This is going to be a little inside-baseballish, but bear with me. I’ve been attacked and insulted quite nastily, and it takes a great deal of background to explain not only why the attacks were nasty, but why the attackers were simply dead wrong and need to issue a full retraction and apology.
Recently, over at Lawyers, Guns & Money, there have been a number of rather vitriolic discussions concerning the Florida Democratic primary and the alleged attempts by Hillary Clinton to “cheat” or to “break the rules” by spinning her win there as a victory and announcing that she wants to have the Michigan and Florida delegates seated at the convention. The DNC last summer decided to punish Michigan and Florida for moving their primaries up the calendar, before Super Tuesday, by stripping them of delegates at the convention. The primaries could continue, but there would be no delegates at the convention. The candidates all agreed not to campaign in Florida or Michigan, though they could fund-raise. A number of candidates withdrew from the Michigan ballot. Others, including Hillary Clinton and Chris Dodd, remained on the ballot, but by the time the primary rolled around, Clinton was the only one left in the race.
Why the vitriol over a primary? Seems that Rob Farley and Scott Lemieux have decided that Clinton is not to be trusted, and become rather unhinged when anyone disagrees with them on this point. How unhinged? Well, today, Scott likened me to John Yoo. That’s the guy who is behind the unitary executive theory and argues in favor of torture, in case you haven’t been keeping score. And when I objected, Rob piled on and became rather invested in the comparison even as Scott backed off a little (but not very effectively).
But this is where the background comes in, because you need to see the arguments they’ve made and where things all go wrong. The fun began on January 25, 10 days after the Michigan primary and four days before the Florida primary. Clinton announced that she was going to ask her delegates to seat the Michigan and Florida delegates at the convention, and was going ot ask her rivals to join in this call. Remember, no delegates were going to be awarded in either of the contests by order of the DNC, and only the convention can decide whether to seat the delegates. And also keep in mind that the candidates’ pledge not to campaign in those states happened only *after* the DNC made its decision. Rob wrote a post calling Clinton’s call for the delegates to be seated “pretty appalling”:
It’s dirty business on the part of the Clinton campaign, no question. And cloaking the nasty little power grab with the language of democratic inclusion irritates me even more. I can’t say that I’m completely surprised, but I would have preferred if Hillary had demonstrated more appreciation for party unity than this; it amounts to an effort to steal delegates.
The sole source Rob cited for coming to the conclusion that this was a “nasty little power grab,” an “effort to steal delegates,” and “dirty business” with “no question” was a post by Ezra Klein. Ezra’s post cited no sources other than the Clinton campaign’s press release.
In comments, there was a lot of huffing about how power-mad Hillary is, and how she only plays hardball with Democrats, but several people shrugged it off as just politics, and, really, who cares. The Boys started to get indignant:
I respect the wanting to win; I don’t respect the cheating to win, and as far as I’m concerned this constitutes cheating.
Rob | Homepage | 01.25.08 – 4:33 pm |
Again, no support for this being “cheating” other than Rob’s gut and Ezra’s post. Then Scott responded to a commenter who disputed that this was cheating, and that “there are rules and there are rules.”
“That being said I would also applaud Edwards or Obama if they showed this much initiative. There are rules and then there are rules.”
This is ridiculous. Clinton is trying to steal votes based on an ex post facto changing of the rules, period. It’s a disgrace. The system may be bad but that hardly justifies outright vote theft. A bad primary system doesn’t justify just ignoring the rules once everyone’s agreed to play by them. The remedy was to change the rules before the fact; once you’ve held the vote it would be an outrage to reinstate the delegates. (And as if you’d be defending Obama or Edwards if they stuffed ballot boxes to win a state, which would be no worse. Your hackey is embarassing gere.)
Scott Lemieux | Homepage | 01.25.08 – 4:43 pm | #
Shorter aimai: politics is a “sport” in which outright cheating and fraud are laudable (as long as it could help a candidate I support, of course.)
