Sunday, March 30, 2008

Distilling Democratic Legitimacy - Updated

Bloggers who are not in the tank for Obama, even those who support him, are converging on the very real legitimacy crisis that the Obama campaign is forcing on the Democratic Party. I am not talking here so much about the party officials as many of them are complicit in this crisis, but about the Democratic Party as an organization necessary for succssful promotion and defense of liberal democracy as such in this country.

A party in power must have legitimacy in the eyes of the voters if it is to act. In order to perform its role, the party must achieve sustained electoral success over time and across geographic regions. It must be able to speak credibly as being authorized by the majority of citizens to enact policies, promote programs, draw up legislation, staff bureaucracies, and utilize public funds in ways that a significant minority of the population does not like. Legitimacy, and thus the authority to take action in the name of the public, must have formal grounds (all procedures have been followed) but it requires something more and somewhat ephemeral - the perception that the procedures were performed correctly and that the outcome is valid. While office can be taken on purely formal grounds, the lack of a consensus that the procedures are valid will obviate legitimacy.

In the current Democratic primary, the campaign fails on both formal and perceptual grounds. The exclusion of Michigan and Florida votes from the candidate vote counts is not legitimate because the rules allow remedies, including revotes, and because one candidate will not participate in attempts to remedy the situation. Thus, growing numbers of voters, particularly those in the disenfranchised states, are protesting that they will not accept as legitimate any nomination that excludes these states' votes.

Whether you support Hillary or Obama, the legitimacy of the Democratic presidential nominee as such is in grave danger:
  • Opinion polls consistently show that the public regards the popular vote as the most legitimate measure of a candidate's victory. You win the vote, you win the election.
  • Super Delegate votes are no longer sufficient to decide this contest.
  • Obama and Clinton must meet the same two conditions: they must present themselves for judgment by the voters of Michigan and Florida and they must secure the popular vote. Hillary has met the former condition. Obama may have met the latter condition, but only through explicit exclusion of almost 10% of all primary voters.
  • Should either fail to meet both conditions, even should that person secure the formal nomination, that nominee will not be regarded as legitimate by a significant portion of the electorate, both Democratic and non-Democratic. Thus, just getting the super delegates isn't enough.
  • Clinton cannot win enough popular votes (barring some enormous upsets in the upcoming primaries) without Michigan and Florida to secure the nomination. Thus, she has every incentive to promote a resolution that is both in her favor and satifies legitimacy requirements.
  • Obama is ahead in popular votes at present, but holds a statistically significant lead only because the vote counts from Michigan and Florida are not included. Despite having a lead in popular votes, he will not be seen as the legitimate nominee unless Michigan and Florida votes are counted/revoted and recounted. He is in a bind because the resolution that would ensure his legitimacy may also result in his defeat if the majority of voters do not choose him.

It is by no means certain that even if Hillary could secure the votes of Florida and Michigan and do so with their current vote distribution she would win the nomination. It is certain that Obama's nomination will be rejected as illegitimate unless he accepts the judgment of Florida and Michigan voters on whether he should be the nominee. To repeat, at this point neither of them can be a legitimate nominee on super delegate votes alone.

Arguing the rules does you no good in the general election if the outcome of adherence to those rules is rejection by the voters.

Updated - In response to CognitiveDissonance in the comments - Even if Hillary drops out, Obama has not met the conditions for legitimacy. When he refused to agree to a revote which would have remedied the situation, that is when he put himself in opposition to the voters of those states. If he "wins" the nomination by forcing her out before those states are counted, he loses the general. In short, Obama has dealt himself a nearly unwinnable hand. At the same time, the only winning strategy for Hillary is to pursue a revote and to decisively win them by at least the margin she won the first time around.



Anonymous said...

That is exactly why so many party leaders are trying to get Hillary to quit. They know they will have to resolve FL/MI if she doesn't. And they know that if they resolve FL/MI, their chosen candidate will lose. Their fondest hope is that the voters won't see what is happening behind the curtain.

Pat Johnson said...

She should stay to the end. That is what the primaries are for. If she cannot win fairly, I will probably sit this one out. The Obamamaniacs are pushing just a little too hard to hand this over to Precious.

cls said...

And the fact that Hillary is willing to risk losing her margin in both these states, and Barack is unwilling to risk his current lead sans MI/FL tells me everything I need to know about both these candidates. At this point I think Barack is toast if indeed there is a revote. Both these states know now that he really doesn't support them, so why would they support him?

reality based said...

