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Thursday, April 03, 2008

Dear Dr. Dean: Amputate, but don't deny or further delay the surgery on FL & MI delegations

Howard B. Dean III, M.D.
Chairman, Democratic National Committee
William J. Dyer a/k/a "Beldar"
Conservative Republican lawyer-blogger
Florida & Michigan delegations,
2008 Denver Democratic National Convention

Doctors like getting advice from lawyers on non-legal matters about as much as doctors like being sued by lawyers on medico-legal matters. Add in that I'm a conservative Republican who holds you in laughably low regard and who's consistently mocked you since 2003, and this memo is almost certain to go straight to the bottom of your circular file.

But even a blind pig can occasionally find an acorn; even a Republican can occasionally see something about the Democratic Party that's obscure to a Democrat; and even a lawyer can occasionally persuade a doctor that his stubborn pride is about to result in an incredible injustice. (Okay, I made that last part up; it's actually never happened in the history of the world, at least in this particular quantum universe. But there's always a first time. Well, not always. But maybe.)

Although you've been reasonably successful in concealing it, you probably have a favorite between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. That would only be human, but it ought not matter for purposes of the discussion in this memo. Indeed, as one of your political opponents, I used to be convinced that the best thing for the GOP would be for the Dems to nominate Hillary. But I'm now persuaded that my party ought to be able to beat either of them. Or put another way, either Obama or Clinton would make an incredibly attractive target for my scorn and ridicule leading up to the 2008 election. Either as a voter or a blogger, I'm now mostly indifferent on the subject of who your party nominates.


I'm about to assert a proposition that you may find hard to believe, suffering as you do from chronic Bush Derangement Syndrome and the sclerotic cerebral arteries that are too often characteristic of your original highly opinionated profession (and altogether too common in my own):

Completely apart from their own political preferences, Republicans — as Americans — might actually give a damn about whether your party disenfranchises 1.75 million Democratic primary voters from Florida and 600k Democratic primary voters from Michigan. In fact, many of us do. And as much as we might enjoy the continuing SNAFU within your party over your ham-handed, inflexible, and uninspired leadership on this issue, we actually share in your own party primary voters' interests that their votes count for something instead of for nothing.

Put bluntly: If you beat us next November, it would be better for the country, including us Republicans, that you have done so fair and square, against the nominee who is genuinely the preference of your party. And if we beat you next November, it's likewise better for the country, including us Republicans, that we have done so fair and square, against the nominee who is genuinely the preference of your party. Donkey or elephant, our new president will need all the political credibility he or she can muster in order to  succeed or fail on his/her own.


Despite your own weird leftist leanings, I believe you actually have a strong moralistic core (albeit with a version of "morality" that varies considerably from my own). Before you became a politician, you often made recommendations to your patients and their families that they found unpleasant; occasionally, in emergencies, you were obliged to act even without their fully informed consent simply to save your patients' lives for long enough for them to climb the learning- and decision-making curves. On those occasions, you acted as a sort of trustee, certainly a fiduciary, of your patients' own interests.

And so too, now, due to your power and position as Chairman of the DNC, you're called upon to make recommendations and, if necessary to avoid calamity, even to act precipitously.

Here are the simple facts of this political emergency, which is as compelling and urgent as any medical emergency you ever faced in your training and career as a physician:

  • If you capitulate totally to the Obama campaign, stick to your guns against Billary, and refuse to honor the results of the Florida and Michigan primaries in any manner, you run a serious risk of killing your patient.

  • If you capitulate totally to the Clinton campaign, retroactively rescind all of the penalties threatened, and seat all of the delegates from Florida and Michigan as if those primaries were wholly legitimate, you run a serious risk of killing your patient.

  • But: If you compromise — if you recognize that a lingering infection of illegitimacy must be excised decisively through amputation — your patient may yet live, and recover to the point that some time in 2009, regardless of how the November 2008 election came out, no one will be arguing with a straight face that your decision back in April 2008 was outcome-determinative.

Amputate now, rather than deny or even further delay the necessary surgery. Amputate now, so that your party's worst-afflicted limbs may have a little time to heal, and that the remaining primaries will remain meaningful (and indeed, possibly outcome determinative). Amputate now, lest your remaining choices, after more delay, all turn entirely unacceptable.

