Even though I was a Democrat at the time, had voted for Gore and disliked Bush, in the spine-tingling days of the back-and-forth after the 2000 Presidential election I recognized that whoever played the best game in overtime would win.
The election, as far as I could see, was a dead heat. Who actually won would be determined by a series of twistings and turnings, some of them legal, and each man had as good a claim as the other. When Bush won, although I was bitterly disappointed, I did not feel cheated. He had gamed the rules the best, and if Gore hadn’t been able to do so then he deserved to lose.
One of the corollaries of this attitude was that there was no doubt in my mind, then or later, that had the situation been reversed (Gore winning in the electoral college and losing the popular vote, Gore winning the Supreme Court decision) the majority of Democrats would likely have considered it fair and many Republicans would probably have been squawking. That’s politics, that’s life.
I wasn’t certain, however. That’s because, in 2000, the Democrat/Gore battle cry was “Count every vote!” while the Republicans were shouting “Follow the rules!” These two principles were roughly congruent with the traditional philosophy for each party—including, if you think about it, even the names of the parties: the appellation “Democrats” emphasizing the popular vote, and “Republicans” the representative nature of our government. So, even though I suspected some of the hue and cry was hypocritical and self-serving, it seemed in line with the general beliefs of each group.
Fast forward to 2008, and wouldn’t you know, the Democrats are facing their own internal dilemma that roughly parallels the 2000 battle. The problem stems at least partly from a primary system in transition: the popular vote has become more emphasized at the expense of an electoral-type winner-take-all state system. To make things even more clouded, though, as Rich Lowry points out in an article in the today’s New York Post, there are also caucus states that disenfranchise most voters, and even in some of the ballot states there are anomalies that mean all wins are not created equal.
And this is even before one considers the rule-based debacle that is the Democratic disenfranchisement of the voters of Florida and Michigan:
…[T]he 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.
Hillary’s cries of “Make every vote count!” now fall on mostly deaf ears, because it’s expedient. Obama is the anointed one and he needs to win. But it’s not just that; the consequences of taking the nomination away from him when he is, after all, following the rules, would be horrific: the alienation of his group of voters.
That’s why the cries of “Hillary, just go away!” become louder and louder. Her group of supporters is hopping mad at what they see as their disenfranchisement, plus the disrespect being shown their candidate. The Democrat leaders are hoping that if Hillary herself can do the right thing and fall on her sword like a good girl, it will placate and calm many of her followers.
The Democrats can afford to lose neither their African-American base nor the working class women who make up the bulk of the Hillaryphiles, and if Hillary would bow out gracefully it all might come out all right in the end. But don’t forget what they say about women scorned.
[ADDENDUM: Byron York makes similar points to Rich Lowry here.]