Scott Lemieux | Homepage | 01.25.08 – 4:55 pm | #
Note: no further citation of the rules, or why this is cheating, just a bare assertion that this is cheating and that the commenter, aimai, is engaging in “embarrassing” hackery. This sets the tone for the next several discussions on the matter. Rob makes a few factual assertions (again without citing anything in support):
The DNC decided to exclude the delegates because none of the candidates, including Clinton, were willing to support the challenge of the primacy of Iowa and New Hampshire. Pretending that she’s a shining knight for democracy is just that, pretending. Seating Michigan and Florida under these circumstances does not amount to inclusion; the people of Michigan did not have the right to participate in a democratic election, and the delegates that are seated for them will in no way be representative of their desires.
Rob | Homepage | 01.25.08 – 5:02 pm | #
This is where I dropped my first comment:
I keep wondering why Edwards and Obama removed their names from the ballot if all they really had to do to comply with the bullshit disenfranchisement agreement was not campaign. Seems like Clinton won that particular round of campaign chicken, more or less by doing nothing.
And now she’s engaging in another round of campaign chicken. Because Edwards and Obama can’t exactly say that they don’t want MI and FL delegates to be shut out. That would kill them in the general.
zuzu | Homepage | 01.26.08 – 12:07 am | #
There was a great deal of frothing at the mouth about how this was fraud! and cheating! and how Hillary was acting in her own self-interest! And how unfair and undemocratic this all was! And how anyone who didn’t think that this was unconscionable! fraud! was either an HRC apologist or a Rovian agent provacateur, unethical and slimy.
And yet, very little actual reference to, you know, the facts. Rob and Scott were absolutely convinced, based on no more than a single post by Ezra Klein which in turn relied solely on a press release, that Clinton was committing fraud, was clearly and self-evidently cheating and stealing delegates. But that really didn’t seem right to me. And then we got a couple of more posts after the Florida primary, which led to more nastiness. In a nutshell, it was bugging me that the cheating was just assumed when nobody had even pointed to what the “binding rules,” to use Scott’s term, were that were being broken (there was also a side discussion of bad rules (i.e., the stripping-of-the-delegates and the entire primary system privileging two lilywhite and unrepresentative states above all others). I tried to raise a few factual points, having done a little googling, but was shot down:
Ah, yes, I remember the the “but it was Obama’s interest to be off the Michigan ballot!” argument at TalkLeft. The thing is, since Obama and Edwards’s decision to take their names off the ballot didn’t conflict with the rules they agreed to the comparison is wholly irrelevant. Clinton isn’t being criticized for advancing her interests; she’s being criticized for trying to change the rules after the fact.
Scott Lemieux | Homepage | 01.30.08 – 7:07 pm | #
Again the mention of the rules they agreed to, without citing the rules themselves. But it gets better:
Many people here are acting as if the candidates had anything to do with the DNC’s decision to strip votes from FL and MI, or if the pledge was anything but a bullshit political move by some of the less well-financed candidates and joined by the front-runners because otherwise they’d piss off the crucial Iowa and NH voters. The DNC’s decision was a fait accompli at the time the pledge was signed, and the pledge was a political pressure tactic because nobody could risk offending the easily-offended IA and NH voters, not some kind of high-minded exercise in the democratic process.
But if you’re going to keep arguing that HRC is breaking the pledge, you’re going to have to come up with some kind of proof that she actually broke the pledge. If the only things she agreed to do were a) not campaign and b) not participate in the primary, then you’re going to have to show that asking her delegates to let the MI and FL delegates sit (and note — she’s not petitioning the DNC to seat the delegates, she’s asking her own delegates to let some of the MI and FL take some of their seats) violates the voluntary ban on campaigning or participation. If there was some other kind of promise, you’re going to have to demonstrate what it was. And so far, nobody’s come up with any proof that what she’s done falls under one of those categories, as they were contemplated back in September.
