The Will of the People

I write this on the tail end of the Democratic Primary, on the eve of the DNC's RBC branch ruling on Michigan and Florida, and I'm taking a look back at how it all happened (sorry to PR, MT, and SD for not looking forward much.)

I've tried to adopt more of an impartial stance, as I believe that it will take people, actual people, like you and me, to come up with creative solutions and compromises that can make everyone happy and give our nominee the best shot that he/she has in November. So many of us are filled with anger, and rightly so, at the other side--their tactics, their rhetoric, their perceived slights and character, and the kind of overall campaign that has been waged by either side. In the end, there are two things that need to happen for the future of the Dem Party, and to bolster the chances of our candidate in November.

The first is that the candidates will have to reconcile. Apologies may have to be made, but more importantly, a clear message of a renewal of the Democratic brand will have to take effect in the weeks and months following the end of the primary season. The second thing is for supporters, folks like you and me, to tone down the vitriol and anger towards either side, and as said before, to come up with creative solutions to these problems that maybe haven't been thought of yet.

The subject of this diary is what I consider to be the biggest dispute between Obama and Clinton supporters right now, and that is what "the will of the people" really means to each. The system is very messed up, I think we can all admit, but let's take a look back and see where we have diverged in our opinions of what "the will of the people" is. I think we'll find that each side adopts a mix of "the rules" and "the clear will" to better benefit their candidate, and then I'll try and take a stance that takes "the rules" out of the picture, to try and see if I can come up with an accurate representation of the will of the people that is reasonable, rationable, and something most of us, at least, can agree to. Compromises on things will be asked to be made, and I'm sure I'll lose some of you on some of these points. I do not think the popular vote is a legitimate indicator of the real will of the people, and neither is the pledged delegate count, or any other factor currently being measured. But anywho, here's a list of the problems and confusion, and what I think a clear and accurate will of the people really means.

Remember, I am taking "the rules" out of the argument here, since each side likes to leave in whichever one benefits their candidate more (50% delegation seating for Obama supporters, and giving Obama 0 in MI for Clinton supporters, for example.)

1) Caucuses. Let's tackle the issue that first came up for us in this primary season, that of caucuses v. primaries, and what I think gives the most accurate representation of the "true will of the people."

For states with primaries and caucuses, there is indeed a stark difference in how well Obama does with the caucus and the primary. This could have to do with the date, with the manner of activism that caucuses engender, and the limited availability to certain groups to participate. For the record, they should be scrapped for 2012 and have primaries instituted themselves, if we want to have a future popular vote indicator of the real will of the people. Caucuses blur the will of the people, obviously, because of their aforementioned nature, but we must remember that this was not tailor-made for Obama--rather these have been instituted for a long time now, and just typically favor the activist candidate. There is no reason to get angry at Obama over caucuses. However, in the states that held both primaries and caucuses, the primaries have their own addendums that make them inaccurate representations of "The Will." Firstly, and most obviously, is that in most states, with the exception of Texas, they didn't count, and in NE especially, there was a movement by Clinton supporters to make a statement and turnout for the primary, whereas Obama supporters already had their delegates and didn't go vote for something they didn't want.

2) Michigan and Florida. This is the biggest conundrum and upheaval of the will of 3 and a half million voters that our party or our nation has probably ever seen, and quite frankly, there is no good way around it. This is a case where Clinton supporters who tout the popular vote and "The Will" like to also follow "rules" by giving Obama 0 in MI, while at the same time ignoring rules they think are stupid (and they are stupid) and seating the MI and FL delegations in full.

My argument is that the popular vote in MI and FL is not an accurate representation of the will of the voters either. It is as accurate as a pledged delegate count (re: Not at all) when determining what voters in MI and FL want. Are we really to believe that no one in Michigan wanted to give Obama a vote? Of course not. Is it fair to say that a lot of voters probably did NOT turn out because MI and FL (especially MI) "didn't count" this year? Of course. So when calculating "The Will", you can not accept the current popular vote counts in MI and FL either. Regardless of Obama's judgment blunder in MI by taking his name off the ballot, it is undemocratic to tell the voters in MI who are Obama supporters that their "will" doesn't mean anything, and to not factor them in when discussing the will of the people. In the future, we must adopt a policy of punishing states who break party rules without taking away or blurring in any way what the will of the people is. They were not given a fair chance in both of these states, and should not be punished for it.

