Hillary Clinton has now been campaigning in Florida and arguing that the state's delegates should count, along with those from the Michigan primary. This would sound fair enough, unless you know that both Michigan and Florida moved their primaries up after the Democrats agreed that the only states to vote before February 5th ("Super Tuesday") would be Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina (picked because they were relatively small states, representing different demographics). The Democratic Party agreed that votes from the two renegade primaries would not count. The major candidates made an explicit agreement not to campaign in either state. Florida law required that all candidates keep their names on, but Obama and Edwards pulled their names from the Michigan ballot.
Now Clinton is trying to change the rules mid-game. She's arguing that her delegates from Michigan should count after all. (Running essentially unopposed, she still got only 55% of the vote, since 40% voted "uncommitted" and Dennis Kucinich and Mike Gravel--and Chris Dodd, who'd already dropped out--split the remaining 5%.) She's campaigning in Florida with a wink and a nod (doing closed talks and photo ops, not public rallies), while trying to get those delegates to count too. She seems to be banking on the hope that a Florida win, even if only symbolic, will erase Obama's momentum from his massive South Carolina victory.
Now you can argue the right or wrong of the Democratic decision to put teeth into the agreement that the primaries should have some kind of structured sequence, and not just be a mad dash to see who comes earliest. And the Florida situation was created not by state Democrats but by the Republican legislature. But I can find no evidence that Clinton raised objections when the initial decisions were made. And now she's trying to change the rules in the middle of the game. Her surrogate Bill overtly supported a similar attempt when allied teachers union officials tried to ban special caucuses on the Nevada strip after the Culinary Workers Union endorsed Obama. Ironically, Clinton won a majority of these caucuses, but her contempt for the rules was the same. She was a team player only when she thought it would benefit her.
We actually saw the same pattern in 2006. In a season when Democratic candidates were scrambling to raise enough to finance an ever-expanding array of competitive races, Clinton made a conscious decision to raise $52 million for a Senate campaign that she could have won in her pajamas, spent $40.8 million (to beat a token opponent who spent less than $6 million), and transferred the rest to her presidential campaign. Only the self-funded Jon Corzine has ever spent more for a Senate race in our history.
You could say she was just playing the game, but Barack Obama and John Edwards, in comparison, campaigned throughout the country to support worthy Democratic candidates, while doing negligible fundraising for themselves. Obama emerged with less than a million in the bank and the Edwards campaign ended up still in debt from 2004. Their top priorities really did seem to be helping other Democrats win a critical election, instead of subordinating all other goals to their own personal futures.
Imagine if Hillary had transferred $20 million into the dozen Congressional campaigns that Democrats lost by margins as close as a few hundred votes. Or into Harold Ford's Senatorial campaign, to help close a $5-million gap with Republican Bob Corker. A few extra ads or mailings might well have tipped the balance But Hillary made different decisions. Much as may have been true with her support of a recent Iran vote so reckless that Senator James Webb called it "Dick Cheney's pipe dream," her priority was election-year positioning.
If we look at Clinton's actions throughout this campaign, they consistently put her right to win above broader principles. Even the tears that turned around her New Hampshire campaign seemed to me to be about her frustration that the nomination she thought was her birthright seemed about to slip away. As Frank Rich has written, even her choice to feature Bill Clinton in the campaign as lead attack dog risked bringing up enough old ghosts to sharply increase the likelihood of Republican victory in November. No one runs for president unless they are ambitious, but once you think you have the right to rewrite the rules in mid-course, or subordinate every opportunity of your critical allies to your own personal gain, you set up a precedent unsettlingly like the administration we have just endured for the past seven years. And I don't think we want to go there again.
Paul Rogat Loeb is the author of The Impossible Will Take a Little While: A Citizen's Guide to Hope in a Time of Fear, named the #3 political book of 2004 by the History Channel and the American Book Association. His previous books include Soul of a Citizen: Living with Conviction in a Cynical Time. See www.paulloeb.org