from Staten Island


Come on PUNDITS!!! We Democrats are not a party divided! Get over it and stop trying to start a fight to make your lives more exciting! We are a party with 2 wonderful candidates. The closeness of the vote is evidence of that. Instead of trying to drive a wedge between friendly competitors, why not cover it from the angle that is true? We, as a party, like BOTH candidates, and each of us likes one candidate a little more. THAT'S ALL THER IS TO IT. Don't be part of the problem, O Pundits and Media Maniacs. Rather, celebrate the success the closeness of the camps.

Feb. 07 2008 10:26 AM
J.C. from Minneapolis

Re: Comment #1

I agree that winner-take-all and some of our other election rules are generally bad, but I take issue with the complaint about the media.

The candidates who are out of the race did get their share of debate time. Sometimes people just aren't popular with voters no matter how much face time they get.

Last time I checked, there were still op-ed pages in the newspapers; there were still radio shows such as this one that discussed issues; and there were plenty of CNN specials on various issues. So while there are times I think media such as TV news is vapid, the cynicism is misplaced.

Comment #5:
I'm willing to bet that different districts got a different amount of delegates because delegates are based on the number of people or the number of Democratic/Republican/etc. votes in the last presidential election. It's not arbitary (although I guess New York State law to this outsider tends toward the archaic at times, so who knows).

Feb. 07 2008 10:25 AM
Mary Bon from Westbrook, CT

Democratic turnout exceeded Republican by more than 70 percent.

Thoroughly unscientific, et cetera, but I'm curoius. How did Lehrer-listening Edwards supporters vote? I voted for Obama.

Feb. 07 2008 10:24 AM
Sanjiv from Morristown, NJ

Media (mostly owned by the big houses and partial to say the least) and political leaders all gain by the current system of delegates and the way elections happen.

People are the tools to play with using phrases like Gender, race, abortion, national security (Catch words) and keeping them struck to the rut.

Feb. 07 2008 10:22 AM
Paul from Brooklyn

Have to disagree with you there Paul. Here's my prediction as counter to yours;

1. Hillary Clinton will be the candidate.

2. She will win in November.

3. This will happen because she was picked for the position years ago by the people that actually decide thee things.

Feb. 07 2008 10:19 AM
Jean from Washington Heights

Why shouldn't the voters get to choose the candidate they want? Why should the voter in one state have more power, by virtue of being an Iowan, say, at choosing a candidate than one in New York? The old system was a way for powerful party constituents to control who the candidate would be. Witness the low turnouts in the past.

Now we are enfranchised. The system this year has worked a lot better than any in the past - we have a huge turnout, and divide delegates, and that's democracy. At least among Democrats we might get a viable candidate, someone who has appeal beyond a few little states, and not the likes of Walter Mondale, Michael Dukakis, or John Kerry.

Feb. 07 2008 10:18 AM
Darrell from Queens, NY

How expensive would it be to have another election in Michigan and Florida after April if we still don't have a clear nominee?

Feb. 07 2008 10:15 AM

A Prediction:

1. Obama will be the democratic candidate.
2. The Democrats will lose in November.
3. This will happen for three reasons:
a. The real resentment aganst Obama's
campaign is the support of mostly
wealthy privileged white groups that are
resented by most people that are regular
working Joes.
b. The race and inexperience issue: Obama's
link to the Trinity church and the
symbolism that it conveys on these
voters. Obama's wife.

c. There is a viable alternative: J. McCain

Feb. 07 2008 10:15 AM
hjs from 11211

i was just glad for once i had a voice

Feb. 07 2008 10:13 AM
Paul from Brooklyn

Ah yes, the illusion of Democracy. How quaint. Now, let us proceed with the banter and analysis that skims the surface while leaving the reality untouched. On with the show.

Feb. 07 2008 10:07 AM
a woman from manhattan

I say bring on the popular vote! Let's just count up every single vote and whoever has the most votes wins! The delegate system is not democratic.

Also, I think anyone who votes should be able to keep a receipt for their vote. That way, if there's any doubt, the people can count up their votes for themselves.

I can't believe there were different numbers of delegates for each candidate depending on what polling station they had, in the confines of one city. That's ridiculous. I had six, under Obama, and apparently other people have 7, or 5.

Feb. 07 2008 10:04 AM
Darrell from Queens, NY

Why don't they have an exit poll asking voters if they feel they're vote really has an impact on the nomination? You could compare the results over the various election processes and then build a consensus around which was shown to be more favorable.

Feb. 07 2008 09:57 AM

Yes, what is the total number of Democrats who voted in the primaries -- or on Tuesday's?

Republicans? And/or percentages?

Is there a big difference between those voting Repub and Dem, and what does that mean/how does it compare to the two previous election cycles?

Thank you.

Feb. 07 2008 09:09 AM
Abby from NYC

The talking heads have been the worst! MSNBC and even Politico is showing extreme bias. I have tuned in to WNYC and CNN because I cannot stand the lack of straight reporting. Who needs more spin when we are already trying to disentangle ourselves from the candidates'? Just give us the numbers.
I have heard complaints about MSNBC not showing the delegate count, only the percentage of votes won. I agree; I had to search for it, though CNN showed it more often.

Feb. 07 2008 07:48 AM
Richard from NJ suburbs

What is this talk of democracy? The United States is a republic.

Americans do not enjoy direct election of their leaders, and the American system of voting, with sometimes winner-take-all, sometimes proportional allocation, sometimes vote counting, sometimes caucus, with candidates knocked out before some voters have a chance to vote for them, is nowhere near one-person-one-vote. And what about America's system of campaign finance, a media that ignores issues, choosing instead to focus on campaign strategy and only the "front-runners," and the ridiculous excuse for candidate debate foisted on this naive citizenry.

Don't kid yourselves, America, you have far less say in your government than you believe.

Feb. 07 2008 04:31 AM

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