31 May 2008

Like Making Sausages

There is an old adage that politics is like making sausages: best not to watch. As clever as that saying is, and perhaps despite the frequent truthfulness of it, I couldn't help but think today, as I watched the DNC's Rules Committee's proceedings, that it didn't apply. It was good to watch, to see our democratic process at work. I am not a political activist or a party insider, so I found today's televised proceedings interesting and informative. I was glad that I had a chance to see the process at work. There are some that will disagree with me -- and healthy debate is part of a healthy democracy and should always be encouraged -- but I think that, while I only partially agree with the final outcomes, the right actions were taken.

Perhaps I'm more of a rules stickler than I like to let on, but I think that it is important that we have rules in place before a process occurs in order to govern it. You shouldn't make it up as you go along. Without rules, there is chaos. Still, the decision made last year to not seat the delegates elected by the voters of Florida and Michigan was not the correct one. Especially in the case of Florida, where the Florida Democratic Party was forced to an earlier date by a legislative act by the Republican-dominated legislature, the "punishment" of Florida Democrats was not just ill-advised, and ultimately ineffectual, but it was morally wrong of the DNC to take away the voice of Democrats in the state. I am disappointed that I never heard any of the committee indicate that they were wrong in making that decision, although I suppose, the fact that there was a hearing is an acknowledgment that there was a wrong that needed a remedy. At one point today -- and I do not recall who said it -- it was mentioned that it wasn't thought that the refusal to seat the delegations would matter. This should not have been part of the consideration in last year's ruling; every election is important and the party shouldn't have assumed that there would be a presumptive nominee by Super Tuesday. To think that, even though it has been the reality in past elections, is truly to discount the importance of voters in a majority of the states in the Union.

That said, there are rules in the Democratic National Party to allow 1/2 votes of delegates, which is what the DNC Rules Committee agreed to do: apportion delegates based on the vote, as recommended by the Florida Democratic Party. As to the argument of 'let every vote count', they were counted. Primaries are NOT an election of a candidate, but an election of delegates to the nominating convention. It is not about the candidate that gets the most votes; it is about the candidate that gets the most delegates. This is precisely why they cannot consider those who might have stayed away from the polls; they didn't exercise their right to vote and therefore there is nothing to count. You cannot assume the will of the non-existent voter. They didn't vote; they were not a 'voter' in this primary election. Those who think that the votes in Florida have not been counted perhaps should go back and review a high school civics textbook.

As for Michigan, the circumstances were a bit different, but I think the fundamental principal is the same. I am glad that the Michigan delegates will be seated and in keeping with the Democratic Party's rules, it is appropriate to seat them at 1/2 vote. What I think was incorrect in the decision today was that they allocated any votes to Senator Obama. While it is reasonable to assume that supporters of Senator Clinton would not have voted 'Uncommitted' when Clinton was on the ballot, one cannot assume that the other votes were for Obama. There were several other candidates on the ballot at the time of the Michigan primary. One can no more ascertain the mind of the voter selecting 'Uncommitted' than one can assume what someone who didn't show up at the poll might have voted if they thought their state primary was more than just a beauty contest. I think it would have been best if they had reinstated the delegates and let Clinton have her delegates based on the percentage of votes that she received. The uncommitted delegates should have then been allowed to make a determination in the same manner as the so-called super delegates. It isn't the ideal situation, but it is a better way than trying to guess for whom those votes were intended.

What I do think the Rules Committee did correct today, as flawed as the proposals were, was to accept the proposals of each state's committee. In the end, it is up to the states' committees to have their delegates to the nominating convention, so it is appropriate that their proposals, worked out within their organization, be agreed to by the national committee. It is the right thing to do, despite the fact that, in the case of Michigan, the methodology for determining the distribution of delegates was flawed. As Alice Huffman, a member of the Rules Committee stated, (after her proposal for seating the Florida delegates at 100% failed), the decision, while not ideal, was the next best thing. She was heckled by some in the crowd, including one person who yelled that it was lipstick on a pig. I could write at length about a feminist take on that comment but will save it for another time.

Ms Huffman, in commenting that it is not a perfect world, is correct. The essence of politics is compromise. It has to be, especially in a diverse party like the Democratic Party. We all should be heard; there shouldn't be assumptions about what might have happened if things had been different; concessions need to be made. That's what it's about. It is like making sausages: kind of unseemly, and in an ideal world sausages wouldn't be so high in the bad kind of fats, but you don't get such a bad tasting product in the end.


Courtney said...

What a well-thought, well-written post on the occurrences of yesterday, Cam. I feel smarter for having read it. I didn't get to pay as much attention as I would have liked to the process because I'm at a conference, but you definitely helped educate me on what occurred.

The only point I disagree with you on is the fact that I am happy Obama received the uncommitted votes, although I recognize it's perhaps not the fairest decision...

Cam said...

Courtney, Too bad that your conference kept you from tuning in, if only for a short while. I'm sure that you would have found it interesting.

As an Obama supporter, I suppose I could say that I was happy that the extra delegates have kept him with a lead, although he would still have a lead without them. However, I don't think that determining assignment of delegates based on exit polling data was the correct thing to do. I think it is a dangerous precedent, a slippery slope, once party leaders decide to assume what the voters wanted. I think it would have been best to let the delegates pledge themselves to a candidate, although I realize that determining who those delegates would be would be a tricky thing too.

As a Democrat, too, I should be happy that the state parties came together in agreement on how the problem should be fixed. Speakers from both the FL and MI contingents said this, although the atmosphere in the meeting room seemed very divided. I sincerely hope that the Democrats haven't screwed this up beyond repair and lose the General in November.