Don’t Fall for the Electability Trap

Joe BidenIt’s back! Less Than Half in US Would Vote for a Socialist for President. And this is the kind of thinking that will make Joe Biden the Democratic nominee before any other candidate gets to make their case.

This is not a defense of Sanders (or even Warren, who I’m actively supporting). For one thing, he doesn’t need defending. He calls himself a socialist but he doesn’t qualify by my definition. He’s a New Deal Democrat. It’s sad that politics in the US is so far off the rails that someone with such middle-of-the-road opinions as Sanders can get away with calling himself a socialist.

(I suppose it is more accurate to call Sanders a Social Democrat. But Americans don’t usually know what that is. Or what Democratic Socialist is. Or basically anything at all. That’s why simplistic slogans is the way of the day: “Capitalism good! Socialism bad!”)

The Pathetic Logic of “Electable” Candidates

It is a fool’s game to try to figure out which candidate is more electable. I know in 2004, everyone thought John Kerry was the most electable. He lost.

In fact, based upon Lynn Vavreck’s The Message Matters, it is now clear the Democrats’ best chance to win the presidency in 2004 was by nominating Howard Dean and running an anti-war campaign. But that’s not the kind of insight that falls out of people’s common sense.

People aren’t interested in political science. In fact, mostly, they have no idea what it even is. So instead of engaging with what the data show us, they try to read other people’s minds. And it just doesn’t work.

The Racist Neighbor

There’s actually some sociological research on how people think this way. People always assume that their neighbors are more racist than they actually are. And when it comes to Democrats, they always assume the world is more conservative than it actually is.

An important aspect of this is that it means we automatically dismiss women and people of color. “We must defeat Donald Trump” easily breaks down to “We must nominate a white man!” Indeed, I’ve even heard liberals I know speculate that maybe we shouldn’t nominate a woman — as though Hillary Clinton didn’t win 3 million more votes than Trump in 2016!

I remember last year, PM Carpenter wrote, Why This Democratic Socialist Opposes Bernie Sanders. His entire argument was that he didn’t think the nation was ready for a socialist candidate.

But how did he know?! Even at the time, I thought this was nonsense. But after Donald Trump, how does anyone claim to know who others will vote for?

Voters Don’t Care If They Like a Candidate

I always go back to 1988 and the Dukakis campaign. It was really painful to watch it transpire.

There was the tank photo op that Bush turned into a commercial:

Then there was the rape of Kitty debate question:

And, of course, the Willie Horton ad:

All of that seemed to matter a great deal. But it didn’t. These things stuck because the economy was roaring along and Bush’s party was in the White House.

Similarly, the misreporting of Bush and the grocery scanner was a big thing in 1992 because the economy was tanking and Bush’s party was still in the White House.

People used to marvel at how nothing ever stuck to Ronald Reagan. We called him the Teflon President. But it was because the economy was doing well. Nothing really sticks when things are going well for the president and non-issues do stick when things are going badly.

You Don’t Know Who Is Electable

I know I’m a broken record on this stuff, but it’s important. And I don’t think polling tells us a lot. How would people have answered this question in 2015: “Would you vote for a corrupt, crude, childish sexual assaulter who plays a rich man on TV and stiffs hardworking small business owners?” I don’t think so. In fact, most people didn’t think he would become president until moments before he did.

If Sanders can win the Democratic nomination, he can win the general election. The only thing that would stop him is if there really is something behind the repugnant #NeverBernie movement.

And if that’s true of Sanders, it is even more true of Elizabeth Warren.

People should just vote for who they want. As long as it isn’t Joe Biden — because no one wants him. His appeal is entirely that he is “electable.” I might listen to an argument based on political science that he is more electable than Harris or Warren. But this idea that he is the guy who conservatives will vote for is just nonsense based on what liberals and moderates think others want.

Similarly, let Sanders run and see how he does. This freak-out among Democrats is pathetic. And if it succeeds in anything, it will be saddling us with Joe “Waist Rub” Biden.

Vote for who you want because you don’t know anything about what other people want.

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

12 thoughts on “Don’t Fall for the Electability Trap

  1. “if there really is something behind the repugnant #NeverBernie movement.”

    I don’t know what you mean by this. There are a bunch of diehard Hillary fans who need someone to blame. The Dem establishment and the mainstream media are dedicated to preserving the economic and political status quo. Is there something else you’re referring to?

    • Yes. I’m referring to a whole group of Democrats who are claiming they will not vote for Bernie Sanders if he becomes the nominee. I don’t know how big this group is. As I discussed in an earlier article, just under one-quarter of Clinton voters did not vote for Obama in the 2008 general election. That’s 3 times as many Sanders voters who didn’t vote for Clinton in 2016. So I suspect it will be a surprising number of people. The whole thing really bothers me because most of them complained about Sanders supporters not supporting Clinton. But when they don’t like the candidate they do the same?! I complained about Sanders supporters doing that in 2016 and I complain about Sanders haters doing it now. Of course, it turned out that overall, Sanders supporters (like me) were far more committed to the Democratic Party that the so-called establishment types. We’ll see what the next year and a half brings. But it wouldn’t be the first time supposedly loyal Democrats sabotaged a candidate they didn’t like.

