Howard Dean was by all accounts a very competent physician, but given the looming damage he’s done to the Democratic Party, I don’t think I’d be at all comfortable letting him near my body with any medical instrument, no matter how blunt and seemingly harmless.
Back in the kumbaya days of 2007, everything appeared to be shaping up nicely for the Democrats. They had a slate of whip-smart, progressive, telegenic (except for Dennis Kucinich’s marsupian overbite and Joe Biden’s magically-reappeared mystery hair) candidates. Of course, almost everyone assumed that the whole crowd were pale foils for the Fair Ms. Clinton, who’d gentlemanly spar with them all before politely vanquishing each of them one by one with a promise to meet in January 2009 at her first Cabinet meeting or at her inauguration when she wished them well before they left on their ambassadorship to the exotic land of their choosing. Then, come 12:01 AM on February 6, she’d sound the kudu horn and unleash the massed Hillarmy to charge into the valley and lay siege to the poor old bastard who would have the misfortune to be the last Republican standing. Thompson, Romney, Giuliani–it didn’t matter; they’d all bleed the same Kansas Red–and her gilded, well-oiled ground war party would carry her on their mighty shoulders as she gave a Queen’s wave and painted the land blue.
No one from that vaunted Clinton Machine expected that they’d find themselves stumbling punch-drunk out of Super Tuesday, reeling over mere weeks from domination to donnybrook to deadlock to deficit. Nor did anyone foresee the possibility of Hillary not only having to fight her way through Easter and damn near to Arbor Day, in a showdown in the Quaker State and the very real possibility that America’s pre-eminent political sister would be slain or stalemated in the land of brotherly love.
Certainly no one at the Democratic National Committee saw this coming, or they likely wouldn’t have been so quick to pull out the strap and play bad Dad to Michigan and Florida when both states voted defiantly to move their primary contests ahead of Super Tuesday. Granted, the states have the right to choose their nominating process, but they were bucking the tide of carefully choreographed unity that the DeanNC worked so hard to put together, and they were going to be punished for it. It was a poorly-timed and misguided game of chicken where neither side blinked.
The Democratic candidates agreed in protest not to campaign or appear on the ballot in either state, and voters were urged to vote “uncommitted” in both states. The idea was that the nomination would never be in doubt and that the acclaimed nominee would unite the party by encouraging the convention to seat both delegations at the convention.
Well, trouble started early when Dennis Kucinich and Chris Dodd didn’t take the pledge and appeared on the ballot in Michigan. Obama was not in the ballot and did not campaign in Michigan. Always one to hedge her bets, Hillary showed up on the ballot in both states and happened to squeeze in a few inadvertent and highly-photographed trips to the Sunshine State in the days leading up to and including the January 29 primary–and, of course, she was the first to step up and plead for the Florida Democrats not to be disenfranchised and to have their delegates seated at the convention.
The Democrats have a long and storied history of working against their best interests, but, with the exception of the introduction of Superdelegates, it’s usually in the candidates they choose: McGovern, Mondale, Dukakis, Kerry, and rank-and-file Dems seem to accept that with the same half-hearted optimism masking fatalistic resignation that Chicago Cubs fans must feel every spring. Nothing exemplifies that more than an actual web site that appeared at the beginning of the 2004 Democratic primary cycle: “johnkerryisadouchebagbutimvotingforhimanyway.com”.
That’s why it’s so dispiriting this year to have two engaging and electable candidates fighting it out to the end, with young voters engaged, and the Democratic turnout whupping that of the despondent, in-fighting Republicans nearly two and a half to one–only to have the perfect Ali-Foreman slugfest ready to be derailed in the 15th round by the judges and the commission stepping into the ring and joining the fray. Like any unexpected battle royal, it’s all going to be delightful sport to watch, but anyone with a vested interest in either fighter is going to lose.
And as the candidates beat one another to what is surely going to be a judge’s decision, this mess the DNC has created in Florida and Michigan is going to make Florida 2000 look like a model of procedural efficiency. If they don’t fix it now, this is going to be litigated eight ways from Sunday, and in the end no one is going to be happy.
Hillary and Barack are far from pure in this process. And the same goes for all of the Democratic candidates. If they were going to take a pledge, it should have been to tell the DNC to pound it and to announce that they were going to campaign and be on the ballot in both states, because all the voters need to be represented, because that’s what real democracy is about. Ha. Yeah, I know. But in the end, a pledge is a pledge, no matter which way it goes, and if that’s the road they collectively chose, neither Hillary nor Barack should have been anywhere near either state on the day of their primaries.
And yes, the horse has left barn on that, so now the right thing to do would be to convene a do-over with all deliberate speed, before this comes down to Pennsylvania, or Oregon, or even Denver in August. A caucus or a primary in each state as fast as they can put it together, with the voters represented and the delegates chosen. Let’s dig up this landmine and disarm it, and then we can go back to complaining about the superdelegates.
Yeah, sure, that would have been the right thing to, but as I sit here and look at the “Dukakis ’88″ button on my bookshelf, I’m reminded that this isn’t a party accustomed to doing the right thing.