  1. Territories and Commonwealths. A big "I'm sorry" to PR, Guam, the US V.I., American Samoa, and the Marianas Islands, but--I do not believe you should have a future say in the Democratic primary process. I am willing to give Democrats Abroad a vote, providing that they are a citizen of the 50 United States, and not a member of a territory or commonwealth. I believe that this skews "the will of the voters" as well, because it adds new voters into the balance who will then have their voting rights taken away in November. We cannot gauge an accurate indication of what the American people who are voting for an American president want with this outside influence. I am in favor of making some of these places states (PR and Guam), but until then, I think that it skews "the will."

  2. A Five-Month Long Primary Process. How does this influence "the will"? Well, we hear from both sides all the time that "if the voters who voted for Obama/Clinton only knew what they know now, they wouldn't vote for him/her." And thusly, the will of a people across the span of five months can change a whole stinkin' lot. We should instead require debates and vettings for the months up until voting, even starting as early as we did this year in campaigning, but have a national primary day so that we can have a fair and accurate representation of what the consensus of Democratic primary voters really want. No room for buyer's remorse, Rush Limbaugh tactics, or any other thing that can tamper with democracy.


So here are some things that I think we can all agree upon for future years, and if the DNC changes this, then I think that we will all applaud them for it and be better off as a party. Because as it stands now, well... no wonder we keep shooting ourselves in the foot.

  1. Make everything primaries. Open primaries or closed primaries, that's up to the state, (I prefer open), but primaries nonetheless. Caucuses are just way too undemocratic.

  2. Create a punishment for states that do not comply with party rules, which are indeed there for a reason usually, that does not punish voters for anything. Also, create a requirement that candidates wishing to run in the Dem primary must be on all 50 states' ballots, to stop skewing by "favorite son" candidates, Stephen Colbert drives, and the withdrawal of a candidate's name to create voter havoc.

  3. Have a national primary day. I don't think regional rotating primaries will work, as regions typically vote for one candidate or another, and could have a very undue influence on "the will" as well (ex.: if a Southeast primary went first, Obama would have a lot of momentum and a big lead all of a sudden, the reverse for Sen. Clinton if we held a South/Southwest or an Appalachian primary first.) There are problems that go along with national primaries, as we see with the GE, but those problems don't have to do with taking the will and the power away from voters. And they are the most important thing.

  4. Take away the voting influence of the commonwealths and territories. Unfortunately, in the GE, no one cares what Guam or the Virgin Islands thinks, and allowing them to have a say skews the pool of voters. Certainly, PR should not have more delegates than even the smallest of states, and definitely not more than a good chunk of states.

  5. With a national primary held close to the convention, there is no need for superdelegates. If we are going to mark the winner of a certain amount of delegates as the overall winner, then SD's should cease to exist, as their reason for being would vanish.

  6. Do away with nominating the candidate by delegates completely. Instead, have a national primary and count up the popular vote in all states. In 99.9% of cases, this will provide a clear winner--a far higher percentage than what we have now. This is what this process is supposed to be about, and it's certainly not what it's about right now.

I know some will not like some of these points, but I really feel that if they are instituted, we can really use the popular vote as an accurate indicator of the will of the people. For now, I do not believe that the popular vote is a good representation of what the people want, and neither is the pledged delegate count, number of states won, or any other marker we are currently using to measure the will.

It would be wonderful if we could nominate two people to run as "co-Presidents", because I really feel as if half of the voters want Obama this time around, and half want Clinton. I think it's hard to say. Neither candidate can make a legitimate claim to what the voters want, and that's supposed to be the whole point of this process. We've dug ourselves in a rut with this one, and rather than digging ourselves deeper, we need to move on. There is no accurate representation of what voters want, and that is a huge problem that has caused anger and malice on both sides, and for relationships between friends, families, and co-workers to be torn apart. And that's really, really sad.

Rather than give in to the other side, I think it would be better to try and agree that neither Clinton or Obama is "the people's choice." We don't know what that is. What will be, will be, and we will wind up having an illegitimate nominee no matter what. I believe that illegitimate nominee will win in November, regardless of who he/she is, but it is a stain on the Democratic Party that we cannot say that one candidate or another really won over the hearts and minds of a majority of Democratic primary voters. The DNC should punish themselves and take away all their delegate for creating this blunder, and I hope we can fix it all before 2012.

Given their track record, though, I'm not exactly holding my breath.

