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DNC “Duty to Enforce” Burden Relieved (Thanks, Hillary!)

August 25, 2007, the DNC Rules and Bylaws Committee tentatively barred Florida and Michigan delegations from the 2008 Democratic National Convention for violating the approved Primary scheduling window. A May 31, 2008 meeting will review this decision and may consider alternatives.

There are three plausible arguments for keeping the sanctions in place.

  • Does it advance the competitive interests of a particular candidate? Clearly yes, in that Obama would rather keep Clinton delegates off the floor, in case his grip on the nomination gets unexpectedly slippery.
  • Does it advance the Party’s immediate practical interests? Clearly no, in that the sanctions now constitute an unwelcome, unnecessary bone of contention, diminishing our General Election prospects in two key states, and eroding the nominee’s perceived legitimacy.
  • Does it protect the Party’s long-term interest in it’s own institutional credibility? Arguably yes, in that penalizing violations in retrospect keeps the attention of prospective violators.

This last argument — that of a Duty to Enforce — was potentially the most compelling, but all the force has now left it. It’s just … gone! … and that’s all thanks to Hillary. Let’s review the historical arc.

Once upon a time, Presidential Primaries were few and far between. National Conventions chose nominees — live, in person, real time!

The miracle of television let voters everywhere “know” the candidates, and more delegates came pledged by state primary and caucus results. Reporters and political lifers still went to convention to see real politics practiced and real news made (or “broken”, as they say) … but this happened less and less.

And as this happened, the primaries followed a dynamic of path determination. Just as the first raindrops falling on a level plain can determine the course of mighty rivers, early contest winners found it easier to raise money, capture vote share, and command TV news presence, while losers found it virtually impossible. Only the first few contests “really counted”, suspense evaporated, and conventions became tiresome rituals covered by increasingly resentful cash-strapped news divisions.

By 2007, a potential trainwreck-by-leapfrog threatened the nominating process. States moved to slot their primary or caucus events in “first” calendar position, and with each move, additional states prepared to move earlier still.

This was unacceptable from two perspectives. First, it jeopardized the slow rolling start of small-state, “retail” campaigning, and with it, small-budget candidate viability, close-up vetting, and incremental voter feedback on campaign themes and issues. Second, the cascade would have tumbled backward past Christmas and kept going, with no natural restraint in sight.

In response to this dread contingency, Rules were promulgated and applied. Late states would receive extra delegate seats, and penalties were authorized for states that jumped the gun.

This succeeded, mostly. The calendar of “first determining steps” was reasonably balanced, but Florida and Michigan bolted prematurely across the starting line. Arguably this resulted from interaction of the other gun-jumpers’ moves with state law, existing party rules, and Republican legislative mischief — but we need not argue that.

FL and MI may have deserved original circumstantial waivers on merit — but we need not argue that. Their sanctions were arguably more severe than the DNC Charter allows — but we need not argue that. MI and FL voters turned out in record numbers, just as well-informed as voters anywhere else, and in the end they did not disrupt the orderly process of delegate selection nationwide — but we need not argue that, either.

Amazingly enough, as the race played out it has become obvious that seating FL and MI today would NOT incite calendar trainwrecks tomorrow. By losing ground and coming back, by sustaining her campaign over months of uneven terrain, Hillary Clinton has broken the grip of path determination — the dynamic on which this contingency was premised.

In future cycles, all calendar positions now have prospective value to all self-interested legislatures and state party organs. Earlier dates are still more likely to attract national interest, but a well-tempered premium/penalty schedule (fewer seats for earlier events, more seats for later ones) can produce a nicely balanced calendar. [We can calibrate the necessary time premiums by resort to trial-auction protocols.]

Now, in May 2008, by dint of concrete practical demonstration, we know that:

  • The convention is no longer necessarily a pure formality, a vestige of bygone smoke-filled decision cycles.
  • Early wins are not necessarily decisive.
  • The full primary/caucus cycle is not necessarily decisive. (We now know that Superdelegates will choose the 2008 nominee.)
  • Late calendar position is not necessarily worthless.

