THE BLOG

Open Letter to Geraldine Ferraro and So-Called Party Leaders

Feb 26, 2008 | Updated May 25, 2011

Dear Ms. Ferraro:

I learned from your Op-Ed in the New York Times yesterday about your role in setting up the superdelegate system, and that you believe superdelegates should lead, and not follow the will of the people.

I'm confused. Does leading mean helping to make the case to Democratic voters for why a certain candidate is better for us than another, or does it mean flouting the will of the people in some kind of superdelegate coup?

My fear, Madam, is that your brand of leadership would have us following you right off the cliff and out of power--or triangulated into dead-lock--for yet another generation. After all, that is the kind of leadership most of you party elders have shown since 1982, because of the simple fact that you have not been able to build a working majority.

Perhaps the people are ahead of you "leaders" on figuring out what needs to happen, how we can build a new American majority--and what kind of Democrat can best lead it. Here's a clue: We need Democrats, Independents and some Republicans. In case you've been too busy to notice, Barack Obama has been building that majority for the Democratic party in recent months.

Your elder-posse had chances to get this majority thing right, and you blew those chances time and time again. I do remember Reagan Democrats. I don't remember Mondale or Clinton Republicans. Why should we believe that shuffling the chairs will get us different results? Is the real problem here that you just can't stand to see a new generation finally getting its ideas heard on how politics, activism and government can better represent the people? Your argument, and fuzzy math, in the Times sure read that way.

First, your superdelegates may once have served a worthy purpose. But in this Internet age, where bottom-up thinking is possible and preferable, superdelegates represent an outdated and elitist system that is rife with possibilities for securing the Establishment's hold on power within the party and little else. Certainly, as a party, we can do better if our goals are really, as you say, to create unity within the party (and how about across the country, while we're at it?), and nominating the strongest Democratic candidate for the presidency.

We all know about the PAC money and favors Clinton and Obama have both had to shell out for superdelegate support. Is that how you envisioned it would work? Funny, how we see many of these so-called party "leaders" running for cover now, and in some cases openly switching their support from one candidate to the other when a little transparency is introduced to the equation. Just asking: Is that leading or following?

Sure, there's probably some pandering to constituencies going on. It's so discomfiting when the people want a say, isn't it? But, clearly, an Establishment-annointed and "inevitable" candidate can go around strong-arming superdelegates for pledges long before any rank-and-file votes come in, while other candidates have to make their cases and build real coalitions in order to legitimize their campaigns. Perhaps some of the superdelegates you see fleeing Clinton at this point felt pressured to support the "inevitable" candidate pre-Iowa, and now they feel free to support their true, personal choice. In any event, I would rather see an elected official "pandering" to her constituency rather than said official taking PAC money from a presidential candidate in exchange for support. Any. Day.

Second, from her poorly-managed campaign, to her weak arguments, to her dwindling base and desperate antics of late, it's clear that Hillary Clinton thought she'd have a cake-walk to the nomination. She hasn't been nimble enough to change course effectively, and to legitimately win over the voters in Democratic primaries and caucuses, so she's made some pretty sorry moves of late. Let's review.

Senator Clinton had to loan her own campaign $5 million dollars and after Super Tuesday, she fired her campaign manager. She accused Obama of plagiarizing a friend's words, and then closed her remarks at the Austin debate with words spoken by her former rival, John Edwards, without attribution (and don't forget her scary attempt at co-opting a "Yes, We Can!"). Hillary supporters have started a questionable 527 in recent weeks as well, definitely stretching the limits of legality. (Kind of like Bill's "It depends on what the meaning of the word is, is.") Senator Clinton also got very angry this week about a couple of Obama flyers that have been out for weeks. But the shadiest of all of Senator Clinton's moves of late is the web site her campaign paid for and set up on February 14, but keeps separate from her official campaign site.

