Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein step up to the plate to argue for a positive role that superdelegates can play in the Democratic nominating process in their New York Times op-ed, "Delegates of Steel." To put it charitably, they whiff. Their thesis:
But a review of the history of superdelegates suggests they are likely to play a constructive role in resolving the nomination before the convention and in unifying the party for the general election campaign.
Strike One. Either the superdelegates vote to support the candidate who received more pledged delegates, in which case they are irrelevant, or they vote to support the candidate who did not receive more pledged delegates, in which case they overturn the democratic process.
Working up to their big finish, the authors claim:
In 2008, where two strong and capable candidates are fighting it out on every front, where the difficult issues of race and sex are on the table and where the gap between the two in total votes and pledged delegates is likely to be small, the potential for an explosive convention, where in the end half the delegates (and half the party) feels they have been cheated, is real.
Strike Two. If the candidate with slightly more pledged delegates receives the nomination, then half the delegates (and half the party) will feel like they lost a close contest to a worthy rival. Small problem. If the candidate with more pledged delegates does not receive the nomination, then half the delegates (and half the party) will feel like they have been cheated. Big problem.
And that big finish:
In this case, the nomination could come down to a difficult and complex credentials battle over whether to seat delegates from Michigan and Florida. To have a nomination settled in this way is a bit like having an election settled by a 5-4 vote of the Supreme Court. Averting this kind of disaster is just what superdelegates are supposed to do.
Strike Three. It is the substitution of the views of the (bought and paid for) superdelegates for those of the voting citizenry that makes the nomination a bit like having an election settled by a 5-4 vote of the Supreme Court. There need not be a difficult and complex credentials battle. If the DNC wants to allow Michigan and Florida to have a voice in selecting the nominee, then it should schedule contested primaries in both states near the end of the primary season to choose those delegates. If it does not, based on its prior decisions, then the delegates don't get seated.
The current system is not perfect. Introducing superdelegates makes it further from perfect.