The four-letter F-word that is central to Democrats’ rhetoric and to discord everywhere — “fair” — is being bandied about. Clinton would be ahead in the delegate count if Obama had not won about twice as many delegates as she in caucuses, so Clinton implies that it is not quite fair to consider delegates accumulated in caucuses as significant as those won in primaries. Obama says it would not be fair for “superdelegates,” or delegates chosen by Michigan’s and Florida’s renegade primaries, to decide the nomination.
Clinton has a small piece of a point but misses the important point. Caucuses are, indeed, less purely “democratic” than primaries. That is their virtue. They are inconvenient, requiring commitments of time and energy that are more apt to be made by especially interested voters. Thus caucuses filter out, disproportionately, the lightly committed and least informed, which is not cause for dismay.
Popular sovereignty is simple in theory — government by consent of the governed — but should not be simple-minded in practice. It need not mean government by adding machine, the mere adding up of numbers. A wise polity also has mechanisms for measuring, accommodating and even rewarding intensity. The Senate does this with the filibuster, which enables an intense minority to slow or stymie a majority, at least for a while.
I was going to make a crack that focusing on the mere popular vote might be a fine way to elect the next American Idol, but then I remembered that American Idol does allow multiple voted by one person, so they recognize the importance of acknowledging the intensity of someone’s support, rather than sheer numbers. American Idol gets it; will our politicians?