You are addressing a matter that has received far too little attention. Since Florida, 2000 there have been underlying questions about our government's legitimacy. Black box voting in 2002 and 2004, the virtual suspension of parts of the Constitution, the questionable legality of the war and its aftermath, and the political abuse of the prosecutorial function have all weakened that legitimacy. 9/11 may have papered over some of that, but, as the economy worsens and daily life gets harder, the willingness to accept that legitimacy becomes more problematic. We have endured a public discourse mutilated and distorted by our mass media for almost a generation. Unlike when Nixon challenged our democratic and constitutional values, the Democratic Party has utterly failed to stand up during this entire decade. Gore and Kerry failed us not so much because they did not defend themselves but because they failed to defend us, the voters, when the need to count every vote was evident. Contrast that to the political revolution led by Andrew Jackson when the "corrupt bargain" deprived him of the Presidency in 1824. Now we see many who only recently have been critical of the pusillanimous conduct of Democratic leaders suddenly join forces with them and their new General Electric and Time Warner media friends to ignore or even support the disenfranchisement of voters. The fight for democracy in selecting our Presidential nominees cannot be ended by a concession from Hillary. I hope that she carries the fight to the Denver convention and beyond. Much more than her candidacy is at stake. Keep up your good work and God Bless America!

Common Sense Gram said...

I really love coming here and reading. You have a way of cutting through the junk and getting to the heart of the matter.
Would you be insulted if I said you remind me in a way of Glinda when she sent the snow as an anitdote to the poppies.
Can you guess who reminds me of the one who sent the poppies????

Augie said...

It's as if the Democratic Party is my church. When the pastor of that church gets up before the congregation and begins advocating ideas that run contrary to the very concept of our church and indeed is insulting and repellent to so many members of the church then, I'm afraid, I must leave that church.

Chinaberry Turtle said...

I think there are two legitimacy concerns. The first, and biggest, one is FL/MI (as Anglachel describes in her post). The other is the anti-democratic caucuses and the thuggery of Obama supporters in 'fixing' these caucuses. The videos coming out of Texas now are crazy. Obama's campaign has been calling Clinton delegates, telling them that they're Obama delegates, giving them wrong re-caucusing location info, etc., etc.

Unlike FL/MI, there's no way for Obama to redeem himself regarding his anti-democratic caucus thuggery.

gendergappers said...

Yes, FL and MI votes must count and BO is opposing this, of course - so much for fighting fair.

Drudge is spreading the words for the media to parrot that HRC campaign cannot pay their bills.

Also, BO's surrogates demand that HRC quit, then he tries to make himself look good by coming out and saying she should stay as long as she wants to. What a fake! He used the same denisory, nasty tone of voice he used when he said, "Your likeable enough, Hillary."

Shainzona said...

augie! What a great analogy. Do you mind if others borrow it?

lori said...

If Obama is the nominee, McCain is going to use his campaign's behavior - the shenanigans in Texas, Iowa and Nevada - as well as his general unwillingness to push for a revote in Michigan and Florida, as an opportunity to revive the very potent meme that Democrats are the party of vote fraud.

No one is discussing how the Obama campaign activities can be used against him in the general. They're only focusing on how it's impacting Clinton's campaign. But what I see is that McCain is going to be able to point out that Obama isn't a legitimate nominee and that he won because his supporters behaved like thugs at the caucuses. He's going to ask America if they want a man who cheats like that in the White House. And he's going to present himself as squeaky clean. lastly, he is going to saddle the Democratic party as the party of voter fraud. Inner-city, Chicago - all that stuff will be the stuff of memes.

There is no end of the downsides to how Obama has run his campaign. And the dolts supporting him really think that Clinton has run a "scorched earth" campaign and he's come through it with flying colors.

Anonymous said...

lori - I think Obama will be labelled the affirmative action candidate by the Republican Party. Everything you mentioned will be used against him in the general and it will devastate Obama and African-Americans in states that will have an affirmative action initiatives on the ballot. Obama's actions right now will only hurt Democrats in the end. Not only will many people leave the Democratic Party, but the Republicans will have additional ammo besides Rev. Wright to use against Obama in the general to get people to vote against Obama and affirmative action.

Bud White said...

Please check my diary on Obama's cynical use of race

sas said...

It's time for we Hillary supporters to put the screws to the Democratic party. Start e-mailing everyone.
I have e-mailed letters to Sens. Leahy and Dodd (two men trying to tell a woman what to do), e-mailed Donna Brazile (, the DNC and the DNCC.
It's time we let them know how we feel.
If Hillary gets shafted on this Florida, Michigan thing they can kiss off in the fall.
She should be on the ticket. I live in PA and my vote matters and will not have Obama shoved down my throat.