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Electability: Excuse for Not Thinking

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Electability is being bandied about as a reason to back or not to back specific candidates from both parties in the current prolonged (even interminable) Presidential race. Many people say something like, "Well, I really think so-and-so would make the best President by far, but he's not electable, so I'm supporting thus-and-such." While there may be a certain amount of practicality to that position, it also seems to me to carry a large dose of surrender along with a healthy dollop of downright cynicism. It is also, at least some of the time, a self-fulfilling prophecy.

But is it a useful or appropriate response to the current campaign scene?

I think not.

Idealism died in this country some time in the 1970's. With the possible exception of Jimmy Carter (and I'm not letting even him entirely off the hook), we haven't had a Presidential candidate offer true hope and optimism that transcended pious platitudes since the Kennedy years. Neither party has acquitted itself particularly well when it comes to the task of providing the nation with a choice between statesmen and leaders; rather, we've generally faced a selection of Tweedle-Dumb and Tweedle-Dumber. Too often, we've voted for the lesser of two, not evils exactly, but more like two empty suits.

Along the way there have been some candidates -- as there are in the current crop -- who espoused ideals, whose message to the electorate wasn't "more of the same only tweaked slightly" but a message of real, fundamental change. And yet, it's been apparent since at least Carter's presidency -- which was ended, you'll recall, by his frank and accurate assessment that we were suffering a national malaise -- that this country is in a tailspin of spirit. Fewer people than ever, according to several polls, are proud to be Americans. And that's not just the outcome of one ill-advised and horribly mismanaged war by one incompetent administration. It's been building for years. These exceptional candidates have almost always and almost from the inception of their campaigns, been lightly dismissed by the mainstream media as "fringe" or "lunatic" or "symbolic" or "meaningless."

And far too often the excuse offered for such insipid lack of insight or analysis into the candidates and their stands on issues has been the invisible cloak of "electability." Rep. Dennis Kucinich represents real and serious change in this country. I happen to support him but even if I didn't, I'd commend an open discussion of his viewpoint, his ideas, his dreams and ideals and hopes for our country. But he scarcely gets any media attention at all.

I recently ran a quick search on Google News, which indexes 4,500 news sources around the clock. I don't know how far back in time their searches go, but what I do know is that if you search for Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, or John Edwards, you'll find upwards of 19,000 mentions. Sen. Clinton approaches 30,000. How many times is Kucinich's name mentioned? 1,932. Just under 10% as often as Edwards (19,099) and Obama (20,394).

The media, you see, long ago declared Rep. Kucinich a non-factor in the race and, in so doing, effectively made him one. Essentially, then, we allow the mainstream media to pick our Presidential candidates for us. In an era of shrinking news budgets and increased media conglomeration, reporters and editors seek to winnow the number of things to which they feel obligated to pay attention. One way to do this is to dismiss candidates like Kucinich and former Alaska Sen. Mike Gravel.

Particularly this early in the process, I think those media folks -- and citizens who allow them not only to get away with their shoddy and shallow coverage but are influenced by it -- do the nation a grave injustice. Electability isn't a trait you can bestow on a candidate. It is, rather, something that the candidate earns over an election cycle. To the extent that we allow overworked and under-qualified journalists to dictate the terms of the debate, we should not be surprised to find ourselves constantly saddled with White House occupants who are not deserving of the title of "President."

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Dan Shafer is a long-time technology writer, political commentator and sports fanatic who has been on the Web since before it was called that and who has one of the longest-running blogs. A long-time liberal activist, Dan has recently begun turning (more...)
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