Rules are rules. But fair is fair!

We all agree that rules are not fair, right?

So, when the rules don't apply because they are not fair, what rules apply?

Because of the close race between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, this is the hottest question in politics right now, and it is generating fierce debates, like the one between Andrew Sullivan and No Quarter USA.

Obama is the one that violated the rules Andrew. I realize he is your Great Black Hope. And I get that he gives you wood. More power to ya bucko. But he is the one that violated the rules he agreed to abide by. Not Hillary. Get a frickin grip.
(Via Glenn Reynolds.)

Now that's what I call passion. While I'm not sure who violated the rules more (and I haven't checked to see whether Sullivan accuses his accuser of wanting to have sex with Hillary Clinton; as it is I can barely keep track of the sexual interests of the candidates, much less their supporters), according to what I've generally read, Edwards, Obama, Richardson Biden withdrew their names from the ballot, while Hillary, Kucinich, Dodd, and Gravel didn't. This was because of a decision by the DNC Rules Committee to punish Michigan for an early primary. Bear in mind that Rules Committee members include:

"a dozen [who] endorsed Sen. Hillary Clinton, [and] eight [who] endorsed Sen. Barack Obama. Two members work for the Clinton campaign, including strategist Harold Ickes. The two chairmen--Alexis Herman and James Roosevelt Jr.-are neutral, but Herman served in the Clinton White House.
As to what they'll do in the future, who knows? (It may very well depend on which candidate is considered more sexually attractive by whom....)

One thing is clear. The closer the race, the more ferocious the debate gets, and the louder people scream about fairness, the wider the range of answers. The idea surrounding most of these popular vote count debates is that because the Democratic Party is supposed to be as inclusive and democratic as possible, it isn't fair to simply count the delegates as the rules require. Rather it is the popular vote which should "count." In "moral" terms of course. (Echoes of Al Gore in 2000 not being coincidental....)

The problem with this moral analysis is that it is not crystal clear who wins the popular vote count, because there are so many counting methods available. Veteran Philadelphia Inquirer reporter Larry Eichel identifies four methods and concludes that Clinton only wins in one of them. It all boils down to whether Hillary should be given all of her votes in the disqualified Michigan election, and whether Obama should be given zero:

So the question is whether Obama should get credit in the popular-vote calculation for the 238,168 uncommitted votes cast in Michigan.

If you give those votes to Obama - and the DNC appears likely to use them as a basis for awarding him some delegates when it considers the Michigan/Florida mess on May 31 - then you have Method No. 3, in which Obama leads by 64,121.

But if you credit him with no votes at all in Michigan, then Clinton leads by 174,047. This is Method No. 4, which, understandably, is the one favored by the Clinton campaign. It is the source of her oft-repeated claim that she is outpolling Obama.

That was yesterday.

In today's Inquirer, Jonathan Last argues that there are six counting methods, and Hillary wins in two of them:

Real Clear Politics keeps track of six versions of the popular-vote total. They are, in ascending order of inclusivity: (1) the popular vote of sanctioned contests; (2) the total of sanctioned contests, plus estimated votes from the Iowa, Nevada, Maine and Washington caucuses; (3) the popular vote plus Florida; (4) popular vote plus Florida and the caucuses; (5) the popular vote plus Florida and Michigan; (6) popular vote plus Florida, Michigan, and the caucus estimates. After Tuesday, Clinton now leads in two of these six counts.
Last argues that because Hillary might very well rack up enough popular votes in Puerto Rico and South Dakota to put her over the top by any popular vote counting method, this accounts for much of the pressure on her to get out of the race:
It is this looming prospect which explains the tremendous pressure Obama partisans and the media are putting on Clinton to drop out of the race. They want her gone now because they understand that she has an excellent chance of finishing as the undisputed people's choice.

Would it matter if Clinton were the undisputed (or even disputed) popular-vote winner? That's hard to say. The question is, matter to whom? The superdelegates will determine the nominee and there's no telling what will sway them. They have no objective criteria from which to make their decisions. But if they were to deny the popular-vote champ the nomination, there is a real question of whether Democratic voters would reconcile themselves to the decision. As it is, much of the talk about Democratic defections in November has been overstated.

