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During the 2000 election controversy, Democrats brayed “count every vote” in Florida and discounted George Bush’s eventual victory in the Electoral College because he lost the national popular vote to Al Gore. Hillary Clinton has to yearn for the return of that Democratic Party of yore.
HBO just aired a docudrama — Recount, starring Kevin Spacey as a heroic Gore spokesman — that romanticizes the Democratic fight to count votes in Florida, even as Democrats have excluded Florida’s votes in their entirety from their nomination process this year and are eager to nominate the candidate, Barack Obama, who might end up with fewer popular votes than his challenger.
Back in 2000, Democrats were contemptuous of rules and technicalities about how ballots had to be marked and the process for recounts. All that mattered was the popular will. And the biggest ultimate obstacle to it was the Electoral College, which kept Al Gore from the White House in this “stolen election.”
Well, the Democrats’ attachment to the unadulterated popular will has gone the way of the hanging chad. Suddenly, Democrats are sticklers for rules. Florida and Michigan became non-states for moving their primary contests up in the calendar in defiance of Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean. A mere matter of timing has been enough to “disenfranchise” — to use the 2000 argot — 2.3 million Democratic voters.
It’s easy to imagine what Democrats circa 2000 would say about this. Denying the votes in Florida and Michigan would betray the “generation of patriots who risked and sacrificed on the battlefield” in the American Revolution, and be tantamount to “the poll taxes and literacy tests, violence and intimidation, dogs and tear gas” of the Jim Crow era. Counting the votes — ensuring “that every voice is heard and every vote is counted” — would be a cause worthy of the abolitionists and suffragists.
Of course, Hillary Clinton has said all of these things. But instead of being hailed as a crusader for justice, she has been greeted with impatient eye-rolls from most of the Democratic establishment and the press who can’t believe Clinton’s temerity in insisting on counting Florida and Michigan. What has gotten into the once-admirable junior senator from New York?
The change from 2000 to 2008 is simple to explain. Back then, the liberal establishment wanted Gore to beat Bush. Now, most of it wants Obama to finish off Hillary. The standards have changed accordingly.
A committee of the DNC is meeting to consider what to do with the two states this weekend and will probably come up with a compromise to partially seat the delegations. There’s still the embarrassment that if the votes from Florida and Michigan (where Obama pulled his name from the ballot and technically received no votes) are counted in popular-vote totals, Hillary very narrowly has more votes than Obama. He’s probably going to get the nomination through superdelegates defying the popular will as measured by that old-fashioned yardstick of votes.
The metric the superdelegates are using is who won the most pledged delegates (Obama leads by roughly 150). This is entirely reasonable, given that pledged delegates were the prize both candidates were competing for. But the Democratic delegate-allocation rules can make the Electoral College that Democrats maligned back in 2000 look robustly representative by comparison.
Obama won more net delegates from Idaho (12) in winning the state by 13,000 votes out of 20,000 cast than Clinton netted from New Jersey (11) in winning the state by more than 100,000 votes out of 1 million votes cast. Obama dominated in small caucus states – where a tiny percentage of tiny electorates participated – and through strange wrinkles in the rules won more delegates in states like New Hampshire and Nevada where Clinton notionally won.
But if Clinton hopes to be the Al Gore of the 2008 nomination process, the loser lionized by the great and good as standing for thwarted democracy, she can forget it. 2000 was a long time ago.
© 2008 by King Features Syndicate