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Monday, February 18, 2008

Democrats make rules, then gripe about them

By Dennis Byrne
Chicago Tribune

Bad-loser Democrats, who have endlessly crabbed about Republicans "stealing" the last two presidential elections, are at it again, bellyaching about being "disenfranchised" anew, but this time by their own party.

How refreshing.

Their gripe is that the Democratic Party has "disenfranchised" its voters in Florida and Michigan by decreeing that their primary elections won't count at the convention in the selection of the party's presidential nominee.

The reason? The two states violated the party's rules by holding their primaries before the Feb. 5 Super Tuesday vote. The party had warned the states against it, but the states, knowing the consequences, went ahead anyway. Likewise, hundreds of thousands knew their votes wouldn't count, but they voted anyway. Laughably, many now are whining about being disenfranchised.

The irony, of course, is that if the two states had not been so pigheaded and held their primaries later, they now could be playing the role of kingmaker in the closely fought battle between Sen. Barack Obama and Sen. Hillary Clinton.

So, some Democrats, being Democrats, now insist that the rules shouldn't count, and that the two states' delegates should be seated at the convention anyway. If that happens, Clinton, who won both states, would scoop up the majority of their 366 delegates, perhaps enough to tip the nomination to her. Never mind that Obama didn't campaign there and wasn't on the Michigan ballot. Clinton's gusty delegate grab is contemptible.

The word "disenfranchise" also is being thrown around loosely in regard to how the party's 796 superdelegates will vote. As "insiders" -- senators, congressmen, governors and party bigwigs -- superdelegates can vote any way they please. Now some Democrats are saying nuts to the rules, demanding that the only role of superdelegates is to rubber stamp the popular vote. If not, the critics say, the insiders will be disenfranchising the millions who voted for the top vote-getter. Ain't it grand?

The word "disenfranchise" was popularly used when Jim Crow laws denied black Americans the right to vote, so it is particularly ironic that Democrats -- the self-described champions of civil rights -- now are accusing one another of the sin. But the party isn't interested in irony; it's worried about disintegrating. It should. It may already be too late to reverse the perception that insiders, by picking the nominee, will shove aside the voters.

Consider: Without a wholesale shift of superdelegates to Obama, the convention could open with neither candidate having a winning majority. There could be a gigantic, ugly and destructive floor fight over whether the Florida and Michigan delegates should be seated and over changing the superdelegate rules.

The damage might be avoided, Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean suggested, if Clinton and Obama could work out a deal before the convention, but that wouldn't placate progressive activists who already are furious that the convention might be "brokered" in violation of their "power to the people" orthodoxy. Other damage-control schemes that have been floated include: an appeal to a special convention committee to settle the dispute; a deal by the two states to split their delegates according to some make-up-the-rule-as-you-go-along formula, or convening special caucuses in the two states to, in effect, redo the primary.

None of them will work because the aggrieved can challenge them on the convention floor. Perhaps party dealmakers think they could avoid a public fight by coming up with a rule beforehand designed to prevent a floor challenge, but that would only further inflame dissidents -- an honored appellation among Democrats (except when dissidents are divisive). I can see it now: network TV anchors high in their booths dramatizing the "struggle" by the sainted against wicked party insiders. Never mind that the insiders were elected to their jobs by Democratic voters, who got what they deserve. Like superdelegate and Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich.

Democrats have only themselves to blame for letting their nomination process turn into a rhubarb, with their goofy, complicated and utopian delegate rules designed to give "voice" to every possible demographic slice. Here's a perfect example of the law of unintended consequences: Rules designed to give power to the people wind up handing more power to insiders.

Looking at the muddle, one senior party member told me that helping to craft those "inclusive" delegate rules decades ago was one of his life's great regrets.

Maybe he should become a Republican. That party, with its straightforward, winner-take-all delegate formula, is picking a nominee without the self-destructive nonsense about disenfranchisement.


ladle5 said...

Gotta love such loaded idiotic phrases as "Some Democrats, BEING DEMOCRATS" to imply all Democrats are bad and the lovely the "that the insiders were elected to their jobs by Democratic voter who got what they deserve..." saying that Democrats deserve bad things and of course the factually incorrect statement that Republicans don't use proportional delegates - and further that the Republicans avoided any controversy - yes the lovely sight of McCain trying to placate a talk-radio personna who is worried about "anal-poisining" for those close to their nominee some how is above the fray... hmmm a party worrying about the people being heard v. a party worried about a sideline commentator- yes the democrats are the only ones with problems.

Anonymous said...

How typical of Dennis Byrne to castigate a political party for trying to be democratic (small "d.")
Byrne loves the "less complicated" winner-take-all approach that has left the GOP fractured and on the point of collapse.
Byrne is a dinosaur, headed for extinction. The speeding asteroid of his party's destruction this November is hurtling down upon him, while he blithely chews on his swamp grass and says "Asteroid? What asteroid?"

Anonymous said...

Dennis said: 1. "Bad-loser Democrats, who have endlessly crabbed about Republicans "stealing" the last two presidential elections..." and 2. "...ironic that Democrats -- the self-described champions of civil rights...
1. I still hear Republicans crabbing about how Richard Daley stole the election for John Kennedy - and that was some sixty years ago.
2. How astute of you Dennis. Way to develop ironies that aren't there.

And maybe you should tell the black Americans again that it is the Republicans that truly care – they don’t seem to remember that when they go into the voting booth.

Reed said...

On the whole, a fine column, but I take issue with the equating of the Clinton camp's appeal for Michigan and Florida to the complaints of voter fraud in 2000.

Everyone knew the rules ahead of time in this case. It's just the Clinton camp grubbing for votes despite knowing what the shot was ahead of time.

In 2000, Katherine Harris set up the rules herself. She's not a Democrat. So the Democrats didn't set up the rules and then complain about them. Furthermore, the Supreme Court, largely appointed by Republican presidents, took the law into their own hands and violated the constitution. Again, it wasn't Democrats complaining about the rules "they set up." To imply that these two scenarios are somehow the same is misleading.

Eric said...

I have blogged on this column over at

Or click here

Dennis Byrne said...

For more comments, go to:

Anonymous said...

The states of Florida and Michigan weren't being pigheaded. It was the party officials who were being pigheaded.

Anonymous said...

Leave it to a Democrat to reinvent history -- Katherine Harris of Florida was following the law when she certified the vote count. Then when the Florida Supreme Court (majority Democrat appointed)changed the rules after the fact (a big legal no-no), she certified by their new rules. For this she was castigated by the Left over and over. Finally, the Supreme Court of the US, in view of the fact that the Florida Supremes were intending to change the law as often as necessary to allow the Democrats to count votes any way they could to win, put a stop to the farce.