Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Desire For Simple Answers (The Florida Primary)

In the realm of logic and argumentation, there is a fallacy sometimes referred to as the "Desire for Simple Answers." Simply explained, it is the idea that human beings, by their nature one an answer or explanation for things that is easy to understand and where it is easy to lay blame for how something turns out. Quite frequently, people will reject answers that are not simple enough or they will glom on to answers that are simplistic, rather than go for the more complex explanations that are the reality. This is, obviously, a fallacy. In the real world, almost everything has a complex explanation and to leave out any part of that complexity is to ignore reality.

A prime example of this is the Florida Democratic presidential primary. Almost everyone -- in Florida and out -- has their own pet theory about who is to blame in this situation. The problem is that almost everyone has the explanation narrowed down to one main culprit in the situation. That's nonsense. Here's who contributed to the current problem and without any of these parts coming together, then we probably wouldn't be where we are now (These are in alphabetical order so as not to give extra weight to anyone in particular):

Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama: Neither side seemed willing to work out a deal that benefitted the only people who really matter in this election -- the voters. They also signed on to that ridiculous pledge that really made this a problem when it didn't have to be.

Democratic National Committee: They cowtowed to the early states, giving them preferential treatment for no legitimate reason. They also chose to play bad cop and did little to work out a compromise, playing the "it's my way or the highway" game.

Democratic party rules: I could point to any number of arbitrary rules at the national and state level that created this fiasco without having any real legitimate argument to back them up.

Florida activists and bloggers: Of the many people now complaining about this situation, very, very, few of them said much before the vote in the legislature took place. And those who did said what they had to say online. Very few people called or met with their legislators to give input on this situation.

Florida Democratic Party: They did a poor job of handling both the public relations and the interparty relationships in dealing with this. They should've communicated more frequently and with more of an open mind with both voters and with the national party.

Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina: There is no valid reason for these states to go first and their dogmatic devotion to their privileged position not only hurt Florida (and Michigan), but could hurt the country as well. I have never heard even one semi-legitimate reason given by anyone as to why these states get to go first.

The mainstream media: They reported this story in a fashion designed to make it as controversial as possible, to stoke voter fear as much as possible and to enflame state vs. national party tensions as much as they could. In Florida, they did Republican talking points so well, the Republican party quoted stories verbatim on their web site because they didn't have to add anything to get their spin out.

Republicans: In addition to creating and passing the bill that started the whole mess, they used (and continue to use) every opportunity to make the situation worse. They have no problem with voter disenfranchisement, just so long as it happens to Democratic voters.

Voters in other states: Seriously, if they had just picked a darned nominee by now, none of tihs would matter and the whole thing would be over! ;)

Another aspect of all of this that has been bugging me is the huge amount of misinformation going around about the whole situation. There are too many fallacies to hit all of them and I'm not going to go to the extent of identify the fallacy for each, but here are a few things that we should clear up:

The Dems in the legislature could've stopped this: Some peope use the fact that the Dems didn't vote against the primary move as evidence that they supported it. It didn't matter how the Dems voted, the primary would've been on January 29 either way.

The Democrats didn't try to stop this: They did. They didn't expend excessive energy fighting what they knew would be a lost cause, but they did attempt to stop it.

Fighting every quixotic battle is good: I politics, not all battles are worth fighting. A battle that you are guaranteed to lose and will hurt your chances at winning other battles is not a battle worth fighting. It's different if you are talking about a battle for civil rights or for equality or some other grand principle. But when that battle is simply about a vote that has no direct impact on anything, then there really can't be much of a reason to fight that battle.

FDP had the power to stop this: A state Democratic party has no power over elected officials from that party. People seem to think that a state party chair has some mystical power to control legislators. They don't. They can't control them in any real way.

A mail-in re-vote could've been done in Florida: Once the Republican-appointed secretary of state said that they wouldn't verify the voter signatures, this plan was dead. The fact that the candidates weren't both on board hurt as well, as did the lack of funding to pay for it. State laws prevented this one as well.

A statewide primary could have been done: No one would have paid for it and the costs would've been high.

A statewide caucus could have been done: FDP Chair Karen Thurman was strongly opposed because this option would've disenfranchised too many, including military and overseas voters.

A re-vote would be different: Maybe, but probably not. Some recent polls have showed movement, others haven't. But since the delegates are awarded proportionately, there wouldn't have been any real noticeable difference.

Florida's votes could play a big role in the outcome of the election if they were held now: No they wouldn't. No combination of state results that included any kind of revote for Florida and Michigan would give either candidate a significantly different number of delegates. If I remember correctly, Clinton is +38 delegates in Florida right now. Obama is ahead by well more than 100 more than that, these votes would have no impact on the outcome, which has long been about the superdelegates. It still is.

Florida would've been influential if it had kept their original March date: If the primary wasn't on January 29, it would've been on February 5. The March date was the date from 2004 and in the past, that date was never going to be used this year.

Florida broke the rules and the DNC just enforced them: Florida did break the rules. So did the DNC. DNC rules specify that people who break this rule lose half their delegates, not all of them. Additionally, South Carolina moved their election ahead of DNC-stated guidelines in response to Florida and received no penalty, which violates the rules as well.

Following the rules is the right thing to do: Sometimes yes, sometimes no. Arbitrary rules and immoral rules should never be followed. They should always, in fact, be broken. Nobody yet has made an argument as to why these rules are valid. "Tradition" isn't enough. Many things have been traditions in American history that were either arbitrary or wrong that were defended solely on the basis of tradition. They were still wrong.

