What Game is Hillary Playing?

Nothing reveals more clearly how utterly unprincipled the Clintons are than their assertion that rules set by the Democratic Party’s Rules Committee, and endorsed by all Clinton representatives on this Committee, now should be abandoned. Nothing reveals more clearly that the only rules the Clintons follow are rules which favor them. Nothing reveals how exaggerated their claims are than Hillary’s recent comparison of the votes in Michigan and Florida to the civil rights movement, the suffragette movement, the fraudulent election in Zimbabwe and the 2000 election in Florida.

The outlines of this story are simple and straight-forward: Two states, Michigan and Florida, sought to advance their Democratic primary elections ahead of other states in order to increase their influence in the primary process. If they had been allowed to do so, Democratic parties in other states could have done the same, it would have become a frantic, disorganized race to be the first, or among the first, state primaries, and the primary season could have been extended substantially. The Democratic Rules Committee reviewed this, understood that chaos would ensue if every state party could advance their presidential primaries unilaterally, and ruled that if Michigan and Florida advanced their primaries, the votes would not count in the delegate race. Hillary Clinton had 15 representatives on the 30-member Rules Committee and every single one of Clinton’s representatives supported this Rules Committee decision, which passed unanimously; Democratic parties in 48 states followed the rule, but Michigan and Florida chose not to. Subsequently, no Democratic candidate campaigned in either state and no Democratic candidate, except Hillary Clinton [who fudged the rules] was even on the ballot in Michigan. The Clinton campaign now contends that these wholly undemocratic elections — even the Stalinist one-candidate election in Michigan — must count or democracy itself will be imperiled.

Harold Ickes, one of Hillary’s representatives on the Rules Committee who voted for the rule barring counting the Michigan and Florida votes, and Hillary’s chief negotiator of this issue, was asked recently on one of the Sunday morning political talk shows, “You voted for the Rules Committee decision, but now you are complaining about it. What has changed?” Ickes replied, “What has changed is that now we are behind.” So, there it is — there is not an ounce of principle in the Clinton position. When they thought they were ahead in the presidential race, they supported the rule, but now that they are behind, they don’t like it. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the rest of us could act like the Clintons and support rules when they favor us and ignore them when they don’t?

Two days ago, Hillary hyperventilated on this topic, comparing enforcement of party rules — rules she earlier had agreed to — to the civil rights and suffragette movements, Zimbabwe and Florida 2000, as though enforcing a reasonable party rule was comparable to 300 years of slavery, the disenfranchisement of racial minorities and women from voting for hundreds of years, the unprecedented action of a conservative Supreme Court and the tyrannical actions of an African dictator. The Clintons are desperate; they need boundaries.

Ignoring ALL rules established for the Democratic primaries, which all Democratic candidates, except Hillary Clinton, followed, the Clintons now also contend that the elaborate system of caucuses and primary votes which have been used for this and prior presidential elections should be ignored in favor of reliance only on popular vote counts. In other words, 48 states have been actively engaged in following established rules, but now, at the end of the process, the Clintons propose to jettison the rules and substitute their own new interpretation. Not only is the threshold proposal absurd on its face, the Clintons don’t even count the popular vote fairly: They include votes in the Michigan primary, where Hillary was the only candidate on the Democratic ballot and Obama got zero votes, and exclude hundreds of thousands of caucus votes in the caucus states. If ALL votes are counted, Obama wins by every metric, including popular vote, and he currently is 180+ votes ahead in the delegate count.

Meanwhile, the Obama campaign remains open to compromising this dispute so that delegates from Michigan and Florida can be seated at the convention, but, to date, the hard-line Clintons have refused all efforts at compromise.

We need to ask, “Who is the audience for this kind of nonsense?” There are only three possible answers: [1] Super-delegates; [2] Voters; and, [3] The Clintons.

If the Clintons think their bogus arguments are going to move super-delegates to their side, they clearly have miscalculated. In the past ten days, Obama has picked up 42 super-delegates; Hillary has picked up two. I have been calling super-delegates for the past two weeks, including some who previously leaned toward Clinton. Not a single one takes the Clinton disenfranchisement or popular vote arguments seriously. Every single one knows the rules were set by the DNC on a consensus basis, that they were necessary and that there would be chaos in the Democratic primaries if the DNC could not enforce rules such as this.

New York Governor, David Paterson, a Clinton super-delegate, was asked today if the Michigan and Florida votes should be included. He responded: “I would say at this point we are starting to see a little desperation on the part of the woman who I support …There was a process. I thought at the time everybody agreed to it. I didn’t hear any objections from the candidates … So I think the Democratic National Committee would leave it where it is.”

When asked about Clinton’s claims about how to count the popular vote and her comparison of her plight to the civil rights movement, Paterson said, “You have to assume she won 100 percent to nothing in Michigan. I don’t think anybody in their right mind would do that, nor would they see it as a civil rights issue.”

If the audience is voters, the Clintons are reaching some of them, but for what purpose? If you read the blogs, you find some comments expressing distress at the prospect of Hillary losing, with some of them complaining about Florida and Michigan, as if including these states would make the critical difference. These are the Democratic voters threatening to sit out the general election or vote for McCain. Is that what Hillary and Bill are trying to accomplish — to increase the number of disgruntled Democratic voters and make winning the general election harder? Whether this is their purpose, or not, clearly their behavior is having this effect.

Both Clintons graduated from a respected law school so I think it is safe to say they are smart enough to know their arguments about disenfranchisement of voters and their new preference for the “popular vote,” as they selectively calculate it, have no weight. But they don’t want to quit and the only way to justify staying in the obviously lost race is to build their resentment to the level of self-righteousness, and, like most confabulators, they have begun to believe their own propaganda.

Hillary and Bill are not acting like leaders, they are acting like self-absorbed adolescents, thinking that if they whine loudly enough people will accommodate them. This is not leadership, this is petulance. They will go down in this race, but not without their own sense of righteousness and value intact. This conveniently avoids the unpleasant prospect of actually taking responsibility for why they lost.

Introspection does not come easy to the Clintons, but during the next four years, let’s hope they try some.

Author: Guy Saperstein

Guy T. Saperstein was a civil rights attorney for 25 years. He was included in the National Law Journal's list of "The 100 Most Influential Lawyers in America."