If that happens, whatever decision the delegates make will be perceived by supporters as a betrayal. The question will become, simply, whose betrayal would be a bigger minus for the party. Would more of Obama's voters stay away, or would more of Hillary's?

That question is more important than "fairness." Why, at times like this, the very concept of "fairness" becomes an excuse for genuine underlying rage. Like this gem:

We won't vote for her. The reality on the ground for us is that we do pretty well for ourselves under a Republican administration and I would be willing to take my chances with a solidly Democratic congress, but without her. Sorry folks, but there are a lot of people like us. I know that we're all supposed to join hands and pull together for a greater more progressive tomorrow and yadda yadda yadda.... but when it comes to Hillary Clinton, fuck that noise. My contempt for her has reached the Lieberman line.
The Lieberman line? That'll win over middle America. (And just between you and me, that's the best argument I've seen in favor of McCain picking Lieberman as his running mate, and letting the "Lieberman line" work its magic.....)

Anyway, left right or center, nearly every political junkie under the sun is sounding off about fairness. Rules are fair to those who win by the rules, and unfair to those who don't.

One of the things that tends to be forgotten is that people want to win, and politics is like litigation. I enjoyed Ann Althouse's take yesterday:

This isn't insanity. It's litigation. Quite normal. If the rules help you, you insist on the importance of rules. If the rules hurt you, they are mere guidelines that must bend flexibly for the sake of justice.
Back in the days when I was even more misunderstood than I am now, I was called a "born litigator" by a leading litigator. Yet because I loathe, hate, abhor, and despise litigation, I resented the idea that I could be "born" to "be" something I hated. However, I have noted that politics is like litigation, and the similarity might explain why I regard it as a pathological process worthy of detailed dissection.

Yet as I say that, I must recognize that there is something about politics that I despise more than its similarity to litigation. Litigation is like a chess game, and it is inherently Machiavellian. (How litigators fit into the Guardian Class/Commercial Class spectrum discussed by M. Simon earlier is a question for the experts, and beyond this topic, but I'm very curious...) Anyway, while I didn't get much emotional satisfaction from litigation, I recognize that it is a necessary evil, and while it may be the nuts and bolts of how justice (or a theoretical chance of justice) is sometimes obtained, I have no more illusion than Oliver Wendell Holmes that "justice" is a thing to be expected.

Ugh. Justice in the same sentence as litigation? Drat! Fairness raises its ugly Machiavellian head again, as if litigators care about fairness any more than reptiles care about the feelings of their food.

In the context of politics, it isn't litigation that bothers me, or even litigiousness. Nor is it the pretense of principle, because litigators always claim to be principled. And fair. No, what bothers me about politics is when people expect me to go along with their claim that a particular argument involves great questions of morality and fairness, when in truth they're just litigators, for whom winning takes the form of getting elected.

Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton are involved in lengthy, drawn-out litigation, and I think they know it, even if they can't acknowledge it. Unfortunately, many of their followers don't know it, so they not only think that great matters of ultimate fairness and truth are involved, but they're encouraged to do just that.

In the context of the endless debate over the Michigan primary, I find this to be incredibly tedious, but I really can't complain that it's unfair, lest I buy into the fairness game.

Politics is about winning and fairness is a tactic, as well as an appearance.

If we keep in mind the fact that the country is still at war, and the maxim that nothing is fair in war, I'd say fairness is going to be a secondary consideration for quite some time. But that doesn't mean it won't still be masquerading as a primary consideration.....

No wonder people turn to sex issues. There's nothing fair there either.

But then, at least there isn't supposed to be!

BOTTOM LINE: Whether things are fair depend on what people want.

posted by Eric on 05.23.08 at 10:11 AM


Why is anyone arguing about this?

If somebody wins the required amount of delegates they are the nominee.

If not then the superdelegates make the choice, however those votes don't take place till the convention.

Whatever they might say now the votes aren't actually counted till the convention. As some Clinton delegates have switched Clinton has every right to attempt to have them change their minds (however unlikely that might be).

That is the rules, why over-react? Let things play out their course.

Peter Ingemi   ·  May 23, 2008 2:00 PM

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