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Electability?

May 20, 2019

The number of Democrats running for president is somewhat amusing. I roll my eyes every time I hear of yet another obscure person with thin credentials deciding to pursue the most difficult job in the world. On the other hand, the presidency of Donald Trump is seen by most Democrats as so disastrous for the well-being of the country and the world that every possible alternative is being explored. For better or worse, Donald Trump has taught us to think outside the political box.

Foremost in the minds of Democratic voters seems to be the idea of electability. Yes, they are motivated and passionate about a variety of issues–affordable healthcare for everyone, combating climate change through more green energy and technology, protecting biodiversity, college affordability, raising the minimum wage, expanding trade agreements, equality for women and LGBTQ persons, strengthening ties with all of our allies, arms control agreements, gun control, spreading democracy and human rights–but none of those issues will move forward without first beating Donald Trump in the next election. So deciding on the most electable candidate has become the key debate.

So who is more electable: the most progressive candidate or the most moderate? The most charismatic or the most comfortable? The non-white or white? The female or male?The gay or the straight? The outsider or the insider? The least experienced or the most experienced?

The argument on the one side is that only someone who is clearly progressive and different from the norm can generate the enthusiasm needed (especially among younger voters) to beat Trump. Enthusiasm is the key. The argument on the other side is that only someone who can peel away some of the Trump voters from the previous election can win the electoral college. Playing it safe is the key.

Both of these approaches make sense. I don’t think one is clearly better than the other for beating Donald Trump. Frankly, I think he is beatable either way.

But my question is whether electability ought to be the central concern. If Democrats win the White House, but they do it with a divisive candidate, then the paranoia and distrust and dysfunction of our society, reflected in Congress, will continue. The wounds that have been growing ever wider since the 1990s (and that Trump has slashed more deeply) will continue to fester with an infection that sickens our country. For the good of our society, I want to see a president–Republican or Democrat–who can actually heal some of our divisions. That will require a candidate who works with both sides, borrows the best ideas of both sides, and whose personality and behavior and skills gain the respect of many on both sides (even if not always supported by both sides).

Ideally I would like to see a woman as the next president. It would also be wonderful if the president was non-white. We are a diverse nation (soon half our nation will be non-white, and over half are female). We need leadership that reflects those facts, and we need to be informed by different perspectives than what we usually see and hear. Yes, I have my own pet issues that I yearn for the next president to embrace. But for the long-term progress of our country, and for the sake of having a positive influence on other nations, I mostly hope for a president who builds a broad base of support that includes people in both major parties.

Maybe that’s impossible. Maybe talk radio and cable news networks and social media have made it impossible to build trust across the Republican-Democrat divide. But I know that trying to conquer and disable the other side (whichever side that is) also does not work, but only feeds resentment and reaction.

Love your neighbor as yourself. Who knew that that would be such a relevant political stance?

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