Saturday, May 31, 2008

Turning the race into a farce

If the Democratic National Committee (DNC) decides to seat some or all of the delegates from Florida and Michigan, it will simultaneously unite the party and turn itself into a political farce.

If you haven't been following along, here's the backstory: in 2006, the DNC voted to limit the states the could hold primaries or caucuses before February 5
th to Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, and South Carolina. However, in 2007 both Florida and Michigan decided to hold their primaries earlier than they historically had-- and before February 5th-- in order to increase their influence in the primary elections. Both were warned by the DNC that they must change the dates, and both refused; consequently, both were informed by the DNC that their primaries would not be nullified, as they were then stripped of their delegates. (Click here and here for more on these.)

Both states went ahead and held their primaries, in a pouty insistence that the DNC didn't have a right to its action (which it does). These primaries, however, were not given much attention in the campaigns; John Edwards and Barack Obama did not even register to be on the ballot in Michigan, for example, and almost none of the candidates spent a significant amount of time campaigning in either state-- though Hilary gave both states more attention than her counterparts, perhaps thinking it would be good ground-breaking for the general election in the fall. In one way or another, all of the candidates spoke out in support of the DNC's decision and right to make such a decision. Hilary Clinton was pronounced the winner in both states, although she only won 56% of the vote in Michigan (with a full 40% falling into a nebulous "undecided/uncommitted" category) and 50% or less in Florida. (Of course, in a primary race then those are pretty strong percentages-- but considering that neither of her stronger rivals even gave an effort, it's strikes me as a bit low).

Within a few weeks after these rogue primaries, however, it had become clear to Hilary Clinton that she wasn't the presumptive nominee that she thought herself to be. Suddenly, she changed her tune about the primaries in both Florida and Michigan, claiming that it would be wrong to deny them their voice in the election and that their delegates should be seated after all. That's convenient, since those delegates would be mainly in support of her campaign, which has continued to wash against the rocks over the ensuing months.

But frankly, it would be wrong to seat those delegates. For one thing, both states made decisions that were contrary to the rules laid out by the DNC, and they were both given an opportunity to bring themselves within conformity to those rules. So seating delegates from Florida and Michigan would send a clear message: "our rules don't count if you complain loudly enough." Or even worse: "our rules don't count if the Clintons benefit from them not counting."

Moreover, to seat those delegates would be unfair. Neither Obama or Edwards-- arguably the only other serious contenders at that point-- invested much effort or finances into campaigning there. And for good reason: they had been told that these so-called primaries would not count. They were abiding by the rules of the elections set forth by the DNC, and therefore had no reason to believe that it would ever become an issue. For the life of me I can't understand why Obama isn't shouting this from the rooftops-- unless he's too afraid that it would hurt his electability in those states this fall, which would be a sad reason to hold back.

It reminds me of a parenting philosophy one of my seminary professors espoused: he said, "in our household [a family of five] we make decisions democratically. Everyone gets a vote. But my vote counts six." That works in parenting, but not for national politics.

All of this comes together to make the DNC and the Clintons look ridiculous. Did the DNC set out to look like it was willing to let Bill and Hilary call the shots on this one? Did Barack Obama intend to appear to roll over and ignore a clear-cut situation? Did Hilary Clinton want to offer us one more example of her double-speak? Probably "no" on all counts. Yet, if things play out
like it seems they will, all of these will come to pass.

Two ironies have already come to pass: for one thing, both states would have had all the influence they could have wished had they kept their primaries when they usually had them (early March for Florida; February 5 for Michigan). This year's Democratic primary has drawn out so long that almost every state has felt like they have a large part in the process. All of the hassle and mess about Florida and Michigan was for naught.

For another irony, it turns out that Obama will end up getting a significant number of the delegates even if they ARE seated. All schemes and closed-door agreements aside, Obama scored better than 30% of the votes in both "primaries" without even campaigning there-- including what had to be write-ins in Michigan, where he wasn't even on the ballot. So for all of Hilary's whining about the need to seat these delegates, she still won't have enough delegates to win the nomination, even if they decide to grant them all a place at the table.

This whole situation is a mess; the DNC doesn't need to make it worse by opening the door to making the whole party process even more of a joke.

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