Democrats, Horse Races, and John Edwards

I’ve stayed away from “Democratic primary” stuff in this blog until now. Mostly because the election in California is just over a week away and I still have no freaking idea who I’m voting for. But I’ve been seeing a pattern in progressive writing about the Dem primary; it’s a pattern that’s bugging me, and I want to talk about it.

The pattern is this: The progressive writing about the Democratic primary is completely buying into the narrative that this election is between Clinton and Obama. Not all of it, but a lot of it. And when Edwards is mentioned, the theme that keeps coming up is, “I like him, but he’s behind in the polls, and I don’t think he’s electable.”

And I want to shake these people and scream, “If you would fucking well endorse him, maybe he’d BE electable.”

The San Francisco Bay Guardian was the most recent one of these — and it’s the one that pissed me off the most. They’re the big progressive alterna-weekly here; their politics are sometimes wacky but are generally good. I really wanted to see what they had to say about Edwards, who I’m seriously considering voting for. And I wanted more information about him than, “We might endorse him if we thought he was electable.”

I understand the need to be pragmatic in an election. I’ve held my nose and voted for the least repulsive candidate more than once. I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of candidates for major elective office who I actually felt unqualified excitement about. I get it. Really I do.

And in the general election, I completely get it. Come November, I will vote for whoever the Dems come up with. The Dems could nominate Lyndon Johnson again, and I’d vote for him.

But in a primary, it’s different.

In a primary, it seems to me, you’re supposed to forget about the horserace. In a primary, you’re supposed to vote for the person — brace yourself — who you’d most like to see win.

And the fact that people don’t vote for the person they most want to win is, I think, one of the main reasons the Democrats have traditionally coughed up such a pathetic succession of hairballs. I think the horserace mentality, the “Is he/she electable?” mentality, is what keeps the attention focused on such a narrow field… and what keeps attention off of anyone outside that field.

It’s not 100% different in a primary, I get that. I probably wouldn’t vote for Kucinich, after all, even if he hadn’t already dropped out of the race, and even if it hadn’t been for the UFO thing. I’m enough of a pragmatist to not vote for someone with less than 5% in the polls, even in a primary.

But Edwards is not Kucinich. Edwards could stand a chance, if people acted like he stood a chance. And I like him. So far, at least. I like what he’s saying about poverty, and I like what he’s saying about the war. I want to know more about him; and it bugs me that the people whose job it is to find out more about the candidates are ignoring him. It bugs me that he’s not being scrutinized, solely because of the self-fulfilling prophecy that he’s not electable.

Now, I’ll be honest. There is a part of me that’s thinking, “I really, really don’t want Clinton to get the nomination — so maybe I should just just suck it up and vote for Obama. I don’t love him, but I like Clinton even less.”

But I hate that. That horserace mentality is a huge part of what’s wrong with our electoral system. It’s such a self-fulfilling prophecy. We’re not supposed to be voting for the person who we think can win. Especially when you consider that the election experts, the ones who are telling us who can and can’t win, consistently have their heads up their asses.

It’s a democracy. We’re not supposed to vote for the person who we think can win. We’re supposed to vote for the person who we want to win.

Democrats, Horse Races, and John Edwards

25 thoughts on “Democrats, Horse Races, and John Edwards

  1. 1

    I’ve thought since Spring that Clinton in fact is every bit as non-electable as Kucinich in November: she so energizes the far right that the Republicans win again. I’m supporting Obama and believe this time a black guy (who’s energizing disenfranchised people and independents) has a better chance than the “inevitable Democratic candidate.”
    PS: I’m in Iowa and am lucky to have gotten to see most of the candidates. Obama really shines when answering questions from the crowd.

  2. 2

    You’re making the completely unwarranted assumption that the media heads are actually emitting honest opinions….
    “Unelectable” is the current code for: “We, the media, and/or our masters, the political parties, do not intend to *let* this person win”.
    That’s how they lock out anyone who might endanger their cozy little “arrangements”. It’s not clear yet if they still have the power to “create their own reality” in this regard, but they’re certainly not about to “leave it to the populace”.

