The Longest Day

Today’s Rules and Bylaws Committee meeting was hyped as one of thebiggest shindigs of the Democratic primary season, and you can see why. It wasin everyone’s interest to inflate its importance. Hillary Clinton needs to rakein delegates and ratify the popular votes in Floridaand Michigan.Obama needs to look fair-minded and start courting the two states for thegeneral. And for Dems, it’s an all-out pep rally—a chance to talk about unityand voters’ rights while implicitly kick off the general election season.

But if you pare it down to what’s actually at stake, theevent starts to feel rather puffed-up. The solutions proposed by the twocampaigns in the first half of the day don’t differ much. The Clintoncamp demanded a full seating of the Floridadelegates, while the Obama camp endorsed the so-called Ausman compromise, whichwould halve the delegation’s influence. The difference between their solutions,in terms of delegates netted for Clinton,isn’t much: One gets her 38, the other gets her 19. For Michigan,Clinton pushedfor a 73-55 delegate split (which would give Obama all the “uncommitted”delegates), while Obama’s team requested an even 50-50 split. Again, oneproposal gets her 18 delegates, the other gets her zero. Even if the Clinton camp got everything they wanted, Clinton would win about 50 delegates. GivenObama’s 200-delegate lead, that’s about as useful as a wet sock.

The debate over Florida wasrelatively tame compared to the Michiganissue. The reason, in a nutshell: Obama was on the ballot in Florida. In Michigan’s case, the committee’s problemssound almost more metaphysical than political: How do you count an electionthat wasn’t supposed to count in the first place? How many votes do you give acandidate no one voted for? Can you assign delegates to a candidate withoutimplicitly giving him popular votes as well?

The problem is, both sides have good points. RBC member and Clinton supporter Elaine Kamarck voiced reservations aboutMichigan’sproposed 69-59 split, which used a combination of voting number and exit pollsto reach a compromise: “My problem is willy-nilly arbitrary assignment ofdelegates when we actually had a legitimate vote. This way lies chaos.” But thevote we do have, Obama surrogateDavid Bonior argued, is flawed. Donna Brazile traced it all back to a simplelesson: “My mother also taught me, I’m sure you’re mother also taught you, thatwhen you decide to change the rules, especially in the middle game and the endof the game, that is referred to as cheating.” When Michigan Democrat Mark Brewerpresented the state party’s plan, Eric Kleinfeld asked why he thinks he canjust pick numbers out of a hat: “Are you relying on any rule?” “No,” Brewerresponded, “but we have to do something .”

The difficulty of figuring out that something is probablywhy the committee still hasn’t returned from lunch, which started three hoursago.