What if they held a convention, and everybody came?

The question posed by one local letter-writer — “If the Democratic Party can’t successfully stage a convention in a city that hosts hundreds of conventions a year, how will they fare at something really complicated, like running our country?” — is not entirely fair.

Local Clark County (Las Vegas) political conventions, for either major party, have tended in the past to be sparsely attended events, the usual gang of insiders hammering out some platform planks no one will ever read again in an echoing room with balloons on the floor and extra chairs stacked along the walls, and then deciding who can afford the time and expense of traveling on to do essentially the same thing at the state convention a few months hence, before taking the really important vote on where to have lunch.

Clark County Democratic Chairman John Hunt and other local party leaders claimed they were expecting more than 7,000 people at their county convention at Bally’s Hotel and Casino Saturday. They’d certainly seen an unprecedented 117,000 party members flock to local high schools for their presidential precinct caucuses last month.

But after booking a room that held only 5,000 people, turning away thousands of delegates, and offering no streamlined procedure for recognizing and seating even those delegates who had registered in advance, the party’s local leadership appeared Saturday to be asking, in effect, “Come on, you didn’t actually believe a word we said, did you?”

The close-fought nomination battle between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama brought out thousands more activists than the room could hold. And most showed little patience with the traditional lineup of “me-too” speeches by local political luminaries, many of whom were promptly booed by one camp or the other, as soon as anyone was able to detect that the speaker was “from the other side.”

Yes, the close-fought Democratic nomination battle has energized participation at precisely the level any party leader dreams of, in an era of dwindling electoral participation. This would be great news if those in attendance had anything on their minds other than getting their favorite bathing beauty elected “Queen for a Day.” Something just a tad more substantive — ending the spirit-crushing tyranny of the federal income tax, say, or restoring constitutional limited government?

I know. I’m just full of whimsy, aren’t I?

But by 4 p.m. Saturday — nine hours after many delegates showed up and started forming their lines — both the Obama and Clinton organizers had had enough, calling for the Clark County Democratic convention to be adjourned till sometime in March or April, in hopes of sending a more representative and carefully counted delegate slate to the state convention in Reno May 17.

So now they’ll have to do it all again.

And as though that weren’t bad enough news, this also turned out to be the weekend that Ralph Nader announced he will again run for president, on a third (or is that now a “fourth”?) party ticket.

A little historical perspective may be in order. One of the motivating myths of the modern Democratic Party is that the U.S. Supreme Court “stole” the 2000 election for George Bush and the Republicans when it ruled that a Florida state law requiring the Florida secretary of state to announce a winner of that state’s presidential popular vote based on the best count available on a certain date meant that — hold onto your hats — Florida’s secretary of state actually had to declare who had won Florida’s presidential popular vote, as of that date.

(Every credible news organization that did a detailed follow-up probe of the Florida balloting subsequently reported George W. Bush would have won under any legally requested counting method. But such obscure details play a minimal role in this narrative of emotional motivation. We are, after all, dealing with government-school graduates, who nowadays begin every essay with “It made me feel …” as in “The fact that tungsten showed up so far down on the periodic table made me feel sad at first, but also hopeful …”)

Now, the planets have aligned such that a situation occurs that may arise only a few times in a century: No incumbent president or vice president seeks the presidency. It’s wide-open.

Democrats see not only a chance to recapture the White House, but to recapture it with a true left-wing “progressive,” a candidate who won’t shilly-shally around with fan-dancer now-you-see-it rhetoric about “ending welfare as we know it” or making abortion “safe, legal, and rare.”

No, Democratic activists today see what could be their last chance to advance the socialist agenda by giant steps! To totally nationalize health care! To vastly increase taxes on “greedy rich” Americans earning more than $70,000 per year or $120,000 per couple (the Democrats’ actual figures, from the “tax rebate” debate), using the resulting loot to finance a whole new raft of “social welfare” programs and handouts including a “living wage” of $26,000 a year for hamburg flippers while essentially banning the use of coal, oil, or nuclear power, instead instituting a brave new “clean, green” era in which all the nation’s power will come from quietly humming windmills, geysers, solar cells, and — I’m just guessing on this last part, though they’ll have to make up the 88 percent shortfall somewhere — elves with cookie ovens in hollow trees.

There are just a few problems. One is the fact that Democratic candidates preaching such a “progressive” gospel have gone down to crashing defeat in every presidential election since 1965, with the sole exception of the decent but clueless Jimmy Carter, swept to power in his 1976 race against the accidental president who pardoned Richard Nixon.

And the other problem is: Ralph Nader.

The long-in-the-tooth consumer activist (he’s 73, not quite young enough to be John McCain’s love child) doesn’t draw many votes at the polls, these days. But those he does draw come from the anti-capitalist “green” left — which is to say, from the Democrats.

Now, a sensible consideration of Americans’ already sharply curtailed political choices would greet Mr. Nader — along with Libertarian and other constitutionalist candidates seen drawing more votes from Republicans — with open arms: The more the merrier.

But Democrats with their eyes on the White House are likely to remember only that — running as the nominee of the Green Party — Ralph Nader captured 2.8 million popular votes in the year 2000 — 2.7 percent of the vote, almost certainly enough to have thrown a vital one or two additional states (Florida, New Hampshire) — and with them the election — to Democrat Al Gore.

The enthusiasm and involvement of rank-and-file Democrats are to be praised — even if one could wish they would start demanding a little better accounting of just how high taxes would have to be raised — and on whom — to fund even half of their favorite candidate’s promised new “programs.”

But the suspicion begins to grow, after last weekend’s dual events, that Happy Days may not necessarily be Here Again.

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