Wednesday, May 7, 2008

To Rue the Rules

Amidst the electioneering of this season, it may be useful to step back to consider and examine the arbitrariness of the rules by which our political actors play. As Hillary Clinton would be the first to tell you, if the Democratic party had used a winner-take-all system in its nomination process, she would long have secured the nomination (with a bigger delegate lead than the one Obama has over her now.)

Rules are but man-made inventions that reflect that particular balance of power and political crisis at the precise historical moment in which they were crafted. The irony is that so often we take them as sacred wisdom, even though they create as many problems in time T+1 as they were created to solve problems at time T.

Consider, for example, the rule of proportional distribution of delegates in the Democratic party. Only four and eight years ago, the Democratic party was lamenting the lack of attractive candidates to put up against the Republicans. How quickly times change. Whereas Gore and Kerry were lackluster, the Democrats got exactly what they asked for in 2008 - two rockstar candidates heading two powerful factions within the party - but Howard Dean is probably regretting what he wished for.

Proportional representation, as opposed to winner-take-all, is supposed to be a more democratic system of nomination because it distributes delegates to all candidates in proportion to the vote they received in a primary as opposed to delivering all delegates to the winner of the primary (as is done in the Republican nomination). The problem with two rockstar candidates, especially in a proportional-representational system is that the more equally balanced their intra-party constituency, the more they threaten to pull a party asunder. It is no wonder that the Republicans tend to be a more orderly bunch. The Democracy is learning that democracy (understood and expressed in proportional representation) isn't all that it's cracked out to be.

In the end rules are not sacred, rather it is up to us to decipher at each moment in time who they arbitrarily favor and at what cost. More on Michigan and Florida's rule-breaking and the creation of superdelegates another time.

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