Sunday, February 10, 2008

How not to pick a candidate

In 1984, the Liberal Party of Canada held a leadership convention to find a new leader to replace Pierre Trudeau.  The two main contenders were John Turner and Jean Chrétien.  Chrétien had strong support across the country, and might well have won, but the support of the head honchos in the party, who wielded power through having delegate status given to them by virtue of their positions in the party hierarchy, meant that the win went to Turner.  Turner went on the lose the next two elections.  After Chrétien made his triumphant return to politics in 1990, he went on to win three successive majority governments, and might well still be Prime Minister had the same party hierarchy not stabbed him in the back and replaced him by loser named Paul Martin.

The reason for picking a leader using delegates across the country is twofold.  First, it introduces an element of democratization, taking the power of selection away from the party functionaries.  Secondly, it provides a better estimate of the most successful leader.  The local delegates know local conditions, and know who they are most likely to vote for, and, more importantly, who their non-partisan neighbors are most likely to vote for.  The party officials, living in their palaces in the big cities, are clueless.

The Democratic Party is making the same mistake as the Liberal Party of Canada made in 1984.  Obama is almost certainly going to win the support of most of the primary delegates, and lose the nomination due to Clinton’s support amongst the ‘super-delegates’, the party functionaries who are given delegate status by reason of their positions in the party.  The Democrats will then run a leader that people don’t want to vote for, and the most unlikely event of all, a Republican President to follow in Bush’s footsteps, will be much more likely.