The ValuJet Strategy

When ValuJet flight 592 crashed in 1996, negative publicity caused the company’s stock to plummet. But then some genius thought of an easy fix: Rename the business! ValuJet thus became AirTran, and everybody was happy.

Apparently, Hillary Clinton’s campaign had the same idea. For the past few weeks, the campaign had been insisting on including “superdelegates” in their delegate count, but people didn’t seem to like the idea of party leaders and elected officials exercising disproportionate influence. Well, that’s easy: Rename them! Now every reference to these special politicos calls them “automatic delegates.”

TPM reported the coming rhetorical switch last week, and now the “automatic” phrasing has fully entered the Clinton lexicon. On a conference call Wednesday, Clinton adviser Harold Ickes dropped the A-bomb . The campaign also unveiled a new Web site called Delegate Hub, which purports to spread “facts” about the delegate count. (Although their definition of “fact” is different from yours and mine .)

Apparently, the campaign is trying to distance itself from the growing stigma attached to the word superdelegate . “Super” does sound a bit power-trippy, as if these delegates are somehow superior to the rest. (Perhaps the fact that their vote counts tens of thousands of times more than that of your average voter gives that impression.) But “automatic delegates” doesn’t sound much better to these ears. Sure, you lose the caped crusader image, but you replace it with pictures of totalitarian robots. The phrase isn’t a Clinton original—it’s actually a common term that superdelegate has come to replace. ( Update 1:33 p.m.: DNC press secretary Stacey Paxton informs me that the official term is unpledged delegate .) But the rebranding (or in this case, retro-branding) seems a little goofy, not to mention arbitrary. What will we call them next week, “powerdelegates”? “Fundelegates”?

Points for creativity. But in the case of delegate counts, the people paying close attention are savvy wonks, not airhead consumers. Renaming your problem doesn’t make it go away.