About Those Pesky Rules

If there’s one thing I hope comes out of this Democratic primary season (with, of course, the exception of Obama as the nominee), it is that the Democratic party will have a nice little sit down and review how it chooses a nominee. 


A month ago, the Republicans were locked in what was supposedly a two man race between McCain and Romney, just as the Democrats were essentially stuck in the same thing between Obama and Clinton.  While this happened, the stories were fairly even, focusing on the dynamics between the two contests.  But since then, McCain has all but sewn up the nomination for his side, and the Clinton-Obama battle has only intensified.

Initially, I agreed with a few other lefty bloggers in thinking this was overall good for the Democratic party, despite what it may look like on the outside.  While one would think the focus would be on the bickering of the two candidates, the simple fact that the media would focus more intensely upon the Democratic race would itself be a boon; taking up very valuable air time, column space, and digital ink away from the presumptive Republican nominee who could use all the help he could get in an election year where Democratic enthusiasm is outstripping Republicans by astonishing numbers.

But what worries me a great deal is that the media has chosen to focus at least some of its considerable resources not just upon the Democratic candidates, but also upon the rules that surround their nomination process.  This is much worse press than one would hope to receive for the party considering that in many instances, the rules don’t make sense, and at times seem very undemocratic.

I’ve no problem with splitting delegates upon a proportional basis.  That’s fine, and in my mind, actually more democratic.  Yes, this proportionality kept Obama much closer in the race on Super Tuesday than might have been possible otherwise, but on the other hand, it is this proportionality that also kept Hillary Clinton in the race during his 8 state winning streak when a winner take all system might have knocked her out.  In truth, proportionality is a step or two closer to a truly democratic system than the winner take all system favored by the Republicans, or the electoral college which can take a state that is split almost evenly down the center and yet mete out all of its electoral votes to only one candidate.

But aside from proportionality, there’s much to be fixed in the Democratic nomination process.  There are the Super Delegates which have proven to be something of an embarrassment for the Democrats at a time when more people than ever are paying attention to politics.  Nothing could be more undemocratic than having the will of the voters overturned by a cadre of party insiders who can coronate a winner so long as he or she can drum up enough support to keep within a certain distance of the frontrunner.

Then you have the Florida and Michigan debacle which may still yet rear its ugly head before this thing is done.  The two main problems that would possibly arise with the states is the disenfranchising of millions of voters, and the seating of their delegates based upon uncontested votes.  It’s a Catch 22 where neither option is particularly democratic in nature.  The only way to do it properly is to have do-over primaries that give the nominees ample time to campaign in said states if they so chose to, but there will obviously be forces fighting against that option which we will discuss a little later on.

There are, of course, plenty of complaints about caucuses, which have some valid points, and then you have Texas.

Texas, as I’m sure everyone knows by now, has a strange and bastardized system, half primary, half caucus, completely confusing.  I have myself read a couple of in depth analyses on how the state might play as well as something of a description on how it’s supposed to run and I still don’t know exactly how it works.  But I do know one thing, even with a strong lead in the polls, it’s more than possible for Hillary Clinton to actually come out the loser in delegates.

And this is before Obama has even bothered to campaign there and pull his numbers up.  Come tomorrow night or Wednesday morning, all of that is going to change.

But Hilzoy, writing at Sully’s Daily Dish and cribbing off of Publius, hits at one of the things that has become a major theme of the Clinton campaign this season. 

When I read this, I dissolved in giggles after the first sentence. It was that part about the Texas delegate selection rules “creating a new obstacle for her” that got me. In what sense are the Texas rules a “new obstacle?” Were they only recently passed? Not as far as I can tell — here, for instance, is a pdf about them from August 2007, which should have given the Clinton campaign ample time to get up to speed. While I was having fun thinking of possible analogies — would I describe the existence of the Pacific Ocean as “creating a new obstacle” for my plan to walk from Baltimore to Beijing? or the fact that five is a prime number as “creating a new obstacle” to my proving that it is a multiple of two? –my co-blogger publius was actually writing the post I might have written, only funnier:

“Good lord, let’s see if I have this right. The Clinton campaign decides to cede every post-Super Tuesday state to Obama under the theory that Texas and Ohio will be strong firewalls. After – after – implementing this Rudy-esque strategy, they “discovered” that the archaic Texas rules will almost certainly result in a split delegate count (at best). While they were busy “discovering” the rules, however, the Obama campaign had people on the ground in Texas explaining the system, organizing precincts, and making Powerpoints. I know because I went to one of these meetings a week ago. I should have invited Mark Penn I suppose. (ed. Maybe foresight is an obsolete macrotrend.)”

Note to self: If I ever run for office and base my campaign on the idea that I am ready to lead from day one, I must remember to actually run an effective campaign.

The point here is that the Texas rules are nothing new, it’s just that few people have ever bothered to sit down and actually learn about them.  Yes, this speak volumes about Hillary’s managerial style and by proxy her ability to be president.  All of this stuff, from Nevada to Texas, was there and open for comment at the start of the process.  That she didn’t speak up or accomodate for these obstacles from the beginning shows a particular short sightedness that has at least played a role in the one time inevitable candidate now fighting desperately to catch up.

But it also says something deeper.  She knew about Michigan, was the only candidate to keep her name on the ballot, and has since actively campaigned to have those delegates seated.  She knew about Florida and also has since actively fought to have those delegates reseated in the aftermath as well.  She knew about the Nevada At Large caucuses and her Surrogate in Chief Bill Clinton heavily favored the law suit against them after the Culinary Worker’s Union endorsed Obama, but since those sites went in Hillary’s favor, you’ve heard nary a whisper from the campaign.  She even knew about the caucus system, even going so far as to make an instructional video for her campaign’s organizers, but since the loss in Iowa, and the strange split delegate count in Nevada, has all but given up in caucus states, instead choosing to hint through campaign officials that the process is undemocratic.

She knew about everything, and sought only for a rule change or to paint the rules as undemocratic AFTER they failed to benefit her.

I’m all for a shake up in the way we choose a nominee.  As I said before, I’m greatly opposed to the power the Super Delegates hold.  But that’s the music we have to dance to because that’s the music everybody agreed upon.  It’s one thing to see glaring errors and problems in a system and trying to change the rules after the race has run its course, but like a four year old who refuses to accept loss, the Clinton campaign has undergone significant effort to change the rules in the middle of the game, to shift the physics any way possible so that she can be the nominee no matter what.

Hate him or not, one thing you have to give Obama is that he understood the rules, and he’s played by them.  He’s taken his case to the people of the party, and thus far they have chosen him over her.  Not by an overwhelming margin, but him over her nonetheless.

I refuse to say Hillary’s a goner in this race, but pretty soon, unless something changes course, we’re going to get to a point where the only way Hillary can win is through subverting the process of Democracy, or just outright cheating completely.  It’ll be a test to her integrity whether she goes beyond that threshold or not, but if she does, it’ll say far more about her than anyone has managed to say yet.

2 Responses to “About Those Pesky Rules”

  1. Les says:

    If the democratic party is not careful their convention could end the same way the general electi0n did in 2000.

  2. SC says:

    And just imagine if the Republicans also had a proportional system… they’d be going through the same McCain/Romney one-on-one dogfight, simply based on one small change in the rules.

    Check it out:

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