Why is Hillary Clinton setting up http://www.delegatehub.com instead of finding legitimate ways to get the people behind her? This outrageous site outlines a path to the nomination which the Times of London characterizes as relying on "arm-twisting the superdelegates and seating the 'ghost' delegations from Florida and Michigan, states which broke party rules by holding their contests early."

Are these the kinds of moves the Democratic electorate--and beyond--can get behind, to rally together and defeat John McCain come November?

You made much ado in your piece about how the delegate totals from primaries and caucuses do not necessarily reflect the will of rank-and-file Democrats. "Most Democrats have not been heard from at the polls. We have all been impressed by the turnout for this year's primaries -- clearly both candidates have excited and engaged the party's membership -- but, even so, turnout for primaries and caucuses is notoriously low. It would be shocking if 30 percent of registered Democrats have participated. If that is the case, we could end up with a nominee who has been actively supported by, at most 15 percent of registered Democrats. That's hardly a grassroots mandate."

At the Superdelegate Transparency Project (a volunteer-run project with no connection to the Obama campaign), we ran some numbers today. Somewhere north of 19 million people have cast their votes in Democratic primaries and caucuses to date. And yes, while it's true that some independents and Republicans may have voted in a few of those races, it's also true that these people are now likely to vote for a Democrat in November. Isn't that what we're ultimately after?

The results of the popular vote, and the allotted delegates at this point show that more people want Barack Obama to be our nominee. Yet party "leaders" such as yourself are actually advocating that 795 superdelegates (you were off by one, Ms. Ferraro) have the right and obligation to bestow the nomination on Clinton? This would mean you believe that an elite 0.004% of the people (who have currently voted in Democratic primaries and caucuses) should rule over the majority?

That's pretty far afield from a democratic process, wouldn't you say? Let's also remember that the states get to decide how to run their primaries and caucuses--whether they are open to more than just Democrats, or not--and it's not within your rights to pull Democrats-only votes from existing totals. That said, I'd prefer your estimate that perhaps 15% of Democrats (represented by the people's vote) might be electing our next nominee, over accepting the 0.004% "mandate" represented by your favored option of a superdelegate coup.

And one more point, Ms. Ferraro. Clinton supporters are terribly fond of accusing Obama supporters of wanting to change the rules. But, to borrow a phrase from your Clinton friends, that is simply a fairy tale. No one is advocating to change the rules for how superdelegates can vote during this cycle. Certainly, though, you must agree that the public is entitled to make its wishes known about how they expect their party "leaders" to act. So, on the superdelegate question, while some of us may believe that this system is outdated and elitist, we're not advocating that they be done away with right now (that's for next time!). We just know we have a right to introduce some sunlight to your affairs, and to lobby for a more democratic process.

It is Clinton supporters such as yourself who are advocating to change the rules, mid-game, and not just in terms of parsing out Democrats-only votes from primary results, but with regards to Florida and Michigan. For the record now, do you seriously think it's fair to count the existing votes and delegates for these races--particularly in Michigan, when only Hillary Clinton's name was on the ballot, in defiance of the DNC request for all candidates to remove their names? And in Florida, where no one was allowed to campaign? As you well know, the DNC is suggesting now that new caucuses be held in those states, in order to allow those voters to be a part of this very tight nomination process, and to see their delegates seated at the convention in Denver. So far, I've seen no sign that these states will accept.

If Hillary Clinton fails to win by large margins in Ohio and Texas next week, you believe our best option as a party is to see her strong-arming superdelegates and cheating on rules agreed to months ago...um...by party leaders? I doubt unity is what the superdelegate coup will bring to the party. I believe there is a more honorable option.

You wrote that you are a "fairly knowledgeable political cynic." On that, we agree. You've also been focused on the fact that Clinton is "battle-tested" against what the Right has thrown at her in the past, but that is the problem with your generation. You've been one step behind the GOP machine for decades, happy for any tiny, triangulated victory. You are focused on past techniques and tactics, while the electorate--and a growing American majority--has moved on.

We hope you'll understand and join us. If not, we expect you to get out of the way.