06/02/2008 12:43 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

How the Democratic Party Blew the Communications Part of Its Florida/Michigan Decisions

There were a number of reasons why the Rules Committee made the decisions it did on Saturday, some of them easier to understand than others. But this weekend it continued to use words like "penalty" and "punish," which has been its tactical error all along. When people hear words like these, they don't make fine distinctions between "punishing" delegations and punishing voters. That's a mistake.

The real issue -- the one that everyone should be talking about -- is fairness: Fairness to all those who voted or didn't vote in those two states, fairness to the candidate and their supporters, and fairness to everyone that wants a honest nomination process.

The Party created this problem last year with its lack of vision and discipline. That's a problem for its leaders, not voters, to fix. Its failure to frame this issue effectively opened the door for some campaign demagoguery, which led in turn to the bitter demonstrations this weekend -- and to disgruntled marchers like the Clinton supporter who called Obama an "inadequate black male" (video here).

While campaigns aren't responsible for the words of their supporters, this kind of reaction was the predictable result of Clinton's inflammatory and misleading speeches regarding Florida and Michigan. They're also the result of the party's failure to explain its procedures, and the reasoning behind them, in a more effective manner.

So how should the party communicate its decisions? How about a statement like this:

"We made this decision to be fair to the people who voted, and to be fair to the people who didn't vote because they thought their vote wouldn't count. We made this to be fair to the supporters of both candidates across the country - they all want an outcome that respects the values of democracy, fair play, and keeping your promises.

It would be unfortunate if any candidate - or his/her supporters - tried to exploit this difficult and emotional situation in hopes of gaining unfair advantage. We trust that won't happen, because we trust that our candidates will put fair play and the good of the party above their selfish interests.

Any questions?"

Ultimately, it will also be incumbent on Sen. Clinton to come out and say forcefully that she agrees with these decisions- - and that she takes full responsibility for having supporting the sanctions last year.

Without statements like these, we'll continue to see confrontations like the one described here, and comments like the one below it which reads "I hope Hillary burns this party to the ground."

Longer-term, the Democratic Party needs to find a better way to schedule its primaries -- one that's fair to all the states, not just the few that have come to dominate the process. How about a lottery system before every presidential campaign? States could draw lots to determine the order in which states will vote, and it would be different every year.

Just a thought.

RJ Eskow blogs:

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