HERE'S how Democratic Party leaders can solve what to do about Michigan's 156 and Florida's 211 delegates: use King Solomon's principle and equally split the delegates between Sen. Barack Obama and Sen. Hillary Clinton.
When the Democratic National Committee's 30-member Rules and Bylaws Committee meets today, it will confront this dilemma and try to slog its way out of a very big mess. Three months ago the best political minds could not have imagined that the Democrats would be huddling at the Marriott Wardman Park Hotel in Washington, D.C., to achieve a compromise that's bound to leave many on both sides very unhappy.
Let's not blame the Republicans or that "vast, right-wing conspiracy." The GOP doesn't deserve that much credit. Even so, Howard Dean and other party leaders must solve this so the Democrats can move forward. Let's hope today's meeting satisfies Senator Clinton so she won't take her case to the credentials committee, or to the full national convention. If it comes to that, the party risks further sapping interest from already weary voters.
This started when the two states broke party rules and moved their primaries from Feb. 5 to January. As a penalty, DNC leaders said those delegates could not be seated at the convention in August in Denver. Senators Clinton and Obama signed an agreement last September to not campaign in either state, and both agreed that if the states changed the dates of their primaries, the results should not be recognized.
But that was then. That was when Hillary believed she could win the primary races and the nomination, hands down. That was before she got serious about running for the office that many have believed she was a shoe-in for in the first place.
That was when the junior senator from Illinois didn't appear to have much chance of winning. That was before delegates in numerous states supported him. That was when his fellow opponents for the nomination probably viewed him as a neophyte, but who's turned out to be a pro at fund raising and injecting new vigor in young people and other voters he's convinced to register to vote, and to vote for him.
It's no surprise that Senator Clinton now wants both states' delegates fully reinstated. Her name was on the ballot in Michigan and Florida and she won in both states.
Senator Obama's name was on the Florida ballot, and though it was not required, he and former Sen. John Edwards removed their names from the Michigan ballot.
Now, the Clinton campaign wants the committee to agree that not seating delegates in those states is wrong. It would be wrong. But that doesn't discount the fact that the states broke rules and that both candidates agreed to adhere to protocol. That's why the party must arrive at a fair solution that holds party leaders in those states accountable, satisfies voters and delegates, and that sends a strong message that breaking the rules comes with consequences, just in case anybody wants to break them again. What a quandary.
Though Senator Obama is generous about reaching a compromise, that's because he has the most delegates. Senator Clinton, however, wants all the delegates she won in both states to her credit. If the committee lets her have them, she will jump ahead in the delegate count, but still won't trump Senator Obama.
Though Senator Clinton agreed last fall to penalties for states that moved their primaries, when she began losing, she changed her mind. It appears that she is more willing to finagle things to her benefit than to abide by principle. Kinda makes you wonder what she'd be like as president.
That's why the King Solomon principle - a down-the-middle divide - looks like a pretty good solution, since it's doubtful that the real parent in this case will step forward to save the party.
Rose Russell is a Blade associate editor.