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Superdelegates: Stand Tall in Statesmanship!—Richard W. Behan

Retrieve Our Lost Democracy!

Mr. and Ms. Superdelegate, hear us, please: we are no longer citizens in a functioning democracy. We had no voice in creating the public policies degrading and diminishing the lives we lead, nor any means of changing them now. Real political power lies elsewhere, beyond our reach.

You are Superdelegates because of a weird historical misstep, but you have the power to reclaim for the American people the reality of self-determination.

These conditions are prevalent in America today, described by a popular newspaper:

  • 66% of American families say they must choose between paying for food and paying for medical care.
  • 108 million Americans have no dental coverage. 25% of adult citizens have untreated cavities or infections.
  • 59% of our people worry they won't have sufficient retirement funds. 20% of those near retirement age have been unable to save anything.
  • 25% of American families have no emergency savings at all. 50% have some, but not nearly enough.
  • An average family can no longer afford to buy a new car, except in Washington, D.C., the city with the highest per capita income in the nation.
  • Fifty years ago General Motors was the nation's largest employer. Workers earned, in today's inflated dollars, an average of $50 per hour. Working for today's largest employer, WalMart, employees take home $8 per hour.
  • The average American household carries over $15,000 in credit card debt—at double-digit rates of interest—in addition to student loans, mortgages, auto loans, and unpaid medical bills. Since 1980 household debt has increased 70% faster than household income.

This is the plight of the middle class. Others are far worse off: the homeless, the needlessly imprisoned, the jobless, the acutely impoverished, the 14% of American households who, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, are “food insecure.” In the land of plenty 14% of American families don't get enough to eat.

No functioning democracy would enact public policies leading to these conditions, or tolerate them.

Rigorous research supplements the empirical facts. Political scientists Martin Gilens and Benjamin Page studied 1,779 policy issues. They concluded, “....average citizens...have little or no independent influence” in shaping “U.S. government policy.” On the other hand, “...economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent influence.”

Democracy has yielded to oligarchy: rule by the people is now rule by the few--the wealthy and corporate elite.

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Social and economic injustice is not caused by citizens' sloth or profligacy. It results from public policies emplaced over the past half century, by both Republican and Democratic administrations.

The difficulties began in 1971. The Federal Election Campaign Act repealed a long-standing law prohibiting corporations from making political contributions. It legalized corporate political action committees, and a trickle of corporate money began to flow into the political system. It grew to a torrent with two Supreme Court decisions, Buckley v. Valeo in 1976 and Citizens United v. FEC in 2010: because corporations were persons with Constitutional rights, spending money on political campaigns was a form of free speech.

The Reagan years transformed public policy with the crackpot ideology of neoliberalism: cut taxes for the rich, slash social programs, bloat the military, deregulate corporate enterprise, privatize public services and public assets. Reagan's Republican successor unleashed America's military power to assure continued access, for U.S. energy corporations, to Persian Gulf oil.

The Superdelegates were meant to judge and identify the most electable of the various candidates, and to counteract the pledged delegates—well-meaning amateurs—should that become necessary.

We expect Republicans to serve corporate interests: it's in their DNA. But oligarchy had yet to triumph. The Democratic Party stood in the way, the champion of working families and a bastion of defense for democracy. But Jimmy Carter's reelection bid had been a crushing defeat, leading to 12 years of Republican dominance. As the 1992 presidential contest approached, the Democrats inspected their own traditions and heritage, and took action on two fronts—one procedural, the other strategic.

Procedure. The Democrats created the class of Superdelegates to preclude, if possible, another Carter fiasco. These statesmen and stateswomen, respected and experienced public servants and political professionals, were put in place as wild cards, so to speak: they could vote for any candidate, totally free of prior commitments. The Superdelegates were meant to judge and identify the most electable of the various candidates, and to counteract the pledged delegates—well-meaning amateurs—should that become necessary. If the convention seemed to be swinging toward candidate X, and the Superdelegates thought candidate Y was more electable, they were empowered to put their thumbs on the scale for their favorite. The scheme was undemocratic and is controversial still; legitimate calls to scrap it are frequently heard.

Strategy. If neoliberalism is working so well for the Republicans, the Democrats mused, let's give it a try. The Democratic Leadership Council—Bill Clinton became its president—tilted the party sharply to the right, courting and accepting corporate money in the process. Democracy's line of defense gave way.

The new strategy worked. With $11.17 million from Wall Street banks in his campaign warchest, Bill Clinton sailed into the White house. Hillary Clinton, his minister-without-portfolio, stood at his side while the working families of America were abandoned and the corporate benefactors were handsomely rewarded. The manufacturing industries were blessed with the North American Free Trade Agreement, encouraging them to export 30 million high-paying American jobs. This is the root cause of the declining incomes of American families today. The Wall Street banks were blessed with deregulation, encouraging them to undertake a 10-year orgy of financial high-rolling—ending with the crash of 2008. It decimated the family wealth of many American families.

Then eight more years of another Republican, George W. Bush. He took to a new level the use of American military force for corporate benefit, in both Afghanistan and Iraq. He bailed out the Wall Street banks with taxpayers' money. Oligarchy was in full swing.

Barack Obama followed as a Democrat in Bill Clinton's mold. He saw to it no Wall Street executive spent a minute in jail or paid a nickel in fines. He passed the Affordable Care Act, giving the health insurance industry a huge new market, compelled by law to buy its products. With no constraint on prices, the hospital and pharmaceutical industries flourished. He pushed hard for new trade agreements. Except occasionally in sympathetic rhetoric, he did nothing to address the disaster of declining economic security in the country. Oligarchy swings no less today.

Honored and accomplished Superdelegates, this is true: in this cycle of presidential primaries Democratic National Committee chair Wasserman-Schultz ignored the party's required and expected neutrality. She and Hillary Clinton gamed the system so brazenly the count of pledged delegates is suspect. And the record shows Hillary is an indisputable agent of oligarchy, disapproved and distrusted by a majority of the American people.

The record also shows Bernie Sanders is none of these things: not a penny of corporate money in his campaign, open defiance of corporate hegemony, a ringing cry for government to serve all the people, not just the one percent and the giant corporations—a textbook definition of democracy. He has a detailed agenda of policy proposals to achieve this, and he is trusted by the American people.

Yes, the creation of the Superdelegate system was an immense misstep. It is clearly undemocratic, needing to be scrapped. But not now. We need to rely on epic irony, pressing into service an undemocratic institution to retrieve our lost democracy.

Superdelegates, you were created to serve up the most electable candidate. Abiding only this single criterion your course of action is inescapable. The polls show without exception Bernie Sanders besting Donald Trump by wider margins than Hillary Clinton. He is the most electable candidate.

But statesmanship transcends politics, and there is much more at stake this time: the nature of our governance.

Superdelegates, show us you are not bought-off corporate shills in a corrupted Democratic Party. Show us statesmanship in its highest form: put foremost the welfare of the nation.

American Plutocracy

Put your thumbs on the scale for Bernie.

Richard W. Behan