Really, all that’s happened is that Clinton is spinning the Florida results as a win and making Obama look like a chump for not standing up for the Michigan and Florida voters. Kinda like how the lower-tier candidates made the front-runners look like chumps when they hesitated about signing the pledge.
zuzu | Homepage | 01.30.08 – 10:02 pm | #
Which got me the following response from Scott:
1)Trying to count the results of a non-election as an election pretty clearly violates the implict agreement of the plegde.
2)If we’re going to be formalists in that sense, then Clinton violated the pledge by reminaing on the ballot in MI; surely doing so constitutes participation. (I don’t care about her being on the ballot of a non-election if the votes don’t count, but you can’t haven’t boht ways.)
3)The idea that you can freely violate binding rules as long as you didn’t write them is an…innovative theory, although perhaps appropriate in the age of Yoo. Your implication that Clinton is justified in breaking unjuust rules can’t overcome the fact that gicing the delegates to Clinton doesn’t retroactively enfranchise the voters of Michigan and florida, who still didn’t vote in a competitive election that people at the time thought would count.
Scott Lemieux | Homepage | 01.30.08 – 11:46 pm | #
Yes, folks, you just saw Scott Lemieux tell me that my argument was “appropriate in the age of Yoo.” John “Torture” Yoo. And when I (and others) objected to that characterization, Tweedledum stepped in:
I don’t know; I’ve been thinking the same thing since this conversation began. The arguments I’ve seen from the apologists for Clinton’s behavior (note that this is different than being a “Hillary apologist”) remind me in their contempt for process of nothing so much as the cheerleaders for the Bush administration’s treatment of the rule of law over the past seven years. A respect for process, including a respect for the manner in which process can be changed, revised, and made more just, is critical in my mind to the function of liberal democracy, and has been severely endangered by this administration.
And instead of a respect for process, we get the worst kind of hairsplitting (while no one has ever claimed that the pledge was legally binding, zuzu, compliance with it would seem to be driven by the principle of keeping one’s word), a celebration of Machiavellian tactics (except when we don’t like them), and a plea to leave Hillary alone because, after all, waterboarding people is worse.
So yeah, I think the Yoo comparison is apt. I’d even go a bit farther and say that this kind of argument in a likely outcome of the Age of Yoo; once one side discards any interest in rule based behavior, the other side does the same. It’s just too damned bad that the Clinton campaign felt the need to abandon process and principle while competing against other Democrats.
Rob | Homepage | 01.31.08 – 11:49 am | #
This is where I decided that I’d had enough, and that I wasn’t going to sit around and be insulted and have my character and my ethics impugned by some so-called scholars who couldn’t even be arsed to answer a very simple question: what rules were broken? But Rob wasn’t done:
The entire thread (and several other threads) have been dedicated to what specifically is wrong with Clinton’s behavior; you have simply decided to put your hands over your ears and insist that nothing that anyone has said is relevant. Indeed, as far as I can tell you are the only one in any of these threads who has argued that no rules are, in fact, being broken; aimai, LP, scott, etc. have argued the vastly more plausible position that the rules being broken are trivial and shouldn’t matter very much.
Yes, I do understand the difference between Clinton and Yoo, and I do understand that disrespecting rules that prevent torture is different in content than disrespecting a pledge about the Michigan primary. But 1) Yoo and his crew’s penchant for ignoring the rule of law extends to electoral politics just as much as it does torture, and 2) I would have hoped that, in the Age of Yoo, we would bend over backwards as far as possible to prevent even the appearance that we were behaving in something even approaching that lawless, rule-free fashion.
Consequently, I find both Clinton’s behavior and the apologies for it disappointing.
