Saturday, August 2, 2008

Knowledge is power: some sources explaining the evolution of the current Democratic Party rules

In recent weeks I have been asked by people ranging from skilled journalists to sophisticated attorneys to successful businesspeople to some folks at my local post office the same sort of questions, which boil down to this: "Ok, now that I think I have some understanding of superdelegates, pledged delegates, caucuses, primaries, candidates being in nomination versus symbolic balloting, what I want know is, how did the Democratic Party end up with the current system?"

People have written entire dissertations devoted to explaining the recent history of the Democratic Party and its rules. Thankfully there are briefer sources that provide good information. A list of some of the most accessible. Read any one and you'll be reasonably well equipped to answer anybody who asks you the sort of question above.

A Harvard University piece giving a short, readable history of superdelegates in the Democratic Party
A 1996 CNN timeline of rules modifications from 1978 to 1992, highlighting rule changes meant to "democratize" the Democratic Party, that is, make it hard for candidates to be chosen top-down without regard to the participation or preferences of rank and file voters.
A blurb from The Political Graveyard with some useful information about the 1984 Democratic Convention, especially the number of candidates in contention for the nomination - the one that went ultimately to Walter Mondale.
A superb, concise post from the University of Washington covering the past 40 years of internal Democratic party politics and the consequent changes in the rules.

If you are a delegate to this year's convention, you can use this email address,, to make contact with other delegates trying to cope with the current system. (Note: I do not maintain this address, but have been given permission to supply it by the people who do.)

For some earlier posts on this blog regarding the rules governing this year's convention, go here and here.


Anonymous kavala007 said...

Heidi, your scholarship is truly amazing. This, like all that you write, will take serious reading. I feel that I am taking Civic Responsibility 101. Thank you.

August 2, 2008 at 9:57 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes Heidi, thank you ..for 101

It was great to see you at Camille. Please take care of yourself.

August 3, 2008 at 12:35 AM  
Blogger Valhalla said...

From the Harvard piece -- how utterly ironic that feminists were protesting because the decisionmaking would end up in the hands of predominatly older, white men. Like Kennedy who was the source of the problem they were trying to address in the first place. Or Kerry, or Dean. Ugh.

Also how nauseating that the solution to a specific problem of Ted Kennedy's ego and pride was -- rules empowering the biggest egos and most arrogant to make the ultimates decisions, only this time without any democratic constraint (you know, the 'voters') at all.

Hard cases make bad law. Seems to me that the 1980 problem was not a failure so much of procedural rules as the human part of the process. Those problems can't be solved by monkeying around with procedure. Thus we are where we are today.

August 3, 2008 at 11:06 AM  

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