Sen. Barack Obama's campaign has been particularly vociferous in claiming that its candidate stands for a transformative, participatory new politics. It has vaunted Obama's narrow lead in the overall popular vote in the primaries to date, as well as in the count of elected delegates, as the definitive will of the party's rank and file. If, while heeding the party's rules, the Democratic superdelegates overturn those majorities, Obama's supporters claim, they will have displayed a cynical contempt for democracy that would tear the party apart.
These arguments might be compelling if Obama's leads were not so reliant on certain eccentricities in the current Democratic nominating process, as well as on some blatantly anti-democratic maneuvers by the Obama campaign. Obama's advantage hinges on a system that, whatever the actual intentions behind it, seems custom-made to hobble Democratic chances in the fall. It depends on ignoring one of the central principles of American electoral politics, one that will be operative on a state-by-state basis this November, which is that the winner takes all. If the Democrats ran their nominating process the way we run our general elections, Sen. Hillary Clinton would have a commanding lead in the delegate count, one that will only grow more commanding after the next round of primaries, and all questions about which of the two Democratic contenders is more electable would be moot.
Yes, just the other day I was thinking "You know, the Democratic Primary really has far too much democracy in it. What we should do is allocate the spoils for a 50.1 to 49.9 victory exactly as if it was a 100 to 0 win." I mean, who really wants their vote to count for something?
Honestly, Sean Wilentz is a respected historian, but I found that column to be a startlingly embarrassing... hopefully when this primary is over the insanity will stop. Is there a person on earth who isn't a die-hard HRC supporter who is swayed by the "if the rules were completely different then..." argument?
UPDATE: Johnathan Chait has a good, though less sarcastic, point...
So Wilentz is arguing that if the Democrats used a different, less democratic process, Clinton would be winning despite Obama's greater appeal to the electorate. But even that claim is shaky. It's not just an accident that Obama won a lot of delegates from blowout wins in small states. It's a deliberate strategy. In the days leading up to Super Tuesday, he abandoned big states like California to hold rallies in places like Boise, Idaho and Wilmington, Delaware. Obama did this because there were lots of delegates to be gained by increasing his margin in small states. If the rules were different, he would have deployed his resources differently