And with the dread contingency no longer lurking in our anxiety closet … the Rules and Bylaws Committee is relieved of its once-apparent Duty to Enforce.

DNC apparatus — including but not limited to RBC — is now free to address the immediate seating conflict in terms of immediate advantage of the Party … and balancing that against the mixed disadvantage to one contender for the nomination.

42 Responses

  1. There’s a something on Kos about a “message control” email sent by Obama’s campaign instructing acolytes not to show up in Washington to demonstrate. Guess they figured out that no one from from their side was showing up anyway. http://steampunkx.dailykos.com/story/2008/5/27/143533/931/88/523677

  2. Excellent analysis.

    The question is will the RBC see it as you’ve so plainly laid it out?

  3. A message control email from on high! Does this mean I can party Friday and sleep in Saturday, dude?

  4. I heard the opposite…albeit by rumor..that they were going to meet our supporters with force. yes, they don’t want the media saying the party is divided and ALSO don’t want the images of those kool aid drinking wackos all over tv. if the public saw who his activists were that would be a bad thing. as opposed to hillary’s harmless little old ladies and hillbillies.

  5. Andrea,

    No, they want you to report to No. Va. for voter registration duty. I peeked at the orange cheeto. Ugh!

  6. kudos to them for doing that. but you know this kabuki dance, charade can’t last forever.

  7. it really is frightening that the obama campaign is coordinating with those lunatics.

  8. a little OT – did y’all get the email from Chelsea asking you to vote for a t-shirt design?


  9. OMG! I followed the link. One of those asshats has the tagline Obama/Casey, my personal dream ticket. Eeeww.

  10. What do you mean they want “me” to report to VA? I’m going to Washington on Saturday with my 17 year old daughter who will vote for the first time in November by writing in Hilary’s name.

  11. Yay Andrea! can’t wait to see you both there!

    btw, how effing weird is it that they do “message control”?? and that Kos actually propagates the message?

    As I am wont to say, Good Lord!

  12. second time posting, a bit OT
    wondering if anybody read this piece by Joan Venochi


    I have a different conclusion from hers. i wont vote for imperfect men when a more perfect woman is available.

  13. Andrea

    Good for you this Saturday.

    I’m one of those if not Hillary it’s McCain people unless Hillary is a third party candidate. I’m advocating that IF and I mean IF Hillary is ever denied the nomination we immediately start contributing to McCain to send the message loud, clear, and immediately we won’t be “rallying around’ the nominee.

  14. Jonas8, I did read that. I thought it was okay. Lots to agree with, but kind of insubstantial in the end.

    Like somebody funny said somewhere, sometime “This pudding has no theme.”

  15. murphy, the imperfect woman stuck with me though.

    my daughter is 7 and has a ruler with all the presidents. she was asking me which ones were the good ones. considering the number of bad presidents its amazing that America is still standing.

    I’m not forgeting what the media and the democratic party did to the first great woman presidential candidate. i just cant forget

  16. Coldblue Steele — Thanks for the single on-topic response.

    Yes, discussant including RBC members can argue it differently … but the argument runs into an obvious reality check. The prospect of a “real race” is no longer academic, and a “real convention” is still a material possibility in any future cycle (and those are the only cycles that weigh on the “rules integrity” arguments for enforcement).

  17. Charles, I would prefer a different primary standard.

    1. No caucuses.
    2. All voting is done across country.
    3. Takes place on one day, preferably Saturday.
    4. Winner takes all in each state.
    5. Candidates are limited by announcing 3 mos prior to primaries.
    6. First and second candidate are considered pres and vp
    7. No super delegates allowed to announce preference.
    8. Candidates must agree to debate bi monthly.
    9. Will of the voter supercedes any other consideration.
    10.Candidate with most popular vote is winner.

    I am sure you will agree that a campaign running as long and as expensive as this one is not doing anyone any good. People get hyped for the 6 months of American Idol and they will do the same when the parameters are drawn tighter.