Indulge in the practical reality that for almost all of the Michigan voters, "uncommitted" or "Richardson" or "Biden" meant "anyone but Hillary." There's only one such candidate left, so give precisely one-half of the delegates generated by those votes to Obama (who wasn't on the ballot). Give Clinton exactly one-half of the delegates that would have been generated by the votes cast for her.

Do the same for Florida: Hillary gets half of her delegates, and Obama gets half of the delegates who'd have gone to him and the other candidates.

Meantime, irrespective of the delegate count, declare in your most solemn voice that every vote has been counted, and every vote counts — and that for purposes ever after of reporting and recording the popular vote from the Michigan and Florida Democratic primaries, every vote cast in them shall be deemed to count in full.

Therein lies the master component of the compromise, sir: For this declaration will enable Hillary to argue to the super-delegates, for what it's worth (and with obvious factual backup), that to the extent they consider popular vote totals in making their own decisions, they ought to consider every popular vote, including those from Michigan and Florida, which after all are large swing states likely to actually be in play in November 2008.

Net effects:

  • The controversy will be over. Your party will have re-enfranchised its voters — entirely for purposes of the nonbinding popular vote, and fully half-way, exactly as the GOP did, for purposes of the resulting delegates — from Florida and Michigan. You don't have to admit that the GOP was smarter than you in the way it handled this from the outset, but you can still use the "parity with our opponents" argument to buttress your decision.

  • Clinton won't be hurt as badly, and Obama won't be helped as much, in the pledged delegate count as if neither state's delegations were counted at all. But the net change won't be outcome determinative. Nor will it even change the current front-runner: Obama will still be ahead (for now) in both pledged delegates and popular votes, albeit by a smaller margin than if no delegates or popular votes from those two states were counted.

  • Finally, besides giving the Clintonistas another talking point with the super-delegates, you clarify what Clinton must do, and what Obama must prevent her from doing, in the remaining primaries — in a fair way, and in time for it to matter.

Regarding that last crucial point: If — with the benefit of the undiluted popular vote counts from Florida and Michigan — Clinton can go on to gain a slight majority in the total popular votes after adding in the next (and final) 10 primaries, then her argument to persuade super-delegates to recognize her (arguably better) general election prospects becomes as clear-cut as it possibly can be.

If, by contrast, Obama hangs on to even a razor-thin popular vote majority (or even denies one to Clinton), as well as keeping his lead in pledged delegates, then Clinton's pitch to the super-delegates will almost certainly fail.

Given current polls and the cold, hard mathematics, Clinton has an uphill, but far from impossible, task in catching up on popular votes even with Florida and Michgan counting fully. The result would be far from pre-ordained. Rather, it should re-energize both campaigns, and the voters in all 10 remaining primary states!

And immediately, you're a hero. You've sliced through the Gordian knot. You've eliminated dispute over the past, and you've returned all the focus to the future — i.e., the remaining 10 primaries and, perhaps, the convention.

You won't have solved the potential problem of the super-delegates producing a different result than the pledged delegates alone would have produced. But that's a bigger, separate, and still hypothetical problem that you should be glad to kick down the road a few more months.


After the election, regardless of its outcome, address the awful problem of the too-long primary race, too many debates that include too many pygmy candidates, and primary-date gun-jumping states by agreeing with your GOP counterpart to appoint a bipartisan commission (chaired by, say, Sam Nunn and Hailey Barbour) to propose new federal legislation that would be parallel and binding on all states. But for now:

Amputate. The gangrene is climbing up toward your party's vitals from two limbs whose effective use, even through a prosthetic, will be badly needed in the general election. Those limbs will need time to heal, and you can't risk waiting any longer.

Just find someone at The New Republic or Brookings to make this same proposal tomorrow, so that you don't have to credit me for the solution and you can save face. Don't worry: I won't sue.

Posted by Beldar at 03:12 AM in 2008 Election, Politics (2008) | Permalink


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(1) A.W. made the following comment | Apr 3, 2008 12:36:39 PM | Permalink

I disagree completely. Now, like you i am disinterested, and not a dem in any case. But the only fair way to count the delegates is a re-vote. Guessing what they might have voted instead is wrong. But i also disagree with your premise. They broke the rules, they were told what would happen if they broke the rules. Dean has every right to go through with his threat/promise.