  3. 3

    I agree, although I’d take it one step further: vote your conscience in the general election too. Something like fifty million people will vote for both the Republican and the Democrat in the general election. Your vote isn’t for them; it’s for you.

  4. 4

    “And I want to shake these people and scream, ‘If you would fucking well endorse him, maybe he’d BE electable.'”
    My fiancée said practically the exact same thing the other day.
    I know she and I are going to support Edwards to the end. If nothing else, it keeps his issues in the spotlight and forces the other candidates to confront them as well.
    I wish more people could get over their irrational psychological tics. Like believing in mind/body dualism, or considering their vote on election day to be analogous to their lot in the office pool.

  5. Nan

    Thank you. My thoughts exactly. Voters should be using the primaries to back the candidate who most closely matches their views instead of fatalistically thinking “not electable in November.” If more people would demonstrate they’re serious about wanting universal health care, an end to the mess in Iraq, a cleaner environment, something done about poverty, you name it, instead of falling into line with what the corporations want (which is either Clinton or Obama in the White House if they can’t get a Republican) Edwards, Kucinich, Richardson, and Gravel would be able to influence the party’s platform even if they won’t make it on to the ticket. As it is, when everyone is agreeing with the MSM’s perceived wisdom by rubber stamping the two front runners, it’s going to be business as usual come November. Any Democrat will be better than a Repugnican, but when Obama is Lieberman-lite and Clinton has said she thinks NAFTA should be expanded. . . not a cheery picture for the average person.

  6. 7

    It’s like you’ve read my mind, this is just the dilemma I’m in – “Edwards, who I like the most, or Obama because I’d prefer him to Clinton?”. I’d been leaning towards Obama before I read this – I’m still not sure, but you’re definitely causing me to reconsider.

  7. 8

    After years of holding-my-nose voting, I came to the sudden realization a few years ago that I could no longer stand to cast my vote for anyone who supports the death penalty. I can disagree with a politician about many things and still vote for him or her, but this is not one of them.
    More recently, I added the Military Commissions Act to the death penalty. Either you want it repealed or you don’t get my vote.
    Up until a week ago, that left me Kucinich and no one else. (Well, Ron Paul actually, who shares my opinion of both, but not even that could get me to register Republican.) Thinking you’ve seen a UFO seems far less delusional to me than thinking that health insurance and HMO executives should take the lead in health care reform.
    Now I have no one to vote for in the primary, which is totally pissing me off. I knew Kucinich wouldn’t win the nomination, but at least me and thousands of other Californians voting for him would send the DNC the message that there are a whole lot of Democrats and former Democrats sick of the appalling choices they keep offering us. Now I’m stuck with having changed my registration from Green to Democrat for nothing. And I’m struggling with the question of whether to break my rule and vote for Edwards.
    And while I am not using the question of electability to make my choice, I would like to add that Hilary Clinton is unelectable. People simply don’t like her enough.

  8. 9

    As drawn out as the American election process is, you’d think that the lazy, comatose media would have enough time to learn and communicate to others something about the candidates. Nope. Every day they report the same crap about some new, meaningless opinion poll. I don’t care what voters think about candidates; I want to know what candidates think about Americans. Is that too much to ask?

  9. 10

    You claim it’s a democracy
. But is it?
    Obviously the monopolies that own the MSM are not going to pay their talking heads to mention someone who might interfere with the new corporate goal of endless war profiteering…&…Every marketer knows “any publicity is good publicity”, and consumer’s buying/voting habits depend on “exposure > product awareness > brand loyalty”. Issues don’t matter.
    Clinton and Obama are this term’s Coke and Pepsi, after Gravel, Richardson and finally Kucinich (used to run for president) went the way of Desoto and Hudson (used to make cars). The real election is already over: the corporations won and the people lost.
    What’s bugging me is whether democracy can co-exist with television at all.