  18. I read that Boston Globe op-ed and cried some pretty bitter tears. No, there is no perfect woman, but there are no perfect men either and somehow we manage to excuse them and elect them at every turn. It was the author’s lack of fight and her acceptance, albeit begrudging, of the world as it is that made me feel bitter and angry at the end.

    Just like my girl, I won’t go down without a fight.

  19. Also, I think we should encourage Media Matters to hold Olbermann accountable for his insane brand of journalism. He is getting a lotta love from the Blogger Boyz for his hate filled spittle fests, but no one is calling him out.




    Subject: Hold Keith Olbermann Accountable

    Dear Mr. Foser,

    While Media Matters has made a significant effort to hold many MSNBC commentators, such as Chris Matthews and Tucker Carlson, responsible for their often biased, sexist, and irresponsible coverage, you have failed to take on one of the most egregious violators of balanced journalism at MSNBC – Keith Olbermann. Mr. Olbermann may be a liberal, but he is no better than Bill O’Reilly or Rush Limbaugh.

    Mr. Olbermann presents himself as a credible journalist, in the tradition of the esteemed Edward R. Murrow, while in the same breath he goes off into fits of rage (often sexist in tone) against Senator Hillary Clinton. Mr. Olbermann’s rants are too often based on nothing more than his own fantastical deranged Hillary hate. See below for just three examples (of many):

    March 12th, Olbermann likens Hillary Clinton to David Duke in a scathing, spittle scattering, fit of rage.

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/taylor-marsh/keith-olbermann-is-no-edw_ b_91351.html

    April 23rd, Olbermann suggests a superdelegate take Hillary into a back room and the superdelegate should be the only person who comes out.

    http://anglachelg.blogspot.com/2008/04/olberman-calls-for-clintons-mu rder.html

    May 23rd, Olbermann actually has the audacity to suggest that in Senator Clinton’s perhaps poorly worded, but benign, remarks about Robert F. Kennedy tragic passing, she was calling for the unthinkable against Senator Obama.


    Keith Olbermann has gone too far during this primary election – he is a threat to responsible journalism. I am asking Media Matters to help us hold Olbermann accountable.

  20. Jonas8, I’m with you all the way. Right down to working my ass off for McCain if they succeed in stealing this from Hillary and pushing an imperfect but phenomenally impressive and inspiring woman out of the race for no good goddamned reason other than that they can get away with it because she’s “just a girl.”

    That last line struck me too. But I disagree profoundly with Venocchi’s decision to not tell her daughter what she really thinks. Tell your daughter the truth! Always tell her the truth about what is happening in the world and what challenges and hurdles she faces simply for being born a girl. If parents, mothers and fathers, have the courage to tell their daughters the truth and arm them with the confidence and fighting spirit they will need to face the mountain of shit that this culture is waiting to rain down on them the first time they expect to be taken seriously as free human beings, then, even if the bastards do put an end to Hillary’s campaign, another Hillary will be waiting and ready to take up her mantle. If we tell our daughters the truth about what is happening to Hillary and if we do all we can to try to stop it from succeeding, even if we fail, a new Hillary WILL be born, more perfect, more prepared, and more accustomed to the use and ownership of power. (shameless paraphrase of V. Woolf)

  21. JJ

    I think it’s been percolating for years the idea that the op ed writers are way out of touch. i’m not certain why or when we started turning to them for guidance or enlightening thoughts. one thing this campaign has taught me is that we can’t look to others for inspiration. we must inspire ourselves. that is hillary’s message. we can only count on ourselves.

  22. sorry, her message isn’t that we can only count on ourselves…but looking to her you can see that inner resolve that we all must have o make it in this world. we, hillary supporters, don’t look to be inspired by a smooth talker. we don’t go gaga over people. that’s why we are so quick to go to McCain. We, like Joan Crawford in Mommie Dearest “know how to win the hard way.” So don’t fuck with us fellas. Our strength is a sword that cuts both ways (again boardroom scene from mommie Dearest),

  23. can someone explain to me why it matters what order states vote in? and I don’t mean in terms of momentum, stuff like that, but strictly in terms of letting people vote for whomever they freaking want to vote for. I would much rather hear what the candidates have to say than base my vote on what people in Iowa think. as if! why is this such an issue?

