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Oglesby: What change? Let the parties decide

POSTED: April 1, 2008 5:00 a.m.

The big political talk today in Northeast Georgia and the entire nation is about change. Change from what to what? In other words, what specifically are we really talking about and why?

We’ll explore what change is really about next time, but today let me explain the philosophy behind that discussion.

This is written before a decision on what to do about a delegate recount for Florida and Michigan. I think the Democratic Party ought to stick by its rules and seat no delegates from either state. Hillary Clinton thinks both will give her a bunch of delegates previously not awarded, cutting significantly into Barack Obama’s lead. She’s for it.

If they are going to break the rules, I’d take Hillary’s side. Their fight’s the headline or sound bite. The underlying philosophy for my position goes much deeper.

All political parties have varying views and "wings." Nowadays we rank them from conservative to liberal. They nonetheless share basic, core philosophies.

I believe the political parties should be able to nominate candidates for all offices from city hall to the White House however they choose, be it primary election, caucus, convention or however. Only members registered to that party should be able to participate in its nominating process. If someone doesn’t want to belong to any party and remain independent, fine.

After the nominees are chosen, voters can cast the November ballots that really count; they just can’t help choose the nominees and will have to choose between them.

Knowing the state is solidly in the GOP column, some Georgia Republicans promoted a plan for a number to vote in the Democratic primary for Clinton so as to deny Obama the victory he claimed. Republicans should not have the right to help select Democrat nominees and vice versa.

On another side of that issue, Georgia requires, (1) that nominees of all parties must be named by a primary vote that is binding through the first two convention ballots and, (2) that all registered voters each election year can select which party’s primary they will vote in.

This law was imposed by the century-old solid Democratic-ruled legislature as Republicans were beginning to make headway for national office but just beginning to offer for local and state office. It was a partisan means to encourage Georgians to vote Democratic. If they wanted to vote for the top of the GOP ticket, they wouldn’t be able to vote for the Democratic local and state candidates they wanted when no Republicans sought local office, which then was the usual case. On neither side was the law prompted by noble purpose, but for raw partisan gain.

The masses can be charmed by personality and feel-good rhetoric extolling what they want to hear without really noticing contradictions between what is said in one place or another, and if expectations of what they thought were promises to be kept were realistic.

The U.S. House represents voters’ rapidly changing views and fads of the moment, while the Senate provides a more studious balance that often keeps the view of the many from becoming a "why did we ever do that" lament when the temporary view inevitably loses its popularity. The more studied Senate approach often saves us from ourselves.

Democrats, to their credit, have borrowed from this balancing approach with their superdelegates. They’re like the Senate, providing a longer term, more stable and pragmatic experienced view that often can keep the party from making a mistake.

I reject Obama’s notion that superdelegates necessarily ought to vote the way their districts or states voted. That’s not their intended role. Their background and experience gives them seasoned political judgment. Their role is to try to keep the party from making a fatal mistake and through their influence and votes make the candidate most electable in the general election the nominee. It’s a good system.

Republicans take a different path with similar purpose. Senior party members and office holders with similar background and experience are automatically awarded regular delegate seats. It’s also a good system.

So we want change. Many say a change from President Bush. Folks, the U.S. Constitution has already won that one for you. No matter who you vote for, Bush won’t be in the White House and can’t come back. He’s gone for good on Jan. 20, 2009. So what specific kind of change is it we think we want? Have you ever really thought seriously and objectively about that? I seriously doubt a majority have.

Next time I may surprise you and hope it helps you define the change you’re seeking and reasons you’re seeking it. That holds whether you agree with what I see as the real change most Georgians and all Americans want.

Ted Oglesby is retired opinion page editor. His column appears biweekly and on gainesvilletimes.com. Originally published March 18, 2008.




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