ELEVEN H is not a shoe size. Until a few days ago, it was rather uncontroversial Democratic Party rule that essentially would bind convention delegates to support on the first ballot the presidential candidate whom they were elected to support -- and to face removal by the candidate if they indicated an intention to do otherwise.
The supporters of Sen. Edward Kennedy are trying mightily to elevate this proposed rule and its adoption to a high moral question and make opposition to the rule seem to be in the noblest tradition of American freedom and personal courage. That is hypocrisy, clear and simple. There is no other way to characterize the campaign, which is based on a wholly phony argument.
Very few institutions in our midst have been reformed quite as thoroughly as the Democratic Party and its delegate selection processes have been over the past decade. The first chairman of the party's first reform commission was Sen. George McGovern. Much bitterness and resentment remained in the Democratic Party after the unhappy year of 1968. Sen. McGovern, in accepting the appointment as commission chairman in February 1969, indicated an appreciation of the problems: "In many states, the delegates are not selected in an open and democratic manner. Individual citizens are not encouraged or permitted to participate. . . . This, in turn, leads to national conventions that are not responsive to the will of the majority."
The changes recommended by McGovern commission, and later commissions with similar mandates, and the procedures adopted by the national Democratic Party all had as their objective the democratizing of the nominating process. Individual citizens were in fact both "encouraged" and "permitted" to participate. In 1968, 100 percent of the national convention delegates from the states of Arizona, Arkansas, Kansas, Louisiana, Maryland, Michigan, Rhode Island and Wyoming were effectively chosen through processes that had begun and ended long before the election year. Secret caucuses, closed slate-making, widespread and undocumented proxy voting and other 1968 procedural irregularities of the most imaginative and inequitable kind were uncovered in hearings conducted by the McGovern commission. The Democratic Party made serious and sustained efforts to correct most of these abuses and to allow all party members, rather than a limited leadership elite within the party, to select the presidential nominee through an open and totally available process.
Implicit in all these changes was the recognition that convention delegates were, not in the nomination of a presidential candidate, anything more than the agents of the voters. No Democratic Party leader or follower, regardless of that person's devotion to Edmund Burke, is recorded as suggesting that any delegate was in any sense a "republican representative" bringing this judgment and wisdom to bear on the nominating process.
As evidence of this development -- of this major reform -- within the Democratic Party, 25 of 35 of the places that hold primaries to select national convention delegates now no longer bother to list the names of the delegates on the ballot. Those states include Connecticut, Florida, California, Massachusetts, Wisconsin, Oregon and New Jersey. In fact, 15 states do not even provide for the selection of convention delegates until after the primary is held. Voters are choosing a presidential candidate for their party: they are not choosing to send the local junior high guidance counselor to New York in August or to designate the county coroner as an alternate to do as he or she might please on the first or the fourth ballot.
Now along comes the argument from the supporters of Sen. Kennedy that what the reforms have really been all about has not been the nominating of a president, but instead the choosing of delegates to the national convention to exercise their own independence following the dictates of their informed conscience (or is it the informed dictates of their free conscience?).
That is not the case. But it is a game some people now want to play. We have no quarrel with Sen. Kennedy's decision to make his case and the case for his candidacy on the platform on a question of substance. But we must confess that we believed that he and his campaign leadership could do better than make a case that ignores the purposes and the progress of Democratic Party changes (and the crucial role played by many present Kennedy supporters in their adoption) and that attempts to rewrite a rather proud chapter in political history for their own narrow ends in a partisan fight.