    I understand that candidates cannot be everywhere at once. but I frankly don’t understand why they have to even be physically in a state. I found the debates very informative and didn’t particularly care where they were being held. for all I know they were in my state – that shouldn’t change the issues and the answers at all, not if you’re running for president of the whole country. if you wanna be state specific, run for governor.

    I’m having a hard time understanding why this order of primary thing is such a big deal, and am starting to think it’s all meant to be a distraction or smokescreen – look over there! no, look there!

    I like Chris Dodd well enough but the fact that he moved his family to Iowa struck me as absurd.

    D.C. is the national home of the federal government, and frankly where all the remaining candidates are employed. debate and make speeches from there, and reach out to the country as best you can from where you want to work anyway. eating in a diner in Iowa and bowling in Ohio or wherever are meaningless gestures. I can probably eat and bowl better than any of the candidates. would I be a good president? no, but it’s a moot point, cause I wouldn’t want the job.

    I do think the popular vote should matter. actually, it should be the only thing that matters, imo. I just don’t understand why the timing is so important. just elect your delegates before the convention, however your state sees fit.

    and it would be great if people voted based on policies and platforms, not on how much time candidates spent farting around in their state while they were being paid by taxpayers to work elsewhere.

  24. Charles, the other way around this process is possibly doing a regional contest. Dividing the country into five separate areas and voting every two weeks. The current process is debilating to the system. But there truly needs an overhaul to what is currently in place. The genius that put this together must have mucho regrets.

  25. OK – next time I post something that might actually have an impact on outcomes, I’ll put up Open Threads before and after it so it doesn’t get chatterboxed out of all recognition.

  26. Hi Ron!

    I am worried the sanctions will stay in place. There is a fourth option for why:

    Political capital has been spent and reputations are on the line to keep the sanctions in place. Nothing to do with a candidate or the DNC for that matter – I think it will come down to the pride of the people who got pissed enough to take all the delegates in the first place.

  27. oy, I’m probably a chatterbox. I have a problem in real life staying on topic. I apologize!

  28. Sorry Ron!
    “Now, in May 2008, by dint of concrete practical demonstration, we know that:
    The convention is no longer necessarily a pure formality, a vestige of bygone smoke-filled decision cycles.
    Early wins are not necessarily decisive.
    The full primary/caucus cycle is not necessarily decisive. (We now know that Superdelegates will choose the 2008 nominee.)
    Late calendar position is not necessarily worthless.”

    That last bit really stands out to me. This is where the value of Charles’ historians can come into play, I hope. The next time, in 4 years, 12 years, whenever, that political operatives try to game the process or the outcome by messing with the calendar, the DNC can just ignore them, right? It turned out that PA in late April was way more important to both candidates’ campaigns than many of the earlier contests.

    I like what Pat J and Charles said about shortening the time frame of the primary season, but I worry about this: if the primary season is TOO short, then how do we protect ourselves from Buyer’s Remorse (a la Paul_L at Corrente)? What if the other side holds back devastating dirt for the duration of a super-short primary season and then drops a bomb that puts us back into disarray?

  29. I also wonder if Hillary staying in and picking up steam will help or hinder the seating of the delegates. Again, I think there is a pride aspect of the over-the-top sanctions.

    I would be completely blown away if they were seated as is, I think the best possible outcome would be the half seating or half vote for the delegates.

  30. No, kiki, yours was the second most on-topic comment.

    States have vested interests in their own competitive primary contests. Local issues get attention – and promises – from national candidates. Big advertising $$$ comes to state TV, radio, newpapers, mail houses, advertisers, consultants, motels, restaurants, and campaign hacks. Local officials get attention from national officials, and there are all kinds of party-building, fund-raising and list-building activities you can build around an upcoming primary or caucus, from debates to galas to doorbellings.