(2) Beldar made the following comment | Apr 3, 2008 12:59:21 PM | Permalink

A.W., thank you for the comment, but who's the "they" in your comment? When you answer that question, your argument, with due respect, falls apart.

The Democratic primary voters of Florida and Michigan didn't break any rules. They indeed heard their national committee threaten their state committee with a harsh, disproportionate sanction, but they — the voters, which should be the only "they" for whom Dean has significant concern right now — had no choice in the matter.

A re-vote would be fine, but it is now 100% clear that won't happen.

Maybe those state party officials should be the ones punished; deny them seats at the national convention, and replace them for the next election cycle. And by all means, comprehensive and bipartisan primary election reforms are appropriate.

My choice of a medical metaphor was quite deliberate. To shift it only slightly (from gangrene to heart disease): the physician who's been sternly counseling, and even threatening, his patient for years — "Stop smoking! Exercise! Diet!" — doesn't let his patient die of sudden cardiac arrest in front of him, wagging a finger in the patient's face while letting the defibrillator paddles lie unused. The physician might be morally justified in so doing, but it's a gross perversion of his job to impose such harsh sanctions. Likewise, for a national party chairman to actually disenfranchise more than two million Americans would be a gross perversion of his job.

Mine is, I recognize, a plea that Americans ought to get a better governance than they (in this instance, "they" meaning "the Democrats") deserve. And if the Democratic primary race weren't whisker-close — with something like a percentage point separating their two remaining candidates in both delegates and popular votes — this wouldn't matter so much. But it is that close, and it does matter that much.

(3) kimsch made the following comment | Apr 3, 2008 1:12:04 PM | Permalink

The Democrats should have done what the Republicans did in the first place. If they had to penalize Michigan and Florida for holding their primaries too early, then take half the delegates (or any other percentage). That seems to have been the best solution.

(4) Beldar made the following comment | Apr 3, 2008 1:26:23 PM | Permalink

Kimsch, you're right, the Dems should have done what the GOP did, and they still should.

(5) Blue made the following comment | Apr 3, 2008 5:10:52 PM | Permalink

The thing I keep wondering about is, if Hillary! is really done, why doesn't Obama himself propose something similar to what you've done, Beldar?

It doesn't hurt him all that much...he would still have a 80-100 delegate lead. Sure it makes the popular vote tighter...but it is his best chance in this whole election cycle to look "presidential" and not like the two-bit Chicago pol that I suspect he really is.

(6) seePea made the following comment | Apr 3, 2008 11:26:12 PM | Permalink

I totally disagree with the idea of a Federal imposition of a primary and am just about positive that it would be held to be unconstitutional as an impediment of Freedom of Assembly for political purposes.

(7) Beldar made the following comment | Apr 4, 2008 12:41:49 AM | Permalink

seePea, I'm not saying the feds should take over running the state primaries. But the feds already impose regulations and requirements, typically tied to continued receipt of cash incentives (e.g., for voting machines). There's no constitutional problem with conditioning funds on compliance, no more with this than with interstate highways. Nor is there a First Amendment problem, so long as the regulation is content-free and is related instead to regulation of time, place, and manner. Primary reform would be vastly less pernicious than, say, McCain-Feingold.

This past season, both parties showed a total inability to impose internal discipline on their state organizations. And the gun-jumping primary states aren't the only problems: The election season is way too long, the number of debates is ridiculous, and the depth into the season in which pygmy candidates with no following are permitted to participate in those debates is ridiculous. I'm not saying that the feds ought to make new rules on this; I'm saying the two major parties, working on a bi-partisan basis, should do so, and then they should enlist Congressional supporting legislation that would provide compliance which their own sanctions have been unable to induce.

(8) Gregory Koster made the following comment | Apr 4, 2008 9:27:45 AM | Permalink

Dear Mr. Dyer: I like your solution for Florida, but not Michigan. I don't agree that an election where Hillary, Gravel, and "uncommitted" were on the ballot is now the same as an election where Obama = all of the above except Hillary. So far as "a revote ain't gonna happen", why not? Obama is the main stumbling block to that. Should he insist that there be no revote, it's his problem if the GOP hangs the "disenfranchisement" label on him.

