- Ben Jealous: Democratic Party has opportunity to change its rules to be more inclusive
- Outdated system of superdelegates has always been at least in part about race, he says
Some will argue this debate is arcane. However, nothing could be further from the truth. On the one hand, we can return to our earlier tradition of being a party where the only factor that decides who wins our nomination is who wins the most delegates in the primaries. Or we can continue to give this privileged group of superdelegates -- fewer than 1,000 people who are disproportionately old, white and male -- more influence than the combined weight of Democratic voters in 24 states, four territories, and the District of Columbia.
Anyone still struggling to understand why this is no esoteric matter or to decide which decision our party should make about the future of superdelegates should consider how we got superdelegates in the first place. Superdelegates were created in 1980 at a time when young voters and voters of color were rapidly gaining influence in selecting the Democratic nominee for president.
During the two decades prior, the party had become strikingly more inclusive. It started with the reforms pushed by the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party at the Democratic National Convention in 1964. It accelerated with the nomination of student civil rights leader Julian Bond for vice president at the 1968 DNC. (He was then too young to accept.) Momentum built with Shirley Chisholm becoming the first black American and woman to participate on stage in the Democratic Party Primary debates in 1972. Moreover, the power of the Democratic Party's "new majority" became undeniable when progressive outsiders succeeded in becoming its official nominees for president in 1968 and again in 1976.
This history was still palpable when the Rev. Jesse Jackson became the first progressive candidate to confront the negative influence
of superdelegates in 1984. He called their impact on the process "inequitable,'' ''demonstrably unfair'' and ''distorted by rules that favor insider politics.'' I spoke with Jackson this week and he still feels the same way.
At the 1988 DNC, Jackson succeeded in abolishing superdelegates. They would be imposed again a few short years later. Not surprisingly, superdelegates became controversial again in 2008. Then-candidate Barack Obama called for the party to revisit the question. In 2009, the DNC formed a commission to improve the presidential nominating process. It was commonly called the "Clyburn-McCaskill Commission" because it was co-chaired by Rep. James Clyburn and Sen. Claire McCaskill.
The commission called for the end of the superdelegate system. The party refused. In the years since, the ranks of superdelegates have become 20% whiter even as the party's base has become increasingly diverse
The rules committee members won't be the only ones in the City of Brotherly Love this weekend. Also gathering in Philadelphia will be tens of thousands of millennial activists drawn from the largest, most diverse and inclusive generation of American voters we have ever seen.
Everyone agrees this group should be the future of our party and could ensure its dominance in future elections. However, many of them are heavily critical of a party primary process they see as "rigged"
against the will of the people and also more likely to be seeking an alternative party
where their voice is guaranteed to be heard, or abandon political parties all together. Simply put, making the Democratic Party more democratic is a necessary first step to making it a party they can believe now, let alone for the rest of their lives.
It is time for the Democratic Party to abolish superdelegates. If we are going to be the party of inclusion, we must let go of the remnants of our history of discrimination. If we are going to be the party that owns the future, we must become more democratic today.