Friday, May 30, 2008
What's Fair is Fair ... but what's Fair?
I’ve heard so much emotionally-laden argument about the delegate counts for Michigan and Florida, with a lot of strong, negative language and inflammatory allegations being thrown around. And once again, the issue that trips me up as I listen to all of this is not who did what when, but whether the scrutiny and moral judgment applied to one candidate is also applied to the other. It’s the fairness thing that bugs me. It seems a sort of hypocrisy to criticize one candidate for doing something, while simply refusing to consider whether the other candidate did it too.
Maybe I’m just fed up with a vocal number of Obama supporters who, in their avid support of their candidate, do a whole lot of Clinton-bashing. I’ll say it again: I think Obama is a FINE candidate. Impressive. Smart. Capable. But isn’t it ironic that the very people who tout how Obama is not involved in dirty politics and doesn’t engage in nasty personal attacks are the ones making the meanest, most personal negative attacks against Clinton? That’s the sort of hypocrisy (on the supporters’ part, not Obama’s) that gets my ire up pretty fast.
So with all the talk about now bad it would be if Clinton were "allowed" to "change the rules in the middle of the game," I did some research about what the rules were in the first place. And I came across some interesting things. Make of them what you will.
I read the DNC rules on the selection of delegates. ( Wanna read them? They’re here.) There were some specific rules that seem to apply here.
First, there’s rule 13, "Fair Reflection of Presidential Preferences." The rule states: "Delegates shall be allocated in a fashion that fairly reflects the expressed presidential preference or uncommitted status of the primary voters or, if there is no binding primary, the convention or caucus participants."
"Shall" means that the rule is mandatory, and that the DNC must allocate delegates in a way that fairly reflects what the voters expressed. So, if the DNC were to decide to seat any of the Michigan delegates, how can it award any delegates to Obama without violating this rule? Obama withdrew his name from the ballot, so there was no "expressed presidential preference" in his favor. If Obama and/or his supporters end up with him getting any delegates for Michigan, isn’t that a way of changing Rule 13 in the middle of the race? And isn’t that what Obama people castigate Clinton about?
Second, there are the rules about what happens if a state sets its primary date outside of the timeline approved by the DNC, as Michigan and Florida did, and what that means for the democratic candidates.
Rule 20(C)(1)(b) says: "Any presidential candidate who campaigns in a state where the state party is in violation of the timing provision of these rules ... may not receive pledged delegates or delegate votes from that state." The famous "pledge" that people talk about turned this DNC rule into a promise from the individual candidates.
But in January, 2008 (prior to the Florida primary), Obama ran campaign ads in Florida via national cable networks (CNN and MSNBC) contrary to the terms of the pledge. When Obama was charged with violating the pledge, his campaign manager replied that the advertising was a "national buy" and the networks could not eliminate Florida from the national cable advertising. Other candidates (such as Clinton, Edwards, and Richardson) had chosen to buy local advertising for other areas which would not run in Florida, and had refrained from national advertising which might run in Florida to avoid violating the pledge and the DNC rule. Obama’s campaign manager also stated that they had received "permission" to run the ads in Florida from the chair of the South Carolina democratic party. However, the pledge itself makes no provision for any one state or individual to permit deviation from the terms of the pledge, nor does it provide for any exceptions other than fundraising. And, of course, one person in South Carolina can’t waive DNC rule 20.
So if Obama is given any delegates from Florida, or if he and/or his supporters argue that he should get any delegates from Florida, wouldn’t that allow a violation of the pledge, and Rule 20, and result from a change of the rule in the middle of the game?
But if the DNC sticks with the rules as they are, two whole states’ worth of democratic voters will be ignored. And to me, that is simply an intolerable option. I hate the thought in our democracy, especially after the 2000 election fiasco, we’ll end up with a result where people came out and voted and their votes will be meaningless. That just seems hugely wrong to me, regardless of who those votes favor.
So any compromise will involve changing some rule or another. From my perspective, if there are going to be any rule changes or creative interpretations, I’d favor the ones that give voice to people who cast actual votes that we can count. I’m extremely uncomfortable with making up figures out of thin air or reaching some artificial apportionment that doesn’t reflect what voters actually did. Isn't the actual vote count the only actual number we have? Isn't it a strange and dangerous precedent for our democratic system to disregard an actual vote count in favor of some theoretical, imagined number, no matter how "fair" the imagined number might seem to the unelected DNC committee members?
This situation is so complicated. The rules say what they say, and the candidates made their strategic choices for their own political reasons. That's fine -- it's a competition, after all, and they're both in the race to promote their own interests. But I can’t stand how lopsided the discussion seems sometimes. Clinton and Obama are both smart, strategic politicians. They wouldn’t be where they are if they weren’t. They’ve made the decisions that they thought would best benefit them at the time. But when we sort how to address this very difficult mess, let’s just apply the same rules to both competitors.
And while I’m on the subject, one more thought: It feels wrong to me that a political party, and not our elected representatives in state government, gets to decide whose votes count and whose don’t. And in challenging the awkward situation that now exists, I have more respect for a candidate who bucks the party view in favor of sticking up for people, than I do for one who complies with the party line but disregards voters’ voices.
So what’s fair? It’s not an easy answer, is it?