...The seating of delegates at Democratic Party conventions has often been a source of conflict. In 1964, Fanny Lou Hamer led a sit-in on the convention floor. The Mississippi Freedom Democrats wanted nothing more than a few convention seats-seats to which they were entitled by open, fair elections in their home state. Walter Mondale, who was to become the architect of the current superdelgate system, refused to seat the elected delegates of color in 1964. Wait until 1968, Mondale insisted, as the representative of the Credentials Committee.
The non-violent mass movements of the ’60s, the passage of the Voting Rights Act, the rise of the feminist movement, the change in voting age, the anti-nuclear campaigns- all generated a groundswell of new voters in Democratic party politics. However, far from welcoming the newly enfranchised activists, party leaders were filled with fear-class and race fear. They never accepted the democratic reforms enacted in the 1970s, when youth and people of color participated for the first time in establishment politics.
The superdelegate system, as we know it, came from the backlash of the 1980s. In January 1982, supported by Mondale, the Hunt Commission and Democratic National Committee reversed grassroots reforms. They rewrote the rules, not to make elections open and fair, but to make sure that centrist (right-wing) candidates maintained hegemony over nominees and party affairs. It was out of fear of new uncontrollable voters that the Commission created a block of uncommitted delegates drawn from a primarily white, male establishment. Mondale, the same insider who prevented elected Mississipppians from taking their seats in 1964, played the pivotal role in creating hundreds of unelected delegates in 1984. Superdelegates comprised 14 percent of the convention in 1984, and eighty-five percent of the superdelegates picked Mondale. Not long after superdelegates picked “the sure winner,” Mondale was trounced in the presidential election. Nevertheless, the superdelgate number passed the 600 mark by 1988. The Jesse Jackson campaign, especially the massive victory over Dukkakis on Super Tuesday, electrified the party and the country. Jackson won 7 million primary votes in 1988, more than Mondale won as the nominee in 1984. Many party regulars were gripped with panic, and some superdelegates organized a stop-Jackson movement within the party. Jackson protested the role of superdelegates, but his challenge went unheeded. Party leaders continued to look for ways to blunt the growing power of grassroots movements. While they could not stop voters from voting, they could dilute the impact of the reform movements by manufacturing added voters as a countervailing force.
Mondale was quite open about the undemocratic aims of the superdelegate system. In a number of talks, he acknowledged that superdelegates were created with the explicit aim of preventing voter insurgencies. He espoused his anti-democratic sentiments in the New York Times, February 2, 1992, where he called for expansion of superdelgate numbers:
“The election is the business of the people. But the nomination is more properly the business of the parties….The problem lies in the reforms that were supposed to open the nominating process….Party leaders have lost the power to screen candidates and select a nominee. The solution is to reduce the influence of the primaries and boost the influence of the party leaders….The superdelgate category established within the Democratic Party after 1984 allows some opportunity for this, but should be strengthened...”
There's nothing like a Democrat in the driver's seat, and in this $election, there's nothing like a real Democrat in the driver's seat.
Gold Kryptonite, anyone?