Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Jon Alter Continues to Support Gaming the Not Gaming the System

by Ken Houghton

[Dissenting opinion below -- Ed.]

Via Brad De Long (but somehow now missing from his main page), Jon Alter continues his absurdist claim* with a roundelay of anti-democratic screed in support of his previous anti-democratic screed.

Meanwhile, Scott Lemieux beats his chest, rents his clothing and generally wails, while DeLong himself agrees with Alter, but at least does so with some style. So let's look at Scott's declaration:
So this thing will go on for another month, and the chances of a debilitating convention fight...that could seriously compromise the Democratic nominee in the general have increased.

Damn. "Debilitating" "Could seriously Compromise." Never have the glories of Gaming the System been stated so clearly as an asset.

Don't get me wrong. I have sung the praises of Rory Harper before, even after he posted That Unmentionable Video (first link above). But any pretense that Rory's vote being worth somewhere between slightly over 9% of a delegate and a whole delegate has anything to do with "the will of the people voting in the Democratic Primaries" is self-delusional. [The delegate in question is to the Texas state convention -- Ed.]

You may argue—I suspect Scott or Hilzoy, to name two, would—that Gaming the System for Delegates is The Idea.** If you want to do so, of course, and claim to argue consistently, you can't also declare that Bush v. Gore "should not be taken as articulating a legal principle at all."

Or, you can argue that, since the system is set up so that a majority of the voter-selected delegates does not guarantee one the nomination, that it is a perfectly reasonable strategy to campaign for broad-based voter support (which may well cost you some delegates, since votes and delegates are not apportioned proportionately; see Rory above) and to use that to convince the Superdelegates that they should support you.

But that, in the Alter/Scott world, is Evil.*** (Stephen Schlesinger appears to know better.)

Apparently, even though more delegates does not mean more voters (i.e., the delegate selection process is often anti-democratic), it would be anti-democratic for superdelegates to consider the actual will of the voters.

So let's rehash the guiding principles:
  1. Disproportionate allocation of delegates is perfectly fine, even when it means that the loser of the popular vote ends up "winning." [WTF? --Ed.] [Example: Nevada's delegate split, or TX's - kh]
  2. Superdelegates choosing to vote for the good of the party—especially in a case where the presumptive nominee has less general support but a plurality of the delegates due to Gaming the System—is mean, evil, and anti-democratic.
  3. As previously discussed, voters who choose to vote when their primary was scheduled are not important, because they should have known there would be a demand for a "do over."
  4. Brad De Long's disparagements of HRC (when, it now appears, that the dispute was at least in part over whether NAFTA or Health Care should be the Administration's First Priority) are definitive, while Todd Spivak's interactions with Obama (including details that suggest that his Legendary Effectiveness in passing the videotape-interrogations law is exaggerated) or Joe Wilson's noting that Obama's own words belie his "I always opposed the Second Iraq War" position are "hit jobs." [Update: h/t to The Smartest Woman I Know for the Spivak and dKos links]

Glad we got that straight. Later, Scott will explain (at LG&M) why spending the next four months having McCain and Ari Fleischer concentrating their attacks solely on Obama is preferable to a continued narrative that focuses on Democratic issues and Democratic candidates, and keeps people interested in the Democratic Convention as possibly more than just a coronation.****

Tom Begs to Differ:

1. Jonathan Alter's "Hillary's Math Problem" simply points out that, by virtue of having failed to land a knockout blow on Super Tuesday and subsequently losing a mess of primaries and caucuses, Hillary Clinton cannot win the remaining states by large enough margins to undig her hole with respect to the more-or-less democratically-selected delegates. If that's an "anti-democratic screed," then I don't know what is.

2. Insofar as Clinton's late break was, in part, the result of some negative campaigning, I'm with Scott Lemieux in not looking forward to what will emanate from Mark Penn's bottom in the next six weeks. I'd almost be willing to throw my support to Clinton if she'd only shitcan the lot of her incompetent campaign advisers.

3. A byproduct of point #1 is that, barring a spectacular and improbable Obama implosion, Clinton can win the nomination only by deploying the superdelegates (i.e., the least democratic element in the selection process) against the pledged delegates (the more democratic element).

