Unexpectedly, Obama won the Maine caucuses on February 10th by a decisive margin. With the delegate count nearly tied, the power of the superdelegates to tip the balance has come to the forefront.
In 2004, Howard Dean told Democrats to “take back the country”. He was a little ahead of his time. First, we have to take back our party.
There's a saying we used to have in the Air Force: 10% never get the word. I was in the 10% when I walked down to the community center Sunday to join my town caucus and found a sign directing me to the high school. I had no idea why they moved it at the last minute until I walked into the high school gymnasium. There were over 500 people there. I know because I sat in the bleachers and counted them during the more boring speeches. There was plenty of time. We're Democrats.
The intrepid Richard Rhames, a legend in Biddeford politics, was at the front doing his always capable job at handling the restless, impatient delegates. I said hello to Paul who was handling the D-F line and a nice teacher running the A-C line who gave me my paperwork.
I went to the caucus ready to vote for Obama, but if a push had been needed to help me decide, it would have been that Obama did not call me three times that weekend to leave a prerecorded message which did not mention the single most important issue of the election because she would rather not talk about THAT.
One thing I have noticed over my years of Democratic Party activity is that local members have ranted and raved about the shortcomings of the Democratic leadership, but have generally displayed helplessness to do anything about it. In the past, the party machine has managed the party membership by playing one group against another and by appealing to the special interests of powerful constituencies. At the highest levels in Washington, the party elite have played focus group games, thrived on union and corporate money, mindlessly followed opinion polls and paid consultants for strategies that have lost the last two presidential elections.
Even with control of Congress, they have ignored in the desires of the Democratic Party and confirmed conservative judges, facilitated conservative military adventures and cowered any time Republicans have threatened to call them names like “traitor” or “liberal”.
That may be changing. The age of the Internet may finally be the time we assert local control over the party. Communication has never been easier and, when the rabble gets organized, the elite better watch out.
Asserting control will be a long journey, but, at this moment, there are two challenges to meet. First, we must influence the superdelegates as best we can. Most of the superdelegates who are elected officials in Maine have not committed. Those who have committed, can change their minds. Party members need to be loud and clear about their desires. Superdelegates can vote for whomever they want, but a superdelegate who thwarts the desire of the party membership must understand that the percentage of followers is way down. Second, local Democratic committees need to advance the proposal to the state convention and thence to the national one to eliminate the superdelegate process. It was only invented 28 years ago, and it can be changed by August.
Much has been written about the youth appeal of Obama. That appeal will not be a deciding factor in this election or any other election. I was at the Biddeford caucus and it was not any “younger” than usual. I know I wasn't.
The importance of the young voter is not that they are millions of magic bullets that will miraculously win the election. Republicans have made such an awful mess, even Clinton could win it. Their importance is that they are interested in this party and is willing to give it a chance. If the superdelegates override their wishes and their hard-won support to place yet another member of the party machine in nomination, we will lose their interest in this election and many to come.
There are none more fervent and committed than the young, but there are none as cynical and unforgiving when thwarted by hypocrisy. They can be great allies and they are vital to any long term resurgence of the Democratic party.
They are not to be betrayed.