In a burst of clear thinking, the national Democratic Party in 2007 permitted just four states - New Hampshire, Iowa, Nevada and South Carolina - to hold their presidential nominating contests before Feb. 5, 2008.
The argument was straightforward: All four states are small enough that an underdog, underfinanced candidate who is not a household name - with ideas, energy and appeal - can break through and connect. In big states, where paid television advertising is the primary means by which candidates communicate with voters, the advantage goes to the candidate with the biggest campaign treasury and greatest name recognition.
Forty-eight of the 50 states abided by the Democrats' "Four State Rule" and did not schedule their primaries and caucuses until Feb. 5 or later. Florida and Michigan Democrats, with the express objective of having greater influence upon the selection of a presidential nominee, voted to thumb their noses at party rules and hold their primaries in January.
As punishment, the national party disqualified the convention delegates from both states. All the major Democratic presidential candidates publicly agreed to abide by the party's "Four State Rule" and not to campaign in the unauthorized primaries.
This was not the first time Michigan had challenged the Democratic Party's nominating schedule. Four years earlier, Michigan threatened - in the words of the state's respected, but highly exercised, U.S. Sen. Carl Levin - to go "outside the primary window."
The Democratic national chairman, in a very heated exchange in Levin's office, told the senator, "If I allow you to do that, the whole system collapses, we will have chaos."
An unconvinced Levin challenged the chairman, "You won't deny us seats at the convention." To which the Democratic chairman fired back: "Carl, take it to the bank. They will not get a credential. The closest they'll get to Boston (the convention city) will be watching it on television."
The Democratic chairman in 2004 who used the credible threat of massive retaliation, the loss of convention influence, was the irrepressible Terry McAuliffe. In 2008, Terry McAuliffe is the chairman of the presidential campaign of Hillary Clinton, who said on March 12 about the results of the outlawed contests in Michigan (where hers was the only major candidate's name on the ballot) and Florida (where no candidates campaigned): "The results of these primaries were fair, and they should be honored. In my view, there are two options: Honor the results, or hold new primary elections."
And what's Chairman McAuliffe's new, improved 2008 position? "We just can't leave 2.3 million voters who went in and voted," he told CBS News. "They've already voted, and we just need to count them."
What about the rules that Democrats in every other state were faithful to and that Florida and Michigan Democrats chose to flout? Some Clinton advisors want a do-over in Florida and Michigan - maybe a new balloting by mail.
This is a really bad idea, which would mean rewarding the two scofflaw states for breaking the party's rules by now giving them a louder, more influential voice in the choice of a nominee. This precedent would inevitably encourage states in the future to break party rules and schedule their primaries whenever they chose, knowing they could always reschedule to a more crucial date. Chaos would prevail. Unacceptable.
Hillary Clinton will not win the nomination by trying to change the rules and retroactively legalize the rump delegations from Florida and Michigan. If she is to have any chance of persuading the super-delegates, it will be done only by her winning the last series of primaries including North Carolina, Indiana, Oregon and Puerto Rico, along with Pennsylvania.
The solution to the Michigan and Florida problem: Cut their delegations in half, and split the delegates evenly between the two candidates (Clinton currently has an edge in the two states' super-delegates), and let them travel to the Denver convention. If they have any beef, they can take it up with their own state Democrats, who by breaking the rules brought the penalty upon their fellow citizens.
Anybody got a better idea?