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March 18, 2008

Summary of My Discontent: The superdelegate: democracy’s Simon Cowell

It must be pretty sweet to be a Democratic superdelegate. Not only do you get to wear a cape and take phone calls from Bill Clinton, but you’ll be able to tell your grandchildren you participated in one of the greatest non-chad-related disasters in U.S. electoral history. Because Americans love them both so much, neither Barack Obama nor Hillary Clinton will emerge from the grueling primary season with enough delegates to win the nomination for president. In such an instance, the party turns to “superdelegates” to decide the race. In a 1982 party ruling known to political scientists as “not democracy,” Democrats granted superdelegates broad powers to choose whichever candidate they want, no matter how the voters in their states vote. In other words, the Dems have generously bestowed a Simon, Paula and Randy escape clause upon the irresolute American voter. There are 796 superdelegates, and they control an impressive 40 percent of the vote, which means that technically they could band together, split the electorate and nominate Flavor Flav if they wanted to. Of course, because they are Democrats, they are nowhere near that organized. Although choosing the non-whiteman candidate who’ll defeat John McCain in an historic landslide victory might seem like an awesome responsibility, there are downsides to being a superdelegate. For instance, it’s almost impossible nowadays to find a decent phone booth in which to change clothes. Also, your friends might flame you on Facebook if you chose a shitty president. Many superdelegates are elected officials, including senators, representatives and state governors. Because Kentucky is almost as Republican as Hell itself, the commonwealth has only three elected officials who qualify: Reps. Ben Chandler and John Yarmuth, and Gov. Steve Beshear, whom many party officials consider to be a Democrat. The remaining superdelegates are what politicos refer to as “party insiders” or “toolwads.”State Party chair Jennifer Moore and vice chair Nathan Smith are superdelegates, as are Democratic National Committee members Terry McBrayer, Moretta Bosley and JoEtta Wickliffe. (By law, all states must pick at least two superdelegates whose first names rhyme.) Kentucky Democrats will appoint one additional lucky superdelegate at the state convention in June, a prize that comes with a toaster and an all-expenses-paid trip to Waddy and/or Peytona. So far, Yarmuth has pledged for Obama, and McBrayer, Bosley and Wickliffe have pledged for Clinton. However, the party’s little known “Spitzer/Patton-amendment” decrees that superdelegates aren’t obligated to stick to their promises. Accordingly, all superdelegates face a tremendous decision: Whether to risk grilling Paula Deen’s “beer-in-the-rear” chicken recipe for dinner or to order delivery from China Number One. Oh, no, wait. That’s the decision I face. The superdelegates have to decide between Clinton and Obama. Of course, the Clinton and Obama camps are pursuing superdelegates like a tough-on-crime governor goes after a luxury-priced hooker. And this is America, where nothing happens without a deal. So most crafty superdelegates are probably trying to extract some sweet bargains from the candidates in exchange for their votes. Because there are 796 superdelegates from all states and persuasions, any individual superdelegate can’t ask for the moon. For instance, pledging to vote for the candidate who promises to try George W. Bush and Dick Cheney as war criminals and give them wedgies during the Super Bowl halftime show is probably overreaching, as would be, say, a demand for a solid gold bridge over the Ohio River with “Suck It, Hoosiers” spelled out in diamond filigree. No, in times of political turmoil, it’s important to be reasonable. With the country divided, the economy in shambles, the polar ice caps melting and the water we need to make beer laced with Viagra and Prozac, we’re not going to solve our problems overnight. In order to undo the havoc eight Bush years have wrought on Kentucky, we’re going to have to take baby steps. Still, it seems reasonable to try to extract something for the hometown in exchange for a superdelegate pledge. And it might be relatively easy for a candidate to deliver something we can’t seem to be able to do for ourselves. My suggestion: recruit us some guards who can shoot the three. Contact the writer at jimwelp@gmail.com