Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Is Aristocracy All Bad?

These days, everyone's talking about superdelegates.

Actually, it might be more accurate to say that everyone is complaining about superdelegates. You really don't see too many people (outside of the Hillary's sleepover buddies) extolling the wonders of the superdelegate system. It seems the nation, as ever pretty oblivious to how it is run, just figured out that these devious anti-democracy figures existed. Everyone is duly shocked, horrified, etc.

Honestly, I understand the impulse. But I think it's an impulse born of a fundamental dogmatism built into not just our culture, but most world culture: the unshakable belief that Democracy Is Good.

Now, I am not, in this humble blog post, going to delve into the entire philosophical case for or against democracy, because really, you don't want a post that long. So, lemme rustle up some anecdotal arguments:

Here are some actual quotes from stories I have read this election cycle:

"[Giuliani] has a chance, though personally I don't know what I'll do. I think he has to get his act together with all these marriages."

"Maybe Huckabee. I kind of like him. He's out there around people. Seems honest, friendly."

"I think [Obama's] a little glib for my liking," said Fiaza Haniffa, a Montessori teacher inFairfax, Va. "He's a little superior...He talks to this higher level. [Hillary] talks about the day-to-day level."

I could go on, but I can't find the sources. Bill Maher does a whole segment on this on his show, which you should podcast.

The point is... people are stupid and easily mislead.

Now, it is not the electorate's fault that it is stupid and easily mislead. The electorate does not have someone paying them to read or write political news. Most people just have too much going on to give a damn about the election. Granted and granted.

But the fact is, we're about to decide a president, and all most people can tell you about Barack Obama is that he's "inspirational" and all anyone can tell you about Hillary Clinton is that she "sucks." And while at least one of those things is true, I cannot help but feel that our national dialog is not so robust as it maybe needs to be to reliably steer the entire fucking free world. In fact, if you've been paying attention, you've seen this dialog devolve into the pathetic pile of nothing it is now. Early in the cycle, the debates were wonderful on the Democratic side - people actually discussed their thoughts. By New Hampshire, there was none of that nonsense. In those debates we were fed nothing but bickerfests about "change," which have since devolved yet further, into soulless, empty campaign narratives repeated ad nauseum by candidates and pundit alike. How the hell do you expect people to make an informed choice when neither candidate seems particularly interested in information?

And then there are superdelegates.

Superdelegates are professional politicians. They, like most people voting in the Demcoratic primary, want a Democrat in the White House above all else. They, theoretically, have an exceptionally strong grasp on the issues right?

So I have to ask, is it so bad to give those people a bigger say than the lady who's backing Hillary because Barack Obama is "a little glib"?

Such a heretical statement is anti-democratic, but let's get one thing straight: we don't live in a democracy. We live in an aristocracy. We did not get to pick Hillary Clinton, and we did not get to pick Barack Obama. They picked themselves, and had enough powerful friends give them enough money and support to put them in this position. In the old days, said powerful people took it a step further and picked the candidates outright, by themselves.

I was really jamming on this argument, until I did this piece for Newser yesterday.

Some extra stuff from the source:

She talked about taking her two young daughters to dance lessons later that day. She shared a bit of campaign strategy, laying out how volunteers would be moved into Pennsylvania, which votes April 22, once Texas and Ohio hold their primaries March 4. And when Campbell mentioned that she uses a wheelchair, Obama spoke about her late father, who used a scooter to get around.

"She was talking to me like you would your girlfriend," said Campbell, a Philadelphia Democratic Party official who also heads the city's African American ward leaders. "Now, I'm old enough to be her mother, but I like what I heard. . . . I loved that those little girls going to dancing lessons were just as important to her as being out there campaigning. And she told me how her mom slammed her finger in the door the day before. No pretense. Just real."
Right. So, essentially this woman is giving Barack Obama her support because... his wife talked to her like they were girlfriends for an hour and a half? What?

And this is what derailed my whole argument: Superdelegates are people too. Many are smarter than the old fart who thinks Giuliani needs to "get his act together with all these wives," and hell, I'm sure many are smarter than Carol Campbell, party official from Philadelphia, but that doesn't mean they don't have other foibles. It doesn't mean they can't be bribed, bullied, flattered or whatever else. Those tactics work a lot better on superdelegates than they do on voters. You can't make a promise to all of Iowa in a smoky room without the rest of the country finding out.

I guess the real reason I want to defend the superdelegate system is that I want to believe that somewhere there is a mechanism for ensuring that the country is led by some wisdom greater than the moment's collective whim. I would like our country to be run by rational people making rational decisions, instead of the winner of a crazy, soulless duel between propaganda machines. I want someone to save us from platitude hell.

The superdelegates aren't those people. Really, they're the people who picked out the figureheads we have to choose between. For better or for worse, we have to trust the populous to get this one right.

Just remember, Barack is a really inspirational guy while Hillary, man does she get things done. And John McCain, well, he's a war hero.

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