Democrats & Liberals Archives

What Does “Electable” Mean?

A few weeks ago, The Nation ran a rather devastating portrait of Wesley Clark. Predictably, this prompted a flurry of letters from Clark supporters threatening to cancel their subscriptions. An unspoken message of the letters was that The Nation had damaged a valuable asset of the Democratic party, and by extension the Left.

Clark is, after all, supposed to be the electable candidate. Prospects are certainly shaky enough now for the Democratic party that its members would be nuts to turn down a candidate who clearly has the best chance of winning. Simply labeling a candidate “electable”, however, begs the question of exactly what qualities make him or her likely to win.

In the case of someone like Wesley Clark, the word “electable” largely means that his military background makes him immune from charges that he is a traitor or, even worse, a liberal. How, then, would Clark supporters feel about supporting a Red State senator who flew 35 combat missions and received a Distinguish Flying Cross? Readers with a little historical memory will recognize this dream candidate as George McGovern.

The flip side to the argument that Clark is electable is the argument that Howard Dean is unelectable. Dean, we are told, is a liberal and an antiwar candidate. Whether Dean is a liberal is debatable; the claim that he is an antiwar candidate is simply false. Let’s consider the campaign of a true antiwar candidate, again McGovern, who had buttons printed with the slogan “Come home and stop killing little babies.” Now let’s consider Howard Dean. On his website, Dean offers a Plan for Multilateral Reconstruction in Iraq which states that, “A democratic transition will take between 18 to 24 months, although troops should expect to be in Iraq for a longer period.” Compared to McGovern, Dean is about as pacifistic as Attila the Hun.

Here’s a radical proposal: An electable candidate is one who is good at campaigning, has an engaging personality, and can deal effectively with attacks. Love Howard Dean or hate him, it is hard to argue with the fact that he is wiping the floor with the other Democratic candidates. If he’s unelectable, then the rest of the bunch is cat food.

Posted by Woody Mena at January 6, 2004 8:25 AM