Michigan thinks of itself as the Wolverine State; Florida as the Sunshine State. That might be what’s on their license plates, but they’re out of date. More appropriate would be “The Whining State” or “The Cry Baby State” (maybe they could have a primary to decide which state gets which slogan). The new monikers were earned by Democrats in the state who knowingly defied their party rules, but now are going to hold their collective breaths until they turn Republican Red if the Democratic National Committee doesn’t change those rules. Maybe they could both be called the “Shameless States.”
Party leaders in Michigan and Florida moved their primaries forward to January 2008 knowing it violated rules their representatives to the Democratic and Republican National Committees had agreed to. They were told what would happen: their delegates would not be seated at the Democratic convention in August. (Republicans lost half their delegates). They knew the price to be paid, but in their arrogance they assumed the DNC would back down. According to Steve Chapman, a Chicago Tribune columnist, “Saulius Anuzis, head of the Michigan Republican Party, summed up the prevailing sentiment among politicians on both sides of the aisle: ‘We understand that this violates the rules of both the Democratic National Committee and the Republican National Committee. We don’t care.'”
Now they care. A lot. And so do Senator Hillary Clinton and Senator Barack Obama. The 313 delegates from the two states (366 if you count their Super Delegates) could determine which of them is the party’s presidential nominee.
Both of the candidates agreed not to campaign in those states and both pretty much kept their word. Senator Obama, along with all the Democratic candidates other than Senator Clinton and Representative Dennis Kucinich, had his name removed from the Michigan ballot. At the time, all the candidates — including Senator Clinton — seemed to back the DNC in denying Michigan and Florida any delegates. According to the Berkeley Daily Planet, back then she was saying “You know, it’s clear the election they’re having isn’t going to count for anything.”
Then she won Michigan and Florida yet failed to wrap up the nomination after Super Tuesday. So now, elevating shameless expediency to a core principle of her campaign, she wants those delegates seated. (Is there anyone on the planet who believes Senator Clinton would take this position if she had lost those states?) In an interview with Evan Smith of Texas Monthly she explained her change of tune. “The only agreement I entered into was not to campaign in Michigan and Florida. It had nothing to do with not seating the delegates. I think that’s an important distinction.” Well, yes, it’s as important as determining what the word “is” means under different circumstances. And what it distinguishes is her disregard for playing by the rules.
Leading Democrats, at least those supporting Senator Clinton, agree with her, however. Failing to change the rules they previously agreed to would disenfranchise Democrats in those states. Those voters, in turn, would take out their anger by electing Senator John McCain. Maybe they should be called the “Fickle States?”
Fanning the tantrum, Senator Clinton’s message to the village known as the Democratic party is to teach children “play by the rules unless it turns out you can do better by changing them after the fact.” Such an uplifting message. It’s similar to how Captain Barbossa describes the Pirate’s Code in Pirates of the Caribbean:“The code is more what you’d call “guidelines” than actual rules.” In the pirate politics practiced by the Clinton campaign, the DNC rules are just that, guidelines, easily ignored if they get in the way of ambition.
There are many proposals being tossed about to resolve this mess. Two that make the most sense, at least to me, are: 1) seat the delegates, but force them to split their votes between the two candidates; or 2) redo the votes, preferably by mail.
The first option recognizes gets the state delegations into the building, but makes their vote meaningless — a result the states’ Democratic leadership chose for themselves.
The second approach result would re-enfranchise Democrats in those states (maybe we could exclude their Super Delegates as punishment for violating the rules in the first place?), allow Democrats to keep their messages on the front page, and help assure that the Democratic nominee is the one fairly won the most delegates. I’ve heard the cost for mail-only primaries in the two states would be somewhere near $15 million (although I don’t think anyone has really priced it out yet). Whatever the amount, the expense could be split by the campaigns and the state parties. The political effort expended in these do-over primaries would, after all, pay dividends in the fall.
In any event, Senator Clinton and her cronies in Michigan and Florida need to quite their whining, accept the rules they agreed to earlier, and focus on fixing the situation. What they’re asking for now, seating those delegates, would taint the nomination results far worse than anything since, well, Florida tainted the 2000 presidential election in 2000.
What is it about Florida anyway? Is it too late to give the state back to Spain? I’d miss Dave Barry and Disney World, but it sure would make political life simpler.