The real problem in this process is the idiotically complicated method used to allocate Democratic delegates. Unlike the GOP, which has chosen 'winner-take-all' to allocate the delegates, the Dems have their formulas for 'proportional representation' that make Einstein take to his bed ina darkened room, a bag of ice on his aching head. Winner-take-all has its own set of problems, but it does have the merit of being able to decide a winner. You, a Thompson backer and I a Romney backer, may not care for the result, and may still be glancing wistfully back at It Might Have Been, but the result is done. It also seems to be a result most GOPers can live with. I'm not wild about McCain, but I can vote for him, the more so since I can snicker at the thought of what such zanies as Ann Coulter are going to do this fall, after bawling that they will vote for Hillary instead of that devil McCain. But the Dems listened to such quacks as Lani Guinier in designing their allocation formulas. Not surprisingly, the result has been deadlock. That is what proportional representation does. It makes it tough for one party to come out on top. In a legislature, it may be fine to guarantee that all the factions have seats in the orchestra. But when it comes to choosing a conductor (the executive) PR is the equivalent of tossing lit matches toward a open container of gasoline.

The faults of the existing presidential choosing system are glaring. But the virtues, as demonstrated by the GOP, aren't to be sneezed at. It's also worth noting that the agonies of length, number of debates, and minor candidates, do not bother most folks, who don't pay much attention (as opposed to junkies such as me, who are rapturous about it) until later on. Telling the two big parties to get with it, and have the feds mandate a solution for everybody, is likely to have more consequences than I would care for. I say, let it alone, and enjoy a swell show for any GOPer this spring, one that is boosting demand for popcorn.

Sincerely yours,
Gregory Koster

(9) A.W. made the following comment | Apr 4, 2008 4:39:10 PM | Permalink


Your counter-point is well-taken, and it is a problem in my argument. But let me explain how I see it.

When i was in Undergrad, at the U of N. Texas, somewhere in the late 90's, i remember this discussion of the redistricting controversy. The professor said, "when the Tx Legislature draws up its districts, do you know whose district they draw up first? Dick Armey." (So this is dated info, obviously.) So I asked, "so this is the Republicans shoving it down the Dems' throats?" And the response was, "No, this was bipartisan. Because Armey brought enough money back to Texas that more than anything else they wanted to ensure the continuing reelection of that representative."

In a similar spirit, i don't think the Republican officials responsible for this behavior in Florida were trying to disenfranchise their state: instead they were trying to make their more relevant.

I could be wrong but i think that is your point in separating the voters from the responsibility of state officials: to argue that the party difference makes them less responsible. (And I am assuming that a similar situation existed in relation to Michigan.)

And in the end, i hold people responsible for their elected officials' behavior. Maybe now, the Republicans officials responsible for that behavior are joyful at the havoc that they have created in the opposing party, but I believe that this was the unintended consequence of the decision. The original intent was to make FL more relevant, not less, in service of all of the people, including the Dem primary holders.

And simply put, i cannot support guessing what a person would have voted for under any circumstances. If they can't revote, i say don't count them at all.

But we agree that they should have just revoted, and we also agree that it isn't going to happen.

But in a deeper point, it isn't right and it isn't fair that Iowa and NH get the first bites at the apple each election cylce. This year was the first time in my entire life that by the time the primary rolled around to my state, it was still a contest for at least one side. That isn't right. And something there has to change. Its THAT underlying problem that none of the national parties have addressed, that caused this entire mess, and has to be fixed.

(10) Greg made the following comment | Apr 5, 2008 10:14:24 PM | Permalink

Mr. koster,

You are, as usual, wrong.

"So far as "a revote ain't gonna happen", why not? Obama is the main stumbling block to that. Should he insist that there be no revote, it's his problem if the GOP hangs the "disenfranchisement" label on him."

Hillary wants those Democrats who voted in the R primary (the only one that mattered) to NOT be able to vote in the re-run primary.

Since Obama supporters were more likely to vote in the meaningful primary (esp. since his name wasn't on the D ballot), and Clinton supporters were more likely to vote in the D primary (since THEIR candidate's name WAS on the ballot), Hillary's proposal would skew the vote towards her.

Obama was right to turn her down.

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