  10. 11

Though I concur with you lets us not forget that the media’s primary business is not about educating and informing the audience. Regardless they a print, radio or television outlet the media’s primary is to make money. The news they cover is a product, a product that they package in a form that sell. To that end they report minor and insignificant conflicts in a way that makes them appear to be significant. Conflict and sensationalism sells while educating does not generate profits. By their selective coverage and sensationalist bents, the media is the dominate factor in choosing who will be the primary victors.
    This evening CNN by the nature of the coverage and extended interviews conducting going into the State of the Union have signaled that the campaign will be between Obama and Romney. With twenty-four hour coverage and media sensationalism, the primary system is broken. It does not need tweaking. It needs major overhauling so that the field of candidates are nor narrowed before half the country has had a chance to express their opinions. The people, not the press, should select the candidates.

  11. 12

    You might want to check out the following online quiz:
    This allows you to find out which candidate mostly closely matches your political views. At least if you’re doing a “horse race” pick about who has the best chance of winning, you can weight this decision this knowledge of which candidate most closely fits your views.

  12. 13

    This is a big reason why we need to change the voting system to something other than first-past-the-post. There are many other systems that avoid the need for strategic voting.

  13. 14

    From a Swedish perspective the US so called democracy is a joke. Every election it’s the same thing; people don’t vote for the candidate they actually want to win, but instead settle for one of two choices: A bad one, usually a democrat, or a worse one, the republican. I do get that it’s a lot more difficult to handle democratic elections in a huge country like the US, but surely a start would be to change the mindset of the people from “vote for the lesser evil” into “vote for the person you’d actually like to win”? I’ve come across the opinion too many times that voting for any but the official candidates is a lost vote and of COURSE it is as long as everyone thinks like that!
    Sorry about the rant. It’s just that the democratic process of the (arguably?) most powerful country in the world is kinda important to those of us who are less powerful. 🙂

  14. 15

    “the Democrats have traditionally coughed up such a pathetic succession of hairballs”
    I love it! Only you could turn a phrase like that, Greta. That’s why I love you. . .

  15. 16

    Right. Well, I’d been holding off on changing my registration from Democrat to Green because I wanted to vote Kucinich in the primary, but hey! now I have no more reason to wait.

  16. 17

    Edwards’s campaign was over when the haircut thing hit the news. It was his Dean Scream. My mom, just to take one example, was your basic red-diaper baby, literally a card-carrying ACLU member for most of her life, knee-jerk union supporter, worked on the Adlai Stevenson campaign — right smack-dab in the middle of Edwards’s demographic, is what I’m saying. And when the haircut thing came out, she despised him, and she wouldn’t hear a word about his opinions or positions or anything else. It wasn’t even about whether he used campaign funds or personal funds; it’s just that for some people, you just don’t, ever, spend $400 on a haircut. It sunk him.
    And of course, at a little deeper level, all this stuff about Edwards and his overly neat hair (same gag came up on Letterman about a week ago) is just code for “he’s gay.” Coulter actually came out and said it, but plenty of people think it, or at least believe it at a subconscious level.
    On the other hand, there’s still a very good reason to vote for Edwards in the primary, which is that he’s not really running for President any more. The Democratic candidate is going to be Clinton or Obama; you might not like it, but that’s the reality. But the candidates for President and Vice President aren’t the only choices made at the convention, and if Edwards comes in with enough votes (and delegates) behind him, it will put him in a much stronger position to get what he’s after at this point, which, at least according to a lot of speculation by leftie lawyers, is Attorney General. He’d make a damn good Attorney General. And it’s not unheard of for AG to be a springboard to a future Presidential run — do all these endorsements by various Kennedys remind you of another AG who later ran for President?
    So if your heart says “Edwards” (as mine does), and your brain needs a strategic justification for voting for him, there you go.

