01 May 2008

Half Dollars and Half Delegates

Tomorrow, the DNC’s Rules & Bylaws Committee (RBC) will attempt to come to some sort of resolution regarding the seating of the nominating delegates from Michigan and Florida, two states whose Democratic primary elections were held on dates that violated the DNC primary schedule.

Who these people are and why they are important appear to be glossed over by the mainstream press – giving credence to Hillary Clinton’s aggressive efforts to sway the outcome seem to be their only interest.

The Americans I talk to seem to see something different – to them, Camp Clinton has begun to act like a band of desperadoes who have fought the long arm of the law off as long as they could, and are now holed up in their hideout, their supplies running out, their water running low, about to mount their final fusillade of bluster and conjecture.

But the posse, 28 strong, who will be wearing the sheriff’s badges tomorrow are the members of the RBC. Thirteen of them publicly support Camp Clinton, which means there is an enormous amount of last minute arm twisting going on behind the scenes. 15 votes will be needed to pass anything, with two additional at-large members on hand in case there is a tie.

The RBC will conduct its business school board style, in front of an audience of several hundred spectators and members of the press. I cannot imagine what deliberations they will have to hear, or what evidence they will have to examine, but the committee chairs have already requested that the committee members retain their rooms “in case we have to reconvene on Sunday”.

The dilemma the committee faces reminds me of a story from my childhood that took place back when I was about five or six years old. We used to go visit my mother’s mother fairly regularly in the seventies. My grandmother was pretty old at the time, and had always had problems with her legs, so she was often bedridden.

There was a ritual we went through whenever my parents announced that we were about to leave that involved making one last trip to grandma’s bedroom to say goodbye. She’d say a few words and then wave me and my brother over one by one to present each of us with a Kennedy half dollar. There was nothing in the world like holding that big silver coin in your hands. I'd feel rich as I left her room and headed outside to the car.

Once, when we were leaving, my grandmother said, “I haven’t been able to get out lately, so I’m going to give you a paper dollar this time.”

Oh yeah? I was ecstatic – a whole dollar!

Then she told me WHY she was giving me a whole dollar. “You give half of that to your brother.”

I immediately turned to my brother, held the dollar up in front of his face, tore the bill cleanly in two, and handed him his half.

It is a story my aunts repeat even now, laughing at the naiveté of a child who didn’t understand that having half of a dollar bill was like having nothing at all.

Camp Obama has offered to compromise with Camp Clinton over the Florida and Michigan delegations – either recognize half the delegates from each state, or recognize all of them, but allow them to have half votes. Which would pretty much put Camp Clinton in the same boat my brother and I were in that day we stood in my grandmother’s bedroom, each of us holding our own worthless halves of a dollar bill in our hands. The DNC's lawyers, much to Camp Clinton's chagrin, have recommended just this week a course of action much along the same lines Obama's group has laid out.

Which is why when you turn your television to CNN or Fox News or MSNBC anytime during the next twenty four hours, you will probably hear that Clinton supporters are going to be demonstrating outside the hotel hosting the meeting.

"With a click of a mouse in the mid-Atlantic, we could get thousands of people there," Obama's campaign manager, David Plouffe, told reporters yesterday. "But in the interest of party unity, we are not encouraging a protest. We don't think a scene is helpful as we try to bring the party together."

The meeting Saturday might last all day. It might even go over into Sunday. There will come a point during the proceedings, however, where the RBC committee chairpersons will realize it's time to get to the end, much like my parents used to do on those Sunday afternoons at grandma's house when they announced it was time to go home. They will very likely award each candidates half-delegates to take home with them, much the way my grandmother handed her grandchildren those Kennedy half-dollars she had saved during the year.

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