If firefighters realize they’ve been hosing the wrong house, they don’t say, “Sorry, we can’t put out the fire; we already used a lot of water on the house next door.”

Trying to make that case would be as irresponsible as the one offered by the Daily’s editorial that claimed resources should not be spent on a fair Michigan Democratic caucus because funds were already used for the pointless Jan. 15 presidential primary (No election mulligan, 02/19/2008),

The fire in this case is the burning desire of a people to play their part in the unfolding drama of American democracy. Resources wasted on Jan. 15 have no bearing in the urgent need to meet that desire.

The facts are plain enough. State Democratic Party officials invited voters to a January election that had been boycotted by the contestants.

Responding to concerns that tiny Iowa and New Hampshire should not be alone in determining the race’s early momentum, the Democratic National Committee offered a new approach for 2008. Yes, Iowa and New Hampshire would maintain early positions. But this year, one southern state and one western state with substantial minority populations, South Carolina and Nevada, were be moved ahead in the primary calendar, to January. Other states were to hold contests after Feb. 4.

Florida cut ahead in line with a January primary date despite warnings from the DNC that it would be disqualified. It was disqualified. Like lemmings to the sea, Michigan party officials followed by announcing a January contest. It was disqualified. The candidates themselves vowed not to recampaign in the renegade status, with several further distancing themselves by pulling their names from the Michigan ballot, making it crystal clear that Michigan would not be holding a legitimate primary on Jan. 15.

In a sequel to the original tragedy, Michigan Democratic Party leaders are now committing a second failure of leadership by perpetuating the lie that the Jan. 15 primary was valid after all.

Rather than stepping into our rightful place in the pageant of history, we find ourselves placed in the absurd and embarrassing role of bystander at the naked emperor’s parade. In a transparent deception, Sen. Carl Levin wrapped himself in an invisible garment: “Given that 600,000 Michigan voters participated in a primary that was held in accordance with Michigan law,” he told The Detroit News, “it seems to me that it would not be practical or fair to throw out the results of that election.”

Michigan law? As if this were a contest for governor instead of the Democratic nominee for president. Where is the innocent child who will explain to the senior senator that Michigan consists of two peninsulas, not an island unto itself?

But there is hardly time for that. Our burning desire to have our voices heard is unquenched. The future may show whether it was practical for elected leaders to ignore this need. History shows that meeting this demand for empowerment is not a luxury that can be passed over as an extravagance; it is the fundamental business of government. It is the source of the same flame that sparked the American Revolution. Keeping this in mind, it becomes clear that the cost of any election is trivial compared with the sacrifices made over centuries to secure this chance at representative government.

Ironically, the national spotlight sought by planners of the Jan. 15 primary is focused on Michigan now more than ever. With the contest so close, so late in the race, Michigan should hold a legitimate caucus in the coming months, reclaim our seats at the national convention and perhaps play the starring role in determining the next U.S. president.

Or, Wolverines, we could give that up to Ohio.

Paul Tinkerhess is an Ann Arbor resident.

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