Sometimes the System Comes In Handy


What have we learned? Not enough, but there are two lessons worth noting.

The first is “never trust a quote that’s less than 200 words long.” Every political campaign takes statements out of context, but some are worse than others. Hillary Clinton said “… we’re going to put a lot of coal miners and coal companies out of business ...” and that alone was enough to turn West Virginia fire engine red. It sounds like a complete statement, and that’s all that most people ever heard. To Clinton supporters it may have seemed like poor judgement, but to people living in coal country it was a hateful rejection of them and their way of life.

But took the trouble to print out a 282-word section of Secretary Clinton’s speech, which is very different from the 15 words that were so widely repeated. PolitiFact highlighted a section of the speech:

“So for example, I’m the only candidate which (sic) has a policy about how to bring economic opportunity using clean renewable energy as the key into coal country. Because we’re going to put a lot of coal miners and coal companies out of business, right?

"And we’re going to make it clear that we don’t want to forget those people. Those people labored in those mines for generations, losing their health, often losing their lives to turn on our lights and power our factories.

"Now we’ve got to move away from coal and all the other fossil fuels, but I don’t want to move away from the people who did the best they could to produce the energy that we relied on.”

The full 280-word quote shows compassion and understanding – but the few words out of context were all most people heard.

The second lesson is that Bernie Sanders was wrong about super delegates, although he did correct himself later. The Democratic Party had a system whereby elected officeholders were automatically delegates to the national convention, and were free to vote for any candidate for the presidential nomination. Sen. Sanders opposed this system because it benefitted the party establishment and made it almost impossible for an outsider to win the nomination. He was right. In These Times published an excellent history of the nominating process telling how the Democrats shifted from nominations dictated by party leaders, to a more open system – but the grass roots system led to two landslide losses: “First, in 1972, liberal antiwar Sen. George McGovern (S.D.) suffered an unprecedented 49-state defeat to Richard Nixon. Then, in 1980, President Jimmy Carter lost to Ronald Reagan by a resounding 10% of the popular vote.” At that point, the Democratic leaders got the idea that professional politicians might have a better idea of who would make a good candidate than Vox Populi. Whatever we believe, the President is President of all the people, and with a diverse population we can never have the President that’s exactly what we want, and neither can anybody else. The super delegates were created to give the professionals a veto over a bad choice.

This system, as Sen. Sanders correctly noted, stacked the deck against candidates who were not part of the establishment, including himself. On the other hand, the system, had it been needed, would have been a firewall against nominating a supremely unsuitable choice. Democratic super delegates were free to vote for any candidate, and change their vote even after pledging to another candidate. Republicans had a system of super delegates, but they were obligated to vote for the winner of their state’s primaries. In 2008, Hillary Clinton initially had the majority of super delegates, but most changed their votes to Obama at the convention. This year, the Republicans had no choice but vote for the primary winner. Who’s crying now?

The results of the Republican convention may have made them wish they had the same system of super delegates as the Democrats, but the Democrats, responding to Sen. Sanders reduced their super delegates with free choice to senators, governors and members of the House. This may still be enough to assure that the party doesn’t go off the rails the Republicans did. This was an important lesson – may our nation survive its education.

Sam Uretsky is a writer and pharmacist living on Long Island, N.Y. Email