Friday, March 7, 2008

A Mulligan primary in Michigan

Yes, Michigan voters teed off in January on about the third hole. It was imperfect to say the least, but it was our shot -- a statewide open primary early in the schedule.

On the Democratic side with no presidential candidates campaigning (except for Kucinich), a mysterious candidate named "Uncommitted" on the ballot, and disqualified delegates, it was weird. But it was our primary, damn it, and many made best of it. Voters sent a message to the Democratic National Committee (DNC), "Delegates or no delegates, Michigan Democrats will vote and be counted."

Now, it seems Michigan Dems might tee up and swing again. There is talk of the Michigan Democratic Party caucusing anew. Just like a Mulligan, it'll be as if that first bizarre exercise in democracy never happened. (Except it did.)

The first shot was a total embarrassment, off into the woods, lost ball, penalties. What will this be? Michigan Democrats went out and voted to the best of their ability choosing Clinton or Kucinich or "Uncommitted" where appropriate. Of course, being an open primary, people besides Democrats went out and voted "Uncommitted," too.

For additional cost, Michigan Democrats could try again to get it right and have their delegates selected and seated all fair and square, according to the rules of the party. Those who favor Obama could chose him rather than "Uncommitted" in a do-over. This would be like hitting the sweet spot of an over-sized driver. With muscles warmed up, good pace on the stoke and desire reach the green, this shot could fly far.

The fun of a Mulligan on the golf course is that it's a willful breaking of the rules to create a better outcome in a game. That almost sounds like the Michigan Dems approach to the early primary date, except it wasn't a game. Ironically, the do-over primary represents a second chance at compliance with the rules for a better outcome.

It's important to play by the rules, but sometimes it's fun to bend them. Hillary Clinton likes to remind voters about playing by the rules, yet some think she broke them by keeping her name on the Michigan primary ballot even as the rest of the candidates withdrew. Social order, and in this case party discipline, depends on everyone following the rules to maintain the system.

Breaking the rules led to all Michigan's Democratic delegates being disqualified. The DNC disciplined the state Democratic party because this isn't a game. So simple a concept even a five-year-old could understand: "Billy, if you break the rules, you won't get to attend the big summertime party with your friends. No party hats, balloons and noisemakers for you."

The DNC will let Michigan Dems have a do-over if it complies with the rules and if they pay for it themselves. It would be like a charity tournament where players can buy Mulligans for a good cause. You make a bad shot, you pay for a second chance.

This time it'll cost a lot, though -- maybe $10 million. Heck of a greens fee! Gov. Granholm says the state will not cover the expense of a do-over. Thank goodness. It is, after all, a party matter at this point and the financially stressed state can hardly afford it. But can the Michigan Democratic Party afford it?

What do you say, Michigan Democrats?