While Democrats finally have reached a reasonable solution to the debacle involving the Florida and Michigan primaries, it would be a mistake for the political parties to forgive and forget. The anger and frustration of voters, state leaders and political candidates should be channeled into developing a new primary election schedule for 2012 that is fairer and more representative of the nation's electorate.
Let's remember how this mess was created. For too long, the early-voting states of Iowa and New Hampshire have been granted special status. Despite their reputations for allowing candidates the opportunity to test their messages and personal appeal before informed voters in small-town settings, they should not be allowed to weed out the field in perpetuity. It was the failure of the political parties to address the situation that led Florida and Michigan to move their primaries to January in an attempt to give their voters a greater voice in selecting the party nominees.
That backfired, of course, particularly for the Democrats. The party hacks stubbornly clung to their petty rules, and Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama did not have the backbone to stand up to the early-voting states and campaign in Michigan and Florida. The Democrats' meeting on Saturday in Washington underscored how raw emotions remain over the snubs. Giving Florida delegates a half-vote at the national convention is an acceptable resolution, but this unnecessary fight has cost Democrats valuable time and damaged the party in ways that will not be easily repaired by the nominee.
Yet Democrats and Republicans have an opportunity to build something good from the ashes of the 2008 primary season, which mercifully ended Tuesday with Obama primed to claim the Democratic nomination. Time and again on Saturday, Democrats such as Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan argued that the primary system should be reformed and other states should be given an opportunity to move toward the front of the schedule. Presidential candidates should have to prove themselves early on before a more diverse group of voters who can be counted on to raise more issues of national importance than ethanol subsidies in Iowa.
The best solution suggested so far would be a series of regional primaries. Regions could rotate and take turns going first. While that could stretch the finances of some candidates who would have to spend more on television ads, it also could cut down on cross-country travel and bring into sharper focus issues and portions of the electorate deserving of more attention.
What happened to voters from both parties in Michigan and Florida should not be allowed to happen again. The issue is not that big states should know their place or that political parties should adopt more rules. It is that the anachronistic primary system designed to protect Iowa and New Hampshire out of tradition needs to be overhauled before 2012.
Failing to seize the opportunity can only lead to more chaos down the road, and the political parties will deserve every shot they take from angry voters who want to have their voices heard and their ballots counted.