  31. I don’t think that those who “control” the DNC are very bright, and their unqualified candidate with the shiny Chicago machine image will go down in flames.

  32. murphy – Every state still has to place a bet on where it wants to be in the mix. The first events are “sure things”, but should be priced down accordingly. The later events are dicier, and should command premium rewards, since their raw value may dive to near-zero somewhere along the line.

    The first few positions should be heavily penalized as a matter of course — perhaps zero pledged delegates, just add-on’s, and should be strictly limited in total delegates so that large states don’t play early.

  33. murphy: In answer to you question, we have already had about 18 months of campaigning and how much do we know about Obama as of now? Bits and pieces are trickling out but a longer campaign does not ensure that we have a completely vetted candidate. We know about Hillary, warts and all.

    Yet something needs to happen to clean up the current process of selection. Perhaps submitting a fully formed resume might help, like a job interview with the DNC or something akin to that. I don’t know, I’m just throwing stuff out there because of the dissatisfaction of what we are now witnessing. A complete mess.

  34. Hey Pat! Didn’t the media used to do that bit? This season (and back to 2000) has been a farce. Maybe my eyes are just open now. I’m not so sure 24 hour news has done us any favors.

  35. ok, but you’re not going to be the president of Iowa, or of New Hampshire. why should the voters in Virginia care what the voters in Maryland did?

    the convention should be where it all comes together. each state made a decision, and all those decisions get combined. the order in which the states did it shouldn’t matter.

  36. jjmtacoma: There is no such thing any longer as investigative journalism unless you count Frontline or Bill Moyers. The media is corporate owned and they obey their masters. Think how the MSM, almost with pack mentality, has stood in support of Obama. Hillary can count on very few to come to her defense. I really do not see that as fallout from a 24 hour news cycle but more the masters instruct the shills on the message of the day.

    Think of the last time you have seen any real reporting regarding Iraq. It is almost as if he has disappeared from view. Perhaps to aid McCain, perhaps to bolster Obama. Meanwhile he goes unvetted and every utterance is given primetime while Hillary gets bashed and bashed.

  37. Pat, your resume idea is so right on, but it shoudn’t be submitted to the party or the media, but rather to the voters.

    this reminds me of GWB saying, and I paraphrase “I don’t have to explain myself to anyone, people have to explain themselves to me, cause I’m the president”

    wrong…..so WRONG. every government worker, up to and including the president, is an employee, hired and paid by taxpayers. and presumably accountable to same.

  38. Oh, sorry Pat – I think I drew us off the discussion of seating delegates again!

    How do you think the meeting this weekend will play for FL/MI?

  39. kiki: Until I retired I was a recruiter for a hospital. Resumes tell you something about a candidate but the face to face interview was the most revealing. Could they answer a question without hesitation? Did they make eye contact? What would their last boss say about them? Give a definition of a team player?

    So many times I was able to judge just what the person was bringing to the table just almost within minutes of the interview. Obama would never have passed the smell test. He is uncertain of his answers and never appears fully prepared. And note how often he looks down. It is just instinct after awhile.

  40. jjmtacoma: To be honest, I feel the fix is in. They will make allocations based on “fairness” in order to prevent a full scale revolt from either side. What they are hoping will happen is that by June 4th she will see she does not have enough delegates and concede. The supers who have been holding out will come forward on his behalf and that will end it.

    I am hoping she takes it to the floor in Denver and offers up the popular vote she has attained along with the belief that she is the one to beat McCain. Let it go through a few segments. That is my hope.

  41. Dem lawyers: FL & MI cant’ be fully restored –


    btw – since Obama has ALWAYS maintained FL & MI don’t count, that may be the reason his campaign is discouraging participation in the protests at DNC on Sat.
    Let Hillary supporters be the “wild eyed protestors” – since he’s backed by the elite Washington and media establishment anyway that has given him a free ride.

  42. Isn’t it also more in the interests of the party to have the primaries go through all states, for reasons of party building, registering new Dem voters, etc? does this matter?

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