Archive for Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Electability’ not a criterion

February 13, 2008


As the presidential primary season progresses, a number of fascinating aspects of contemporary American politics have begun to surface.

Most noticeable, of course, is the early and rapid narrowing of the field in both the Republican and Democratic camps. John McCain is the clear front-runner for the Republicans, and most commentators, even those on the conservative side of the party, say that Mike Huckabee is a far more likely vice-presidential choice rather than presidential nominee.

On the Democratic side, the most popular phrase seems to be inspiration (Obama) versus experience (Clinton). It's impossible not to notice, of course, that for the first time in our nation's history, a major party has no white male as a viable nominee. Not surprisingly, both Sens. