Democratic Underground

This Is Not An Endorsement
January 21, 2004
By The Plaid Adder

I've been avoiding the primaries for a long time now. Partly it's because, let's face it, nobody is out there waiting with bated breath for the Plaid Adder endorsement. In fact, I imagine that if I did endorse a particular candidate, and that candidate somehow found out about it by chance, his staffers would just put up a little notice on their explaining that it wasn't his fault and they hope nobody will hold it against him.

After all, the candidate I have always liked best on the issues is Dennis Kucinich, who came out of Iowa with a whopping 1% of the take. I always enjoy reading about his campaign, and am tremendously grateful to him and his supporters for making a real critique of the war - and not just the individual iterations of it like the Iraq occupation, but the long war for global dominance that we have been engaged in more or less openly since the Reagan era - part of the debate, just as I found it utterly refreshing to hear him supporting civil marriage for same-sex couples as if it was a natural extension of the Democratic platform and vision, instead of a third rail that will destroy anyone who touches it.

But with the national media largely ignoring him or treating him like a novelty act - I will never forgive Bob Edwards for winding up an NPR interview by asking him whether America was ready for a vegan president - and of course his bad hair, funny name, and lack of a reified icon of heterosexual femininity to symbolize his status as a representative of the patriarchy (excuse me, I mean supportive wife), Kucinich's campaign has enough problems without having to admit that his major media endorsement came from a venomous reptile. Therefore, for the good of his campaign, I wish to state unequivocally here that I do not endorse Dennis Kucinich, nor should he be in any way held responsible for having inadvertently appealed to a lunatic such as myself.

But of course part of it is simply that I am a middle child and I prefer to avoid conflict when I can, unless, you know, it's conflict with evil people. I hate watching friends and family fight, and it is always distressing to me to see people who basically share the same goals beating each other up over the question of how best to achieve them. And the thing that I most hate to hear people fighting over is exactly the thing that has become the keyword for this race: electability.

Why do I hate electability? Well, let me count the ways. First, it drives me insane - I mean, more insane than usual - to watch the pundits and talking heads discuss 'electability' as if it is an essential asset that a candidate either is born with or isn't, when they must know perfectly well that they are the ones who create it.

Second, the obsession with 'electability' short-circuits discussions of the issues by trapping the entire debate inside the repeating loop of a maddeningly self-fulfilling prophecy. Because of course if enough people believe a candidate is not electable, then they won't vote for that candidate, and consequently that candidate will become unelectable. What we won't ever know is whether that candidate could have been electable - indeed, elected - if instead of trying to pick a winner, people just picked the person who they actually wanted to have running the country.

'Electability' does not reside in a candidate's hairstyle, biography, accent, or platform; it is an airy nothing formed of pure perception which then becomes incarnated in reality because no matter how much we may criticize the national media we are all still their creatures. How else do we come by our perception of what the rest of our fellow-Americans want? We can't run our own polls; we can't call up people from Missoula to Miami and ask what they really want; we don't know from statistical sampling. It's the media, not the American people, who manufacture this national consensus that determines 'electability.'

Third, obsessing over electability brings out the worst in us. Out on the playground we were all taught, often brutally, that there is a high price to pay for going against the majority. We were also taught that in a conflict, the safe thing to do is to follow the strongest. Voting 'electability' is a concession to that logic: it's an admission that what you want above all is to be on the winning side, which in our system is (or at least is supposed to be) the side with the most people. Take that logic far enough, and eventually you don't have a democracy; you have a quiescent populace accepting the rule of a small group of powerful men because they know that most of their fellow-Americans will do the same.

Now you can say that within the context of a primary fight, the focus on 'electability' is purely strategic - what after all is the good of picking a candidate that Bush will beat? What I am arguing is that if we are determining electability based on perceptions created by the mainstream media - as we inevitably are - then we are essentially allowing the corporations to pick our candidate for us. Money is what the media are loyal to; and my friends, money does not want a Democrat in the White House. You know that, I know that. We know that money does not have our best interests at heart. So when money tells us who's electable, why do we listen? Why is it so hard for us to remember that yes, money talks, but it does not tell the truth?

So, as you can see, the electability thing is kind of a sore spot with me; and then there's the fact that it has become something of a bone of contention in my household. Both my partner and I suffer from Nader Guilt, having voted for him in 2000 after coming to despair of the two-party system. We have responded to this in different ways. I have sworn off third parties, but would like to see a candidate that will maintain the Democratic Party as an actual second party, as opposed to the softer side of the Republicans. My partner, on the other hand, has begun preaching electability. This difference of opinion became most marked around the Clark campaign, which has been skilfully exploiting electability since it started up. Indeed, Michael Moore, whose films we have long admired, has endorsed Clark, no doubt out of what must be a far greater Nader Guilt Complex than we have to deal with. I, on the other hand, have always felt that apart from Lieberman, who thankfully does not appear to have a chance in hell of getting the nomination, the one candidate I would most hate to have to vote for is Wesley Clark.

But not to worry, all is well in the Plaidder home. Last night my partner observed that Clark was "getting scarier." I said, "School of the Americas?" She said, "The nuns, what of the nuns?"

Now, to be fair to Clark, I went and looked at his statement on the matter, and it is full of condemnations of human rights abuses and support for "oversight" and "vetting" to ensure that the School of the Americas (renamed the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation) really does "[constantly improve] the way it teaches the Army's values of respect for human rights, for civil institutions, and for dissent." This sincere desire to use the Army as a force for good instead of evil is no doubt what has attracted many of his endorsers, including Moore.

It is his obvious investment in the institution itself - which is perfectly understandable from a career military officer - that makes me extremely nervous. Clark evidently believes that the problem is not that the U.S. is attempting to determine what happens politically in the Western Hemisphere, but that we have not always done it the right way. I personally believe that attempting to install Western-friendly U.S.-military-trained leaders throughout the hemisphere is never going to be a good way to extend "respect for himan rights, for civil institutions, and for dissent." People don't like things that are offered to them at gunpoint. In my humble opinion, what we need after the carnage of Bush and the "preventive war" years is a president who will make an attempt at solving problems using something other than the American military. I don't think Clark is going to be that president, whether or not he's electable.

So it was with some trepidation that I settled down to watch the results of the Iowa caucuses. But you know what, I actually found it very encouraging, despite Kucinich - who, let us remember, I am NOT endorsing - finishing a disappointing fifth. First of all, it was a nice smack upside the head to the pundits, who were totally unprepared for the results. Howard "I Look A Lot Better Over Email" Dean came in third, Senator "Reports Of My Campaign's Demise Have Been Greatly Exaggerated" Kerry won, and John "The Face" Edwards, to whom nobody had been paying a whole lot of attention, pulled an upset and came in second.

Even though I wasn't rooting for any of them, I was hugely cheered up by that. It suggested to me - and I hope it will suggest to many of my fellow-Americans - that the media actually don't know who's electable, and that it is still possible for the people to defy the manufactured consensus. It also gratifies me that my partner is now in a position to go back to my family, who were all convinced when we discussed this last November that Gephardt would get the nomination and that Kerry was a horse's ass who was going nowhere, and say "I told you so" - especially as her pick was Edwards.

More important than the results of the horse race, however, are these three things: 1) at least according to ABC, turnout was twice what it was in 2000; 2) about half of those were first-time voters; and 3) the issues most of these voters cared most about were related to the economy and health care. Not the war on terrorism, not tax cuts for the rich, not the Marriage Protection Amendment, not putting a man on Mars. Yes, this is the democratic base, not the mainstream. But the base is bigger than it was, it's more energized, and collectively speaking, it is no fool. And at least last night, it was the voters who were at the wheel, with the media clinging to the bumper and just trying to hang on for the ride. That's the way it should be; and ultimately that matters more, to me but also I think to the country, than the actual standings.

In the end, what matters to me is not whether my guy wins, but whether power comes back to the people. From that point of view, the Iowa caucuses are a very good sign. I hope New Hampshire will be similarly uplifting, thanks to its notoriously independent-minded, not to say stubborn, population. Meanwhile, I will go back to my burrow, and while the flames from all the people who believe I have disrespected their candidates crackle above my head, I will go on hoping that in the end, we succeed in making the best man electable.


The Plaid Adder's demented ravings have been delighting an equally demented online audience since 1996. More of the same can be found at the Adder's Lair.

 

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