Senator Patrick Leahy’s statement as regards his voting intentions as a super-delegate are most disturbing and his comments alluding to Senator Bernie Sanders are equally disturbing:
Leahy is, as a voter, entitled to his preference. However, he is clearly more concerned with having given his “word” (of support) to Clinton than to (representing his) constituents. His stated position as a super-delegate shines an uncomfortable spotlight on his allegiances, and his snappish response to Seven Days reporter Paul Heintz indicates that he knows he’s on shaky ground.
It’s one thing for an elected official to, after considerable thought and attention to constituency preference, choose which candidate to support in their role as super-delegate. That is what Congressman Peter Welch did. It’s another thing entirely to have actively encouraged a candidate to run and pledge support back when no opponent had even surfaced. That is what Leahy did, just as a groundswell of protest against a perceived “coronation” was becoming audible. Leahy thereby effectively boxed himself into a corner; now that the time approaches to vote at the convention he feels compelled to “stand by his word”, thereby denying Vermont Democratic voters a chance to fully express their political will. A risky thing to do for a Senator seeking re-election this year.
Buried in the layers of Leahy’s statement is something equally troubling. For some reason, the Senator felt compelled to justify his decision with the following: “You know,the Leahys have been in Vermont since the 1800s..”
What exactly do Senator Leahy’s genealogical roots in Vermont have to do with his family-instilled moral imperative of “always keeping his word?” Is he actually implying that Vermonters have a greater propensity to keep their word than Vermonters more recently arrived? Is Leahy in any way contrasting his own honorable “word” with that of another honorable Vermont Senator whose centuries-old roots go back to, hmmmm….. Poland? Whether Leahy knew what he was saying or whether it was unconscious, it amounts to the same thing. He essentially pulled a subtle “nativist” card when defending his intention to not to cast his super-delegate vote for “you-know-who”.
At this moment in our nation, when intense attention is being given to issues of immigration and immigrant identity, even a subtle referencing to “insider” vs “outsider” status is a low pitch. We in Vermont deserve better. If that’s what Leahy’s eighth term can promise us, maybe he’d be better off retiring in good graces, while he can.
This commentary would be incomplete without pointing out that of course the whole system of super-delegates is anti-democratic from its inception. Its purpose is to create an effective “buffer” between the power inherent in a free electoral process and the democratically expressed will of the electorate; to muffle the collective voice of the voters and rein in any progressive or populist tendencies in the Democratic rank and file. The present-day Democratic Party elite will claim that the purpose of the super-delegate “buffer” is to prevent losing to the Republicans in a national election – but what they really fear is the loss of their own grip on the control of the Democratic party.
This desperate impulse to suppress the raw power of the electorate has a long history in American electoral politics. This super-delegate system has essentially the same aim as did the corrupt, smoke-filled, back-room, old-boy politics of the past century. What’s happening now is effectively no different than in the days of “Tammany Hall”, nor is it any different than the disastrous play-out of the machine politics of Mayor Daley at the Chicago Democratic convention of 1968.
So to return to Senator Leahy’s unequivical statement; he has made it perfectly clear that staying true to his word degenerates into political cronyism in the face of the huge and undeniable preference his Vermont constituency is expressing for the opponent of his favored early choice.
Contact Senator Patrick Leahy immediately and urge him to follow the electoral will of his constituency. That is his job. Then vote in the Democratic primary on March 1st, and give Senator Bernie Sanders your vote!
Commentary by Diane Sophrin
February 28, 2016