Rob | Homepage | 01.31.08 – 12:33 pm | #
I have to tell you, I spent most of the day sickened by this. I’ve met Rob, but I can’t say that I know him, but this nastiness was really uncalled-for, even if he thinks I’m wrong. Scott, though — I know Scott. And Scott knows me. And it really deeply hurts me that someone that I had respected up until then would even suggest that my arguments were anything like those of Yoo, or that I don’t respect the democratic process, or that I’m unethical. And why? Because I don’t agree with him, and I asked him to back up his arguments. Did I mention that I *used* to respect him? Not after this.
Especially when, as I’ve said, he failed to point to even a single provision of the “binding rules” that he said was being violated. Later, at If I Ran The Zoo, he gave one example:
As for what the rule violation is, as I’ve said 1)staying on the ballot clearly violated the pledge (as Dodd did), but once again this violation is trivial as long as it doesn’t actually affect the outcome. The much more important violation is the attempt to change the election rules ex post facto; that such changes constitute a violation is obvious, I can’t believe anyone would disagree if it was a GOP dirty trick.
And yet he failed, once again, to cite a specific rule or point out why it should be so “obvious” that Clinton violated these “rules” he fails to cite.
He did back off the Yoo thing, a little, offering weak tea for an apology:
“Oh, and whatever you think about the formal properties of Clinton’s maneuvering here, it is a big difference between her and Yoo that Yoo’s specious arguments are for tortuting people and Clinton’s specious (IMO) arguments aren’t.”
Well, yes, of course; to the extent that people see me as making an analogy with Yoo’s substantive ends as opposed to his methods, I obviously renounce the unduly inflammatory analogy. I stand behind my claim that the arbitrariness of the primary system 1)doesn’t justify Clinton’s attempt to change the rules she explicitly or implicitly agreed to ex post facto, and 2)seating delegates from a non-election doesn’t provide the slightest remedy for the unfairness of the rule in any case.
Yeah. Well. THANKS for the non-apology there, bud. Especially coupled with one of those fact-free assertions and the “since you insist on being offended, I will offer an apology for your being so easily offended” formulation.
But none of that changes one simple thing: Neither Scott nor Rob, despite their accusations that I don’t respect the rule of law, or that I’m simply playing Machiavellian power games, has bothered to provide one whit of support for their positions. Which is truly indefensible, given that they’re quick to criticize others, like Jonah Goldberg, for doing the same thing.
Since this whole thing rests on the assertion that rules were broken, let’s look at those rules, shall we? What does the pledge say? Well, I’m waiting on a copy of the pledge itself from my campaign source, but here’s a story from last September, when the pledge was actually signed, that gives an idea of what it said:
Top-tier candidates Hillary Rodham Clinton, Barack Obama on Saturday joined a boycott that began Friday among the lesser-known candidates, who probably couldn’t have afforded to campaign in the Sunshine State anyway.
Now, Clinton, Obama, John Edwards and the others will not make campaign appearances in Florida, or any other state that breaks Democratic National Committee rules by scheduling a primary before Feb. 5. Michigan is considering such a move.
The candidates will continue to raise money in Florida, and they will attend next week’s Univision debate in Miami. But the bottom line is Florida stands to be irrelevant in the presidential primary. ..
The Florida primary meltdown started Friday evening when underdog Democrats Bill Richardson, Chris Dodd and Joe Biden signed a “four-state pledge” to campaign only in the small states permitted to hold nominating contests in January: Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire and South Carolina.
But on Saturday morning, Edwards and Obama signed the pledge. Florida front-runner Clinton did, too, rather than antagonize voters in crucial states like Iowa and New Hampshire.
Nothing about delegates there.
ETA: I got hold of a copy of the pledge from the Dodd site (he was one of the first signers; the pledge was circulated by Richardson). It has a bunch of “whereas” clauses about respecting the calendar and the primary process, but whereas clauses are not binding. In fact, they’re essentially political fluff. Here’s the real meat of the pledge:
THEREFORE, I, Christopher J. Dodd, Democratic Candidate for President, pledge I shall not campaign or participate in any state which schedules a presidential election primary or caucus before Feb. 5, 2008, except for the states of Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire and South Carolina, as “campaigning” is defined by rules and regulations of the DNC.