Howard Dean treated Florida too harshly: Howard Dean didn't do anything. The rules committee did. Again, some people think that Dean, as chair, has a magical power to control a democratic committee that has an absolute vote that he can't veto. He doesn't have that power.

Hillary Clinton got an advantage in Florida: Both candidates were on the ballot and neither campaigned in Florida. That gave Clinton a little boost based on her previous name recognition. But in the big scheme of things, it had no impact on the race based on the small number of delegates that the candidates differed by.

The whole thing was simply about Florida getting to go first: I defy anyone to find any comments or arguments to support this claim. It was never about Florida being first. It's about changing the system so that unrepresentative states don't make decisions by themselves that affect al lof us.

The fact that the candidates didn't campaign in Florida hurt turnout: Florida had record Democratic turnout in the primary, more than one million more voters than voted in 2004. Sure, there were a few people who might have voted who didn't, but it's hard to argue that this mess affected turnout, when it was a record high. In 2004, we didn't have this problem, and more than a million fewer people voted in the election.

The voters care heavily about this issue: I've seen little or no evidence that the average Florida voter really cares much about this at all. There are two dimensions upon which you measure public opinion -- preference and intensity. At least one poll has shown that a majority of Floridians have the preference for a re-vote, but there doesn't seem to be much of an intensity about this feeling form most people.

The voters should pay the penalty for party/legislative squabbles: The voters of Florida had no input or impact on the primary date. Why should they be punished and disenfranchised for something that someone else did?

It's wrong for people to sue over the primary fight: Not at all. People who feel that they have been wronged always have the right to sue over that. It is up to the legal system to determine whether or not their arguments are legitimate, not public opinion or political opinion.

Florida's delegates won't be seated at the convention: I've heard no one in any legitimate position make this claim. The only way there will be any problem is if the delegates from Florida and Michigan would change the outcome of the election. If we have a nominee, the delegates get seated no problem. Otherwise, they still get seated, they just won't have full voting power.

A large number of Dems won't vote in the general because of the primary: A few might, but the conclusion that this is going to be significant has no real basis. Sure, as much as 25% of the population has said that they are "less likely" to vote for the nominee if Florida's delegates don't count. But the phrase "less likely" is one of the most poorly-defined phrases in opinion polling and it really means something. If someone was 100% likely to vote for the nominee and that falls to 99% likely, that is "less" likely. If someone was 1% likely to vote for the nominee and falls to 0%, that's less likely. These situations, and many like them, mean nothing.

The primary mess will help John McCain win Florida: Not likely. If people are upset about Bush, Iraq, the Economy and the general direction of the country, that will be true no matter what happens with the primary. Some polls show McCain winning in Florida by a few points. That's without any campaigning by the Dems in Florida, no money spent in Florida and no nominee. These numbers are likely to change extensively before November.

Refusing to vote for the Dem nominee in November if our delegates don't count will "teach them a lesson": No it won't, it'll help John McCain win the election and continue America down the path it has been going down, a path that we can't afford one more year, much less four more -- or 100 more.

I'm actually quite tired of this debate, so this will probably be my last post on it. I'm not planning on bringing it up on the radio show, either. It's not that it isn't important, it's that it isn't as important as all the fuss that's being made over it. There are four key things for us to do in Florida this year:

1. Deliver the 27 electoral votes of the state to the Democratic candidate, no matter which candidate it is.

2. Win as many state legislative seats as we can.

3. Fight and defeat the anti-marriage amendment and any other crazy amendments the Republicans bring up before now and November.

4. Build a sustainable progressive infrastructure in the state.

Notice what's missing from the list? That's right, obsessing about the primary. In the long run, the primary isn't that important in the scheme of things. In November, the people who are still upset about this and still talking about it will be part of the problem, not part of the solution. I understand you think this was a problem. I understand that you feel that you wrong by whoever you blame for this situation. I also understand that we can't let this drag us donw. It will if we let it, and that will play into the hands of the conservatives. We can't let that happen, no matter what we think about the primary. There are only two choices over the rest of the year that are available -- 1. let the primary hurt us, 2. not let the primary hurt us. Many people are talking lke the favor option 1. I can't understand that and can't respect it. I do respect all of the various opinions about what happened, why and whose fault it is. I don't, however, respect any decision or action that hurts the overall movement we are trying to build, the positive changes we are trying to make in Florida and in the country.

Kos posted about this earlier and I think he's been pretty right on this whole thing all along:

To me, this was never about Obama or Clinton. It was about breaking the stranglehold that Iowa and New Hampshire have enjoyed at the top of the nominating calendar for far too long.


So the message had to be sent, no matter how unpopular, that the DNC calendar was sacrosant, and that its rules would be enforced. That message has now been sent.

Florida and Michigan played a valued role in this battle, proving they would risk their representation in order to demand a say in our nominee.

To me, that was what this whole thing was about from the beginning. As this election has very clearly shown, the current system is broken. It isn't fair. It isn't democratic. It isn't even really comprehensible. And it hurts Democrats in the general election, therefore hurting everyone.

We have a system that doesn't work and hopefully this election will help guarantee that is changed. If it does, and I think it will, everyone will be thanking Florida and Michigan.

If you want to take action on this, you can sign the petition at Count Florida Votes!

(I apologize. I had a long list of links to go with this about what other people think about this topic -- and many of them disagree with me -- but my computer crashed and I lost the list. If you have posted about this, feel free to e-mail me or put the link in the comments. I'll add any links about this topic that you have written to this post)

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