      • It seems to me that it is invariably the Clinton partisans who continue to grind the axe. They, apparently, believe that not having a primary contest and not raising objections to the Clinton brand would have changed the election result. It is my belief that the atrocious behavior of the news media, fucking Comey, and the existence of more hardcore racist assholes than I suspected wer the causes. And Russia. But with Russia, I am mostly interested in the Florida voter databases and what actually happened. As far as Russia and social media, this is where I am abnormal enough that I don’t get the story. I use Facebook to post pictures of things I’ve cooked, or my fabulous child to brag about her, or waive hi to friends I don’t see anymore. The idea that Facebook programmed people to vote for Trump I don’t quite buy. But then there was this thing that happened years ago. Mid Obama time, I don’t remember. My Facebook account was temporarily suspended because it was hacked by somebody in Russia. I got it back and changed my password to Ruskies! because it was just absurd. That is not my password now. In fact, Chrome remembers that for me so I couldn’t tell you myself. But lets get back to Comey. The reason he was in a position to do that stupid thing he did was because someone else did a really stupid thing. William Jefferson Clinton. He just had to board Loretta Lynch’s plane at Sky Harbor, because he’s a dumbass. Didn’t occur to him, of all people, that Fox would make hay of it. And Loretta Lynch had to recuse herself and put in charge of the stupid server non issue investigation one James Fucking Comey. The world thanks you, Buba.

        • I’m glad you changed your password! And you really should get a password manager. There are free ones and they are great.

          I’m not thrilled with anything Russian apparently did during the election. But given that our country does far worse (Coup anyone?) I have a hard time getting too upset about it. What does upset me is that the Republicans have blocked most efforts to do anything about it because they find it is against their interests. But I doubt it had much if anything to do with Trump winning.

          I hate the idea that Sanders is a villain because he stayed in the race too long. Clinton stayed in the 2008 race too long. Among Clinton supporters, there is an enormous amount of special pleading. It annoys me. But you are quite right about the big things that did tip the election.

          And it does annoy me that people just can’t let go of their Sanders hatred. Just as I saw some Sanders supporters making Republican attacks against Clinton in 2016, I now see even more anti-Sanders people making Republican attacks on Sanders. It’s pathetic. And I wonder more and more why I am even a Democrat. I may just tune out to primary elections and vote in the general. It seems that a large part of the Democratic establishment is more concerned about the party getting too liberal than the Republicans taking control. Hopefully, it isn’t as bad as I think. Warren would be a good test. I won’t be at all surprised that if she takes the lead a lot of Democrats start panicking and attacking.

    • @paintedjaguar: Many of those diehard Hillary fans are women, who think it’s way, wayyy past time for America to have a female president. (For goodness sakes, Pakistan’s had a woman president. We’re under fixing paternalism speed on Pakistan, now?) And then the oaf who won more electoral votes was an openly sexist monster. It’s like if Jesse Helms had won over Jesse Jackson. The anger is legit. What’s off is worship of Clinton, who is about as much a standard-bearer for women’s rights as I am a shoveler of the neighbors’ snow. (They shovel ours. It’s highly appreciated.)

      You’ll remember when Walter Mondale (also a Minnesotan, and no stranger to snow shoveling) picked Geraldine Ferraro as his running mate. The political world went bonkers over it. “A girl lady? Heartbeat away from the Presidency? Such things must not be done!” Crazy stuff.

      • There is definitely some of that. And I’m hoping to win them over the Warren! But the complaints about Sanders were always over-the-top. And one of my friends is very good at spewing the anti-Sanders line. But to me it is as simple as this: all they hear is every bad thing about Sanders and nothing good other than the stuff that breaks through to the mainstream. And even the bad things are in almost all cases either not bad or much ado about nothing.

        • I’m still deciding where my 2020 primary vote will go. Gabbard’s the most anti-war. Sanders is the most longtime liberal. Warren has the best policy stances. It’s gonna be interesting to pick one.

          Biden’s a hot bag of warm shit, he’s useless.

          His issue? And this was the same issue with Hillary, Dole, Bush Sr. “It’s my turn.” Absolutely no voter could give a dead dang s**t if it’s your turn or not.

          • I’ve been inclined to like Warren despite her sucking up to Hillary in 2016 (Bernie did the same) but she is waffling all over the place on healthcare, making the kind of centrist noises Obama and the Clintons did, like “many paths to the goal”. She doesn’t want to commit, and that issue is deal-breaker for me. It also makes me question her political courage, which lack could mean that all those policy stances are worthless. She HAS however stated that she is committed to capitalism.

            I like Tulsi Gabbard quite a bit, but they are running the same ignore & smear playbook on her that they did on Sanders in 2016.

            • I don’t find Warren’s embrace of capitalism much of an argument against her since Sanders is a social democrat (like Warren) who claims he’s a socialist. Practically speaking, I don’t see much daylight between any of them.

            • @ jaguar — That’s a legit concern. My sense, though, is that Warren waffles on some matters because those aren’t her area of expertise. She knows how financial companies gouge consumers, that’s her thing. And on that subject, her proposals aren’t only specific, they’re easy for non-experts to understand.

              I’m with you on health care being the top issue, it is for me, too. But I can also side with any liberal who thinks racism in criminal justice is the most important issue, or the attacks on abortion rights, or the dang planet catching fire!

              On the media ignore/smear routine; well, you’ve been around, you’ve seen this before. Maybe journalism is less likely to pish-posh economic concerns than they were in the past, since journalists are becoming gig workers now. But nobody ever questions the almighty military empire.

              • Also: if anyone is going to take Joe Biden down in the debates, it’s going to be Warren. She’s been publicly fighting him for decades.

          • Biden is pushing a really dangerous and false idea: that Trump is an outlier in the GOP. He isn’t. He is the perfect example of what the GOP is. I hope that Democratic voters understand this.

            I like all those 3. And Gabbard has the best position on Venezuela. Warren and Sanders are almost as good. Overall, I’m not thrilled with Warren on international affairs. She’s fine — better than most Democrats. But she isn’t as good on it as she is economic matters. I’ll vote for anyone the Democrats nominate. But I’ll gladly vote for any of these three.

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