Des Moines Register
March 15, 2008, p. A11
As president, Bill Clinton used to talk about those who "work hard and play by the rules." He and his wife are still working hard. They just don't want to play by the rules.
The Democratic National Committee's rules for this primary season -- agreed to by all -- were that the penalty for additional states moving their primaries earlier would be the inability to have their delegates seated at the party's national convention. Candidates were not to campaign or otherwise participate in such states' primaries. The nominee would be whoever got the most delegates (elected and super) from rules-abiding states.
Florida and Michigan gambled that their ultimate role in candidate selection would be greatest by violating the rules, thereby gaining the impact of earlier primary results in exchange for sacrificing the ability to seat their delegates.
Like the choice of "buy, sell or hold" in the stock market, it turned out they sold when they should have held. Their originally scheduled times would have given them real leverage. Now they're left raking through the rubble, searching for the "least-worst" way out.
If any delegates from those states are seated, it will render the Democratic National Committee and its rules toothless. But political opportunists don't find that troubling.
Sen. Hillary Clinton also violated the rules, by keeping her name on the Florida and Michigan ballots. (Even without Sen. Barack Obama on the Michigan ballot, 40 percent of the Democratic Party voters preferred "uncommitted" to voting for her.) She now insists "her delegates" from these uncontested primaries be seated. At a minimum, she wants a mulligan: "do-over" primaries.
But even those who consider politics a game acknowledge it's not golf. You don't take your mulligan six months later on a different golf course. Like trying to make a soufflé rise twice, asking voters to make a second trek to the polls cannot possibly re-create what would have happened had both states played by the rules.
And wouldn't it be a little odd if the "penalty" for violating their party's rules would not only permit Florida and Michigan to seat the delegates they expressly sacrificed, but to choose them in a do-over when the results will have the maximum possible impact on candidate selection?
Fair play aside, what would be gained by do-overs? If they only add to Obama's elected delegate lead, they'd change nothing. If they narrow, or reverse, his lead such that, with the super delegates, Clinton is able to snatch the party's nomination, it will be seen as unfair, old-style politics of the worst kind.
This would be precisely the sort of special-interest-funded, manipulative, do-anything-to-win politics Obama and his supporters advocate be changed.
How will the newly found independents and youthful Obama enthusiasts he has managed to turn out by the tens of thousands at rallies, and million-plus in caucuses and primaries, respond to such a result? They may vote Republican, third party, or just stay home. Undoubtedly, some will leave politics sufficiently disillusioned never to return.
Many, including me, believe the "least-worst" solution would be to go ahead and violate the party's rules, seat delegations from Florida and Michigan, but allocate those states' delegates' votes according to the percentages of total elected delegates each candidate has earned nationally in rule-abiding states.
Although this weakens the Democratic National Committee's rule-making ability, it welcomes the prodigal son-shine state and Michigan -- fourth- and eighth-largest in the United States -- back into the fold of the faithful. It avoids giving Clinton a second bite of an apple she never should have initially tasted. It is fair to both candidates, increasing the delegate count of each by the margins they actually earned.
And, not incidentally, it saves for the general election the $10 million to $20 million or more the party and its contributors will otherwise have to spend to conduct these additional primaries.
NICHOLAS JOHNSON, a native Iowan, former Federal Communications Commission member and congressional candidate, writes about Iowa and Washington in his blog, FromDC2Iowa.blogspot.com.