< The Importance of the Latino Vote | A third view on FL and MI >


What do you think? Can either candidate legitimately make a claim to "the will of the people" this year?
Yes, Clinton. 54%
Yes, Obama. 18%
No. 27%

Votes: 11
Results | Other Polls
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    Well Stated (5.00 / 1) (#1)
    by flashman on Fri May 30, 2008 at 09:49:45 AM EST
    I agree with doing away with caucuses.  I understand why some states have them, but thier 'undemocratic' nature disutrbs me deeply.  The rest of your recommendations are will thought out and seem wise.  I would, however, give more thought to the national election day.  Though some think the primary is long, I think that gives voters time to get to know the candidates.  We might not get the chance to thoroughly vet them otherwise.

    The system needs an overhaul (5.00 / 1) (#2)
    by landjjames on Fri May 30, 2008 at 04:31:37 PM EST
    I agree with all of your proposals except #3.  With a one day primary, we'd end up with a candidate who is probably the most well known to the electorate.  I think, three primaries, with the split of the primaries weighted by delegates so that there's no decision until the third day of primaries would work better.   These primaries should be held a month to six weeks apart allowing for candidates to campaign.  This would allow those who are not that well known to make a case for themselves.    Everyone is so upset at FL and MI being disenfranchised.  I am too.  But nobody talks about how the states at the end of schedule being disenfranchised by the late dates of their primaries. I'm ticked off at that too.  The lock held by IA and NH on determining who will or will not go forward has to end.  Urging candidates to drop out because "the numbers aren't there" is   unfair.  Let everyone have their vote.  It's too late to change things for this election, but hopefully the DNC will do something before the next one.  Which leads to the question, why didn't they make significant changes during the past four years?  It's not like these problems haven't been brought up before.  

    I agree with the others... (5.00 / 1) (#3)
    by Dawn Davenport on Fri May 30, 2008 at 10:38:10 PM EST
    ...about a one-day primary not being a good solution, and would much rather see rotating firsts drawn by lottery.

    But I like a lot of your other suggestions, Dalton. I'd be interested in hearing your POV about open vs. closed primaries, which have also been used in ways perceived to game the system (Obama soliciting dems-for-a-day; Rush's Operation Chaos).

    (Personally, I'd prefer a 15-to-30-day advance registration requirement and limiting voting to Dems only.)

    I'm a fan of open ones (5.00 / 1) (#4)
    by Dalton Hoffine on Fri May 30, 2008 at 10:47:29 PM EST
    And I think open work better in the long run. The benefits outweigh the negatives, in my opinion. For example, you have a lot of people who are independents or may be with another party, but really like a particular candidate in a field. This was the case with Tsongas, Carter, Edwards, Obama... in the age of candidate-centered politics and the media marketing of candidates, not parties, you find more and more people not wanting to affiliate themselves with a party. I think that those people should still be given a voice if they want to support a particular candidate, but I would agree with you about eliminating same-day voting registration and things like that that really breed chaos.

    those are good points... (5.00 / 1) (#5)
    by Dawn Davenport on Fri May 30, 2008 at 11:02:44 PM EST
    ...but I think "candidate-centric" identification can also breed chaos for the party, or at the least dilute its message/platform. Look at George Wallace's draw in the 1972 Dem primaries, e.g.

    Another thing that bothers me is that most Republican primaries are closed, so indies vote Dem by default, because unless they support a third-party candidate, they otherwise have no say in the candidate-selection process. Although the trends of late have shown indies to be primarily liberal-leaning, a good number of indies are conservative, and might be influencing the party as one of the factors in making it more centrist.

    But these are just unsupported guesses; I'd be interested in seeing supportive data based on studies of states and their requirements for primary voting.


    Well, I'm going to disagree with other people (5.00 / 1) (#6)
    by andgarden on Sat May 31, 2008 at 07:57:11 AM EST
    and say that I am very much in favor of a national primary day. And though I agree with you about eliminating caucuses, I much prefer closed primaries.

    Hmmm (5.00 / 1) (#7)
    by CST on Mon Jun 02, 2008 at 01:50:39 PM EST
    I used to be in favor of a "national primary day".  But if this primary has done anything well, it's give all states their time in the sun.  I really don't think that will happen under a national primary scenario.  I do, however, think the schedule should be shortened, and maybe have primaries more condensed.  

    Also, I like open primaries.  I think it encourages people to participate in democracy without requiring that they align with one of the two major parties.

    Outstanding Diary (none / 0) (#8)
    by creeper on Sat Jun 14, 2008 at 10:57:59 PM EST
    The lack of response is disheartening.  I hope it stays up top for a while.  Everyone here needs to read this.

    P.S.  I live in Iowa.  The sooner we are rid of these stupid caucuses, the better.