  17. 18

    Wow, Jon. I am seriously considering taking your advice. What a great rationalization! (see “Mistakes Were Made” post…)
    I am definitely going to vote for whichever Democrite (rhymes with “hypocrite”) is on the ballot in November, but I can’t let go of the idea of voting with my heart in the primary. And my heart says Edwards, at least tentatively. (and I am in NO position to judge anyone on how much they spend on their hair.)
    I agree with Rebecca that Hillary Clinton is so widely and deeply hated, that nominating her is too risky. I’m not saying that’s right — a lot of the animosity against her is plain old misogyny in my book. But her centrist politics leave me cold anyway.
    And am I the only one who thinks Kucinich may have great politics, but he’s a creepy weirdo? I could never get excited about voting for him.

  18. 19

    Here’s what bugged me about the haircut thing: You know perfectly well that all the other other major candidates have ridiculously expensive haircuts. Maybe not $400; but if you’re going to look consistently good on TV, you have to have an expensive haircut.
    And the public expects it. If you don’t have good hair, and aren’t generally telegenic, you get pegged as a fringe weirdo.
    Like so many things in our political system, it’s a total no-win situation. We want our candidates to look perfect — but if we find out that they’ve spent any time or money doing it, we decide that they’re shallow and vain.
    What a mess. I totally sympathize with Felicia. If we were Liechtenstein, it wouldn’t matter so much that our country’s politics are a mess. But we’re the most powerful country in the world, and our mess spills out over everyone.

  19. 20

    Edwards voter here (2004 and next Tuesday for me). What we’ve seen over the 30 years I’ve followed politics (since being a young newsjunkie in HS) is that people internalize what the talking-heads say about the candidates.
    This behavior is by design, to quote what Microsoft always tells me about its products.
    Not a one of the pundits has to worry about their well-being whatever happens in the elections; their jobs are assured. In the unlikely event they’re let go, they have think-tanks and ideological cronies to go to.
    Hillary is too much a part of the crony culture of DC, no less a part of that culture than GWB was of his culture in Texas.
    Obama, though I like him, is a messiah. We had our own messiah in Massachusetts when we, and I, voted for Deval Patrick, an Obama acolyte (and endorser) and “Together we can” morphed into “Casinos!”, not the kind of leadership I voted for.
    I think this is the last best chance for meaningful change. Past that, I’m thinking Weimar Germany, possibly including what happened at its end (look it up on WP.)

  20. 22

    Edwards is out. So much for the “he’s really running for AG” theory. Maybe the eventual nominee will give it to him anyway, if he or she wins. It would be a great move.
    Don’t forget that the “Obama is just an empty suit that gives good speeches” meme is also primarily a creation of the mainstream media, and not really any more accurate than the “Edwards is overly concerned with his hair” one. Obama does say “hope” a lot — but he also has some good, concrete ideas. Lots of them. Visit his web site.

  21. 23

    Well, fuck.
    Well, at least this makes it an easy decision. Obama it is.
    For the record: My problem with Obama never was “empty suit that gives good speeches.” My problem was with him sucking up to the evangelicals, and the whole thing about how we can’t have same-sex marriage because “marriage is a religious bond.” As both a queer and an atheist, I say: Fuck that noise.
    And my problem was with the whole “there is something worthy of respect in a strong and widespread moral feeling, even if it’s wrong” thing. (Not something he said himself, just to be clear — an attitude that a close associate attributed to him.)
    I know lots of people think he looks like John Kennedy. But especially after reading that New Yorker article about him (the one with the “even if it’s wrong” bit), I can’t help thinking that he looks way too much like Bill Clinton. Good ideas, but wants too badly to be liked by everybody.
    Still — way better than Hillary Clinton. And at least I get to vote for someone from my home town. (Not just my home town, but my home neighborhood. The Obamas’ home in Chicago is just a few blocks from where my family lives. It’s kind of freaky to think of a Hyde Parker in the White House.)
    Oh, here’s a link to the New Yorker article:

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