4. The anomaly that the system can produce a nominee who won fewer aggregate votes but won more states at least mirrors an anomaly in the national election system; for the standpoint of November, winning big versus winning really big in New York and California is a less valuable skill than being a strong candidate in swing states. Clinton's Ohio performance is, really, the first sign that she has strength in the latter area.

5. Sure, some of the rules are stupid (see: DNC treatment of FL and MI), but they were preannounced. Not contesting a state under those circumstances is quite unlike the HRC campaign's failure to set up a geographically broader campaign in contestable states and therefore getting blown out. It goes without saying that certain Clinton campaign strategists have some words regarding open primaries in redish-to-red states now that two of them have saved their asses.

*He's not alone in this, of course, he's just "prominent" and "liberal."

**Or, alternately, that Mark Penn should have thought to do it.

***It appears to be so in Hilzoy-world as well, which is why I recently called her a member of the ABC camp. She claims otherwise, so I'm hoping someone will cite a post of hers that acknowledges that Superdelegates can and should make up their own minds.

****I'm assuming neither candidate is going to give his or her acceptance speech at 3:00 a.m., or fail to vet their VP selection. And that neither is going to enter a tank without appropriately-sized head gear being procured first.

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Hey, Tom! I deeply appreciate the links. Just in case I wasn't clear in my EOB post, I'm not interested in the will of the people here.

I am interested in the will of Rory. It was all about me! Me, me, me!

Rory: I do hope you enjoy your power-drunkenness ;). I expect that if your vote does prove decisive, you might have a bit less buyer's remorse than the median Floridian Nader voter in 2000.

FYI, the main post was by Ken -- I just had to step in and smack him down a bit.
Oops, sorry, Tom. And back atcha, Ken.

No buyer's remorse for me. As I've noted at EOB, Obama is a charismatic unknown. I'm rolling the dice, hoping for a better top end with him than I'll get with HRC.

The weird thing for me last night was that I didn't have any problem at all with people being HRC supporters. She won't be a bad prez, I think. And I'll definitely vote for her in the general election if she's the nominee, without any regrets.

The weirdness came in, in that I've gotten so used to losing, and having the losses have REALLY disastrous consequences, for so long, that winning, and having been okay about possibly losing, was a new sensation.

I'm really not enjoying the harshness that's coming in from both sides. I'd hate for the Dems to fall back into their usual habit of shooting themselves in the head right before achieving victory.
Tom - You're arguing Marginal Democracy, when the original rules weren't set up to reflect a Democratic Republic. (If you really want to reflect the national rules, you go by the Republican standard of Winner-Take-All and Jon Alter would be whining because Obama lost all the Big States.)

The argument "you can use your bishop because I understand what a bishop does, but not your knight because that's harder to understand" doesn't win too many strategic encounters, at least among adults.

To accept the Alter/Lemieux argument, you have to accept two premises: (1) that it's fair to court delegates but not superdelegates and (2) that Obama would be less "damaged" by (a) having n/o/t/h/i/n/g/ less to keep the press interested in his campaign, not to mention the convention itself and (b) having to deal with the full force of the McCain/Fleisher/Republican attacks instead of those from the HRC campaign for the remainder of the two-person race.

As mochi-tsuki said: "Call him on this shit now. Because if he can't answer it now, he shouldn't be in a position to be answering it in the general."
Ken, I don't agree that the candiates "court" pledged delegates like they might the superdelegates. The former are, one way or another, elected (and even if they're not formally bound, it would be highly unusual for them to switch or be switched); the latter have a free choice of whom to support.

Courting the superdelegates is indeed within the rules, but a victory engineered by attracting superdelegate support to overcome a deficit in pledged delegates is not a victory for democracy.

All that said, I'm not arguing that Hillary should drop out. I even agree with your implication that a vigorous positive campaign would be good for the eventual nominee. Sadly, remembering who HRC's chief strategist is, I don't think that's what we'll get from her. Also, I don't think Obama will just play a 'prevent defense' (and wouldn't recommend it; nor do I think that was what any of the commentators you reference suggest, either) -- I expect he'll campaign vigorously in the remaining states.
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