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February 13, 2008

Clinton Supporters are Spinning the Theft of an Election

The Clinton campaign has made the case that the Michigan and Florida delegates should be seated at the convention. This would give her a bump of over 200 delegates and put her in a safe lead. Over the weekend, Ted Olson called it "splendid theater" and I enthusiastically agree. Various spin machines are in high gear, making multiple--sometimes contradictory--arguments that the Michigan and Florida delegations should be counted. Here are some of them.

Seat the delegates because to do otherwise violates the principles of democracy.
This is the argument made by the Clinton campaign itself. The idea is that people voted and their vote should be counted even though they voted improperly (and were warned about the rules prior to voting). Somehow, Democracy Itself requires that all the circumstances of the vote be ignored. Set aside the fact that Obama and Edwards followed the rules and took their names off the Michigan ballots. Set aside the fact that none of the candidates campaigned in Florida. Under this theory, the fact that voters recorded votes is enough to overcome basic ideas about fairness and process.

This is similar to the theory proposed by Democrats during the Florida recounts in 2000: ballots which could not be counted during the initial count because of some flaw in the marking of the ballot should be added to the recounts and the "clear intent" of the voter upheld. Everyone is directed to ignore the fact that if the intent of the voter had be clear the first time, the ballots would have been counted regularly. It amounts to changing the rules after the fact, and that's exactly what Clinton is trying to do now.

Seat the delegates because to do otherwise is racially discriminatory.
A variation on the above spin, this one points out that black and Hispanic people voted in the Michigan and Florida primaries. Argued most recently by the NAACP, the spin is that keeping these delegates from counting at the convention brings to mind the "sordid history of racially discriminatory primaries." (I guess they're talking about the Democratic White Primary cases!)

It's a more, ahem, colorful way of saying that once votes are made, they must be counted, rules be damned.

Seat the delegates because the DNC didn't apply the rules fairly.
This is the ruleslawyer spin. It's most common among the Democratic "Netroots" who have largely picked Clinton to win, including Kos, Jerome Armstrong, and others. It goes something like this: any state that made their primary date earlier than February 5th without permission was automatically supposed to lose half their delegates. However, the DNC Rules Committee had discretion to take all of the delegates as sanctions for misbehavior. The DNC Rules Committee chose to exercise that discretion and take all of the delegates from Michigan and Florida, but took none of the delegates from Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina which also had primaries earlier than February 5th. Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina had permission to go earlier, but not as early as they did. Therefore, to be fair, all the delegates should be seated.

Like most ruleslawyers, their intent is not to uphold the rules but cajole some benefit from an exasperated gamemaster decisiontaker. For example, if they really want to uphold the rules then all of the early primary states should have their delegations automatically cut in half, not restored in full. Also, they have to ignore the fact that the DNC Rules Committee was entirely within its authority to sanction Michigan and Florida to deter other states from jumping the gun.

Don't be fooled. These are Clinton supporters desperately looking for some way to claim that it isn't the Establishment screwing Obama after he won. They want to "reluctantly" claim that they had no choice, that it's just how the rules work. Again, ignore the fact that the rules say no such thing and that, of the two, Obama was the only candidate who tried to follow the rules.

BLEG: I'm on the lookout for more delegate-seating spin. If you see some, be sure and send it my way. I'm especially looking for spun reasons why the primary votes in Michigan and Florida should not be retaken before the delegates are seated. (We, of course, know the real reason.)

UPDATE: Prompted by the commenters: wouldn't it be refreshing if we actually had riots in this country over high-minded concepts like democracy and political exercise? Now, let me be clear, I am not pro-riot. I just think it'd be neat to see rioting over elections rather than rioting over sports or the latest police beat-down.

Also, I should mention that I think a Democratic crack-up is highly unlikely. The superdelegates are not idiots; they know that their power and influence depends on the continuation of the Democratic coalition. Even the ones who have pledged support for Clinton will jump ship if it looks like they have to in order to preserve the party.

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posted by Gabriel Malor at 02:04 PM

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