Reductio Ad Absurdum

March 24, 2008 11:08 a.m.

I don’t know where it was. It think it may have been a reader blog at TPMCafe. Wherever it was it was a post that ran down something like ten different ways of counting the popular vote, all to the end of showing that Barack’s popular vote lead wasn’t nearly so great and may not exist at all. There was the count with and without Michigan and Florida, with one but not the other, including caucuses and not including caucuses. There were other options that seemed to go even further down the rabbit hole. But it did lead me to have a kind of epiphany about just where the Clinton side is at this point — gaming out different retroactive rule changes to see who would have won the popular vote if the nomination process were operating under a different set of rules. I imagine playing poker around a table with friends. Player A has a Straight Flush; Player B has four of a kind. Then B says well, sure, if you’re counting straights, but if we were adding up the numbers rather than going by straights winning, I’d have won.

How well would that go over? I remember, when I was a little kid playing chess with my dad (who unlike some dads never saw the point of throwing games in my favor) and sometimes when I lost I’d toss out some version of … well, but if my rook could move diagonally, then … You get the idea.

Admittedly, there is a relative scale of ridiculousness. I can see the argument over the non-sanctioned Florida and Michigan primaries, though I don’t agree with it. But ruling out caucuses? Or today’s gambit from Evan Bayh arguing that we should be looking at who’s winning by the electoral college vote, which yields a narrow win for Hillary? A few seconds of thought shows that this is just a back door way of getting rid of the proportional allocation of delegates the DNC system runs by and opting instead for the winner-take-all model followed by the Republicans.

Looking back over how this race has shaken out, I have serious questions whether the proportional system is the best way to go, at least if the other party is going the winner-take-all route. If you grant that there’s an advantage in coming to a decision early, the proportional system really does make it terribly hard for either candidate in a close race to put it away.

But fundamentally, who cares? The system is based on pledged delegates and super-delegates. Period. There’s a set of rules everyone agreed on. The wisdom of those rules is irrelevant at this point. The Clinton campaign is entitled to do whatever it wants to get superdelegates to come over to her side to even out the pledged delegate deficit. My take is that whatever the arguments, the superdelegates aren’t going to go against a clear pledged delegate leader. And I think they’d be extremely ill-advised to do so. But the superdelegates do have this power under the rules. But these constant efforts to say the rules aren’t fair are just silly, and truth be told I think they’re more undermining of the Clinton campaign than they realize.

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