Electability

Al Maline has a Watchblog post on President Bush’s “electability” asking why it should be an issue for his party, when, as Michael Kinsley points out, it’s the Democrats’ own weak knees that have made it so.

The process the Democrats are putting themselves through resembles John Maynard Keynes’ famous description of the stock market. The game isn’t to figure out which stocks are most likely to do well, but to figure out which stocks other investors think are most likely to do well. And these other investors are thinking of other investors and so on.

The Democrats are no longer looking for their strongest candidate—just who they think swing voters will think is the strongest candidate. While in some respects the swing voter theory is a myth (it’s more a matter of voter turn-out than voter conversion), there is no getting around the circumlocution of “electability.”

What constitutes this phantasm? And why has it become so popular?

Kinsley has chased the White Whale and near killed him: Electability is a myth the Democrats have used both as a extrinsic propaganda and as an intrinsic crutch.

The propagandist element has been to assure general election voters the party has a chance at even beating Bush. (True, Gallup has a poll, thinking Kerry can make it so.)

The vastly different side of “electability” is the internalization of it: Democrats rationalizing a candidate they don’t really want. If they could, the Democratic base would have 40 years of Clinton, but it just isn’t going to happen. In the meantime, there is no Democratic message. Even Party chairman Terry McAuliffe has said there isn’t one, “Whoever the nominee of the party is will be the messenger…and that will become the message as we heard forth.”

Sure, sure, liberalism falls short of being quite so easily package as conservatisms three-D’s (Don’t over-tax. Don’t over-legislate. Defend). Some people say the Democratic Party is ‘complex’ and has ‘so many shades’ that it can’t be simplified. There is another obstacle they face: Finding a way to cut down polynomial ideas into a here-to-there line (It's darn hard to explain 'yea we want to lower the deficit but we have to increase government spending first'; or 'we want to protect the country, but cut defense spending').

So the Democrats find a proxy for their own dissatisfaction: Finding the man that other people might suppose, come election time, is the best man for the job. And it just won’t work. With the Democratic field out there now (and shrinking) it’s Bush’s election to lose (and by all means, media be willing, the Democrats think its possible)—not the Democrats’ to win.

It seems entirely possible that the Democrats are in a two-way stand off in their Quixotic 2004 General Election Adventure: Bashing Bush without a man to beat him; and searching for a just-like-Bush to slam dunk over the real McCoy.

Posted by Ry Rivard at February 6, 2004 2:29 PM