Why Superdelegates Won't Feel the Bern

President Barack Obama and his family and Vice President Joe Biden and his family celebrate their nominations as the confetti
President Barack Obama and his family and Vice President Joe Biden and his family celebrate their nominations as the confetti falls at the conclusion of the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C., on Thursday, Sept. 6, 2012. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

Bernie's the guy who hates fraternities on his college campus, speaks out every chance he gets about how elitist they are, how evil they are, how much money they have, and then wants to be elected to lead one of them. Bernie is not running for president as an Independent, which is what he really should have done in the first place. No, he's running to be the nominee of a political party whose grass roots ordinary members he has never met, never courted, never helped. But his campaign will complain bitterly when he loses the battle for superdelegates to the Democratic National Convention, and perhaps lose the nomination itself because of them.

When Hillary got a boost from superdelegates in Iowa, a hue and cry went up from the bowels of Bernie-dom, mostly from his young supporters, that this was the Democratic Party thwarting the Will of The People. However, when Obama pursued a vigorous superdelegate strategy in 2008, there was no hue and cry from the under 30 crowd. Like most political issues, it's a scandal if it doesn't go your way, and just the way things work if it's helping your candidate. But the superdelegate bashing is likely to commence again after Nevada, a caucus state where even if Bernie wins the caucus, there are still superdelegates who, in a close race, might make the difference for Hillary in the all important delegate count. For make no mistake about it, this is a fight for a political party nomination, and the Democratic Party has made the rules thus and so for a reason.

Superdelegates are folks who automatically go to the Democratic Party nominating convention as a reward for service to the Democratic Party. They are largely Democrats serving in elected office in their states, and elected Party officials. These people are not the enemy of progressive causes. These people are the backbone of the Democratic Party, and without them, the party would wither away. And none of them owes a thing to Bernie Sanders; Bernie Sanders has never done a thing to earn their votes. In fact, just the opposite. Bernie's entire career has been a poke in the eye to the Democratic Party. So do not be surprised if he does not walk away with the vote of a single superdelegate. It won't be because of any conspiracy. It will be because Bernie Sanders has not only never been a Democrat, he's shown open contempt for Democrats for a long time.

Let's stop a minute and remember what makes a political party work. It's not a Facebook page or a website. It's human beings who give up their precious free time on nights and weekends to do the grunt work of local democracy. They are the precinct captains who go door-to-door for politicians further down on the political food chain. They organize fundraisers for candidates from State Rep to County Commissioner to School Board. When the party needs somebody to run against a strong Republican incumbent in a Republican district, they are the people who recruit candidates for these political suicide missions, and they are often the people who end up running, trying to get the message out with no money, while they have to keep their day jobs as teachers or farmers or day care providers.

I met these unsung heroes first in 1984, when my state Democratic Party Chair asked me to run for Congress in what is often called a "sacrificial lamb" race. This was in Nebraska's First Congressional District, gerrymandered to make the Democratic vote too weak to ever elect a Democrat. The Party Chair asked me to run because if I didn't, one of the crazy perennial candidates would be the Democratic Nominee, and get press in small town papers with wacky ideas that made the Democrats look like nutcases. One of these candidates would talk for hours about how he had solved Einstein's unified field theory problem in his spare time after coming home from his job at Taco Bell, and the other ranted against Ronald Reagan not for his bellicose foreign policy, but for his addiction to jelly beans. I am not making this stuff up. You can't make this stuff up. This is what real democracy looks like on the local level. After my predictable loss for the U.S. House of Reps in 1984, I went on to graduate school and became a political science professor. But I still found time to serve as a foot soldier in the Party, as vice-chair of a Democratic Town Committee in Massachusetts, and a precinct worker in Denver. I kept doing this work because of the people I met in 1984.

There were 27 counties in the First District back then, which meant I would meet 27 County Party Chairs and countless Precinct Captains from those cities in the District large enough to have Precinct Captains. I found these women and men to be open-hearted, generous, and dedicated. Often they were also union organizers, foot soldiers in the pro-choice movement, or were officials in local groups fighting racism or sexism. They fed me at their tables and let me sleep on the good bed while they slept on the couch. They drove me to meetings, introduced me to labor union leaders, walked with me on picket lines, handed out my literature at parades. All of this happened before the dawn of the internet, but there are still picket lines and parades and door to door organizing to be done. The Democratic Party counts on these folks to work for no money and not much recognition. Once every four years, a bunch of them get to go to the national convention and cast a ballot for their party's nomination.

And I would argue they ought to get an automatic vote. They've earned it through years of service, first in the party itself, and then, if they are lucky enough to get elected, as the Democrats who make a difference in the State Legislature or the County Treasurer's Office. And I will be surprised if one of them votes for Bernie.

Here's the thing: Bernie Sanders is not a Democrat. He has never put in the kind of grass roots work that active Democrats do to help other Democrats. He doesn't care about building the party up, only about changing it. And he spits on every Democrat who has to take PAC money to get elected, which is most Democrats who don't come from personal wealth. For, unlike candidates in Vermont, which has some of the cheapest media markets in the country for advertising, candidates in most states have to spend an enormous amount of money to get elected. The average Congressional candidate has to spend at least 3 or 4 million dollars to get their message out and even have a chance of winning; the average senate candidate has to spend upwards of 7 to 20 million dollars. And Bernie Sanders sits and makes the case that this is all dirty money, this is all money corrupting the system. But he's never had to raise that much before, and now he has national exposure and access to the fund raising magic of the internet, which allows him to run his clean campaign.

As to campaign finance reform, it was the Democrats that stood against Citizens United, before anybody outside of Vermont even knew about Bernie Sanders! It was the Democratic Party that pushed forward bill after bill for decades before that to establish the Federal Election Commission, and it was the Democratic Party that put campaign finance reform in every platform. The fact that Democrats have to get PAC money to win doesn't make them part of the problem, it makes them able to win elections until they can fix the problem by gaining majorities in both the House and senate. Bernie Sanders has finally admitted that none of his revolutionary plans stand a chance in Congress as long as Republicans hold majorities, but how much time is he spending to help Democrats get elected to Congress? How much time did he ever spend helping anybody get elected to Congress besides himself?

Hillary Clinton has traveled the nation for over 25 years raising money for local Democrats. She's helped Democrats get elected to the House and Senate, and helped them to stay there. She is a proud member of a political party, the Democratic Party. She's eaten a million rubber chicken dinners to help raise money for local politicians from Maine to California. So when loyal, hard-working Democrats become Superdelegates, do not be surprised if they vote for Clinton almost without exception. It won't be a scandal or a conspiracy; it will be perfectly understandable.