It’s a Democ­racy Derby!

The Economic Times - - The Edit Page - Seema Sirohi

It’s once again time to take the tem­per­a­ture of the tem­pest, mea­sure of the mess, weight of the winds in this chart­buster of a show called the Amer­i­can pres­i­den­tial elec­tion.

Much has hap­pened since we last talked: Don­ald Trump con­fused 9/11 for 7/11, had mul­ti­ple meltdowns about the process be­ing “rigged”, the Repub­li­can Party god­fa­thers have plot­ted his elim­i­na­tion, ed­i­to­ri­als have ques­tioned the fate of the country (and the world) un­der a pos­si­ble Trump pres­i­dency, while the can­di­date has openly of­fered to bribe del­e­gates with “toys” and “trips” to the world’s best re­sorts.

You might le­git­i­mately ask why should UP get a bad name when the most ad­vanced democ­racy has del­e­gates for sale and some­times tosses a coin to fig­ure out who won a state pri­mary?

But more fun and games are in store, es­pe­cially if Trump fal­ters and his chief ri­val Ted Cruz surges be­tween now and the party con­ven­tion in July. There could be floor fights, des­per­ate bar­gains, and every­thing else that money can buy. Trump has al­ready warned darkly about “ri­ots” if he is de­nied the nom­i­na­tion. Much to the dis­gust of party elite, Trump swept New York where he is bet­ter known than ap­ple pie. He is also ex­pected to sweep Tues­day’s five states, adding to his 845 del­e­gates to Cruz’s 559 in the race to win 1,237 del­e­gates and the nom­i­na­tion.

On the other side of the arena, Hil­lary Clin­ton has marched ahead glad­i­a­tor-style, crush­ing Bernie San­ders and col­lect­ing del­e­gates even while los­ing some state pri­maries un­der the weird rules of the game. Un­cle San­ders has also cried foul about the process. The New York wing of the Demo­cratic Par- ty, for ex­am­ple, de­manded that “in­de­pen­dent” vot­ers reg­is­ter six months be­fore if they wanted to vote as Democrats in the pri­mary. Who the Man­hat­tan had the time?

San­ders didn’t get a big bite of the Big Ap­ple since 40% of his sup­port comes from “in­de­pen­dents”. Un­aware of the early dead­line, his young bri­gades failed to get them­selves on the rolls last Oc­to­ber. The trendy hip­ster vote was thus lost in baby boomer rules.

To add to the pain, around 120,000 peo­ple were found ‘purged’ from voter lists in Brook­lyn alone. Na­tional Pub­lic Ra­dio used the term “wide­spread ir­reg­u­lar­i­ties” to de­scribe the shenani­gans. Dare one sug­gest in­ter­na­tional elec­tion mon­i­tors? By now you know the Demo­cratic Party wants Clin­ton just as much as the Repub­lic Party doesn’t want Trump. So what’s go­ing on in this pur­suit of hap­pi­ness? Sim­ply put, the av­er­age Joe or Jane re­ally don’t mat­ter in the end but party work­ers, ap­pa­ratchiks, elected of­fi­cials who are called ‘su­per del­e­gates’, and sundry power bro­kers do. They make the rules to en­sure the es­tab­lish­ment al­ways rules.

The two par­ties have de­vised a thou­sand lit­tle ways to main­tain the sta­tus quo and pre­vent sub­ver­sion. Keep­ing out­siders out is im­por­tant. Thus, the frus­tra­tion of Trump and San­ders — they are both out­siders and pop­u­lar among ‘the peo­ple’, yet fail­ing in the game of Elec­tion Mo­nop­oly.

Clin­ton and hus­band Bill are the ul­ti­mate in­sid­ers. They have spent a life­time work­ing the party ma­chine, cul­ti­vat­ing the right peo­ple (in­clud­ing Wall Street), help­ing elect Democrats in key states and putting a net­work in place. Hil­lary is reap­ing the ben­e­fits.

The Clin­ton vs San­ders con­test is more or less set­tled in her favour. The Demo­cratic So­cial­ist Repub­lic of Bernie San­ders, although filled with thou­sands of ide­al­is­tic young Amer­i­cans, fal­tered against Clin­ton’s United States of Wall Street and Hol­ly­wood.

It must be said the US pres­i­den­tial elec­tion process is mad­den­ingly com­plex. It re­quires can­di­dates to put in place a vir­tual cor­po­ra­tion and col­lect — to quote Ge­orge Clooney — “ob­scene” amounts of money to stay in the game.

Each of the 50 states has its own twist on how to hold a pri­mary or cau­cus, whether it would be closed or open, who can vote, when vot­ers must reg­is­ter, and whether del­e­gates are free agents or ‘pledged’ to a can­di­date. Repub­li­cans in Colorado can ap­por­tion del­e­gates as they deem fit no mat­ter how the ‘peo­ple’ vote.

The jus­ti­fi­ca­tion for the mind-numb­ing rules is the great fear Amer­ica’s found­ing fathers had of mob rule. They put in checks and bal­ances, which meant a few white men de­cid­ing in back rooms who should be the nom­i­nee. Things be­gan to change in the 1970s when states be­gan to hold pri­maries giv­ing the peo­ple some voice.

But that voice got fainter with elected party of­fi­cials and en­trenched lead­ers grad­u­ally gain­ing more say in the process. They de­ter­mine ‘suit­abil­ity’ and ‘electabil­ity’ of a can­di­date be­fore pledg­ing sup­port as ‘su­per del­e­gates’. And, sorry, Bernie, they don’t feel the Bern nor hear the Trump-et.

Low­est com­mon nom­i­na­tor

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