Thursday, March 6, 2008

Let history be our teacher

Last post about national politics for awhile, I promise.

All this talk of superdelegates and the ever-increasing likelihood that neither Democratic candidate will win enough delegates to secure the nomination has got me to thinking about the past. More specifically, it's got me to thinking about what happens when a close contest is decided not by the will of the people, but by a select few.

I can think of two prominent examples of this. One of them happened in our lifetime, back in the mist-shrouded past of 2000 C.E., when Al Gore won the popular vote but George W. Bush was given the office by decree of the Supreme Court. The past eight years have been us (and the world) paying for that choice, dearly. I'm not saying Al Gore would have been a perfect and magnificent president, but there's no way a Gore administration could have been as bad as the Bush II administration has been. At very least, it's extremely likely there would have been no Second Iraq War.

The other example happened well before any of us were alive. Back in 1877, the final presidential contest was between Republican Rutherford B. Hayes and Democrat Samuel Tilden. It's still referred to as one of the most bitterly contested elections in the history of the United States, mostly due to lingering animosity between the recently defeated southern states and the north. I'll let Wikipedia break it down for you:

The United States presidential election of 1876 was one of the most disputed and intense presidential elections in American history. Samuel J. Tilden of New York defeated Ohio's Rutherford Hayes in the popular vote, and had 184 electoral votes to Hayes' 165, with 20 votes yet uncounted. These 20 electoral votes were in dispute: in three states (Florida, Louisiana, and South Carolina) each party reported its candidate had won the state, while in Oregon one elector was declared illegal (on account of being an "elected or appointed official") and replaced. The votes were ultimately awarded to Hayes after a bitter electoral dispute.

Many historians believe that an informal deal was struck to resolve the dispute. In return for Southern acquiescence in Hayes' election, the Republicans agreed to withdraw federal troops from the South, effectively ending Reconstruction. This deal became known as the Compromise of 1877. The Compromise effectively pushed African-Americans out of power in the government; soon after the compromise, African-Americans were barred from voting by poll taxes and grandfather clauses.

The lesson I take from all of this? Bad things come when elections are rigged.

I'm not trying to say that the level of bad that happened with the premature end of Reconstruction will be what befalls us if a few superdelegates or back room dealings end up deciding the Democratic nominee. What I am trying to point out is that, historically, things don't go so well when the will of the people is subverted like that.

Is the majority always right? Certainly not, and that's why we have (or should have) protections in place to ensure the safety and liberty of the minority. When it comes to voting, though, the basic rule is to let citizens have their say through a vote. Anyone who works to disenfranchise, mis-lead or intimidate said voters; anyone who would secretly maneuver and offer deals to see their preferred candidate win; anyone who would do anything to alter the natural course of an election is, in my opinion, nothing better than a traitor to the ideals on which our country was founded.

So offer Michigan and Florida a chance to properly re-do their primaries, and ignore what the pundits are telling us to do and think, but if there are any back room deals made to see one candidate or another take the nomination despite what the majority of voters end up saying, there should be no tolerance for it. We ignore history at our own risk.


John A said...

As a slight aside, the 1960 election was almost a contested one. There's reasonable, though not conclusive, evidence that Kennedy won fraudulently. It certainly wasn't the big deal that 2000 or 1876 were, but it's an interesting footnote.

I'm mixed on whether to include Florida & Michigan in the delegate count. They broke the rules and were punished for it... this could be my parenting experience popping in, but a mulligan seems out of order. Maybe part of me doesn't want to give Florida another chance to unduly influence an election. :)

In the end, I'll be voting for whichever Democratic candidate wins, and at this point have little preference as to which one it is. The Democratic Party set up the super-delegate structure for a reason. If Clinton wins the nomination thanks to them, she's played within the rules. For better or worse, we live in a representative democracy. The popular vote is all but meaningless, which is the way our election system was framed.

I'm all for repealing that system, but in the meantime, I don't have any problem with the candidates playing the hands they've been dealt.

Shane Wealti said...

I'm not sure if the Democrats should keep the superdelegate system as it is, reduce it's influence, or abolish it but they made the rules for a reason and they are fairly clear and straightforward. My main problem with it is the lack of transparency. Hopefully it doesn't come down to the back room dealing and so on but if it does that may spur the Democratic party to make some changes and fix the system.

The Lost Albatross