The first thing you do when you’re interpreting an agreement is to look at the terms of the agreement. Are they defined? “Campaigning” is defined, but “participate” is left undefined, and there could be an argument that what Clinton did fell under participation. But I haven’t seen such an argument, and given that the term is open to interpretation, many arguments are possible. But let’s look at the DNC rules on “campaigning.” (It’s a PDF; the relevant rule, 20(C)(1)(b) is on page 24):
A presidential candidate who campaigns in a state where the state party is in violation of the timing provisions of these rules, or where a primary or caucus is set by a state’s government on a date that violates the timing provisions of these rules, may not receive pledged delegates or delegate votes from that state. Candidates may, however, campaign in such a state after the primary or caucus that violates these rules. “Campaigning” for purposes of this section includes, but is not limited to, purchasing print, internet, or electronic advertising that reaches a significant percentage of the voters in the aforementioned state; hiring campaign workers; opening an office; making public appearances; holding news conferences; coordinating volunteer activities; sending mail, other than fundraising requests that are also sent to potential donors in other states; using paid or volunteer phoners or automated calls to contact voters; sending emails or establishing a website specific to that state; holding events to which Democratic voters are invited; attending events sponsored by state or local Democratic organizations; or paying for campaign materials to be used in such a state. The Rules and Bylaws Committee will determine whether candidate activities are covered by this section.
So, essentially, the pledge just tracked this rule, which nobody but Kucinich broke. Indeed, while Rule 20(C)(1)(a) strips delegates from the state as punishment for violating the timing rule, Rule 20(C)(1)(b) deals with punishments for the candidates via being stripped of their delegates. Clinton didn’t campaign in Michigan or Florida in contravention of this rule, so why is it such a horrible thing that she ask for the delegates to be seated? Especially when there’s a procedure in place for the states in violation to have their delegations restored if they’re really, really sorry about muscling in on the special snowflakes’ turf.
And what about Scott’s assertion that the “rules” required the candidates to withdraw from the Michigan ballot?
WASHINGTON (CNN) — Five Democratic presidential candidates Tuesday sought to officially withdraw from Michigan’s January 15 primary, rendering the event virtually insignificant.
Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois, Sen. Joe Biden of Delaware, New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, former Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina, and Rep. Dennis Kucinich of Ohio all announced the move Tuesday, the deadline for filing such paperwork.
I spoke to someone tonight who worked on the campaign of one of Clinton’s rivals in this election. The fact that the candidates who did file paperwork all waited until the last minute to do so was no coincidence (and, as it turned out, Kucinich was unable to withdraw after all, and decided to campaign regardless of the pledge.). Dodd made a decision not to do so, and Clinton said it was unnecessary. Contemporaneous news sources cite a desire to please voters in Iowa and New Hampshire, and not THE PLEDGE, as the reason for the withdrawal of four of the nine candidates from the Michigan ballot in October:
Democratic candidates John Edwards, Barack Obama, Bill Richardson and Joe Biden have withdrawn their names from the ballot to satisfy Iowa and New Hampshire, which were unhappy Michigan was challenging their leadoff status on the primary calendar.
That leaves Hillary Rodham Clinton, Dennis Kucinich, Chris Dodd, Mike Gravel and “uncommitted,” as the choices on the Democratic ballot in Michigan.
So, only four of the eight candidates withdrew from the ballot, and yet remaining on the ballot “clearly violated the pledge”? The pledge that was signed a month before anyone withdrew from Michigan and apparently didn’t mention ballots or delegates?
And, somehow, my pointing out that you can hardly break your word if you haven’t given it gets me painted as a Constitution-shredding torture apologist by a couple of guys who call themselves scholars, but who can’t be bothered to use google to check a few facts.
There’s more, of course, but this is already getting very long.
All this by way of explaining why I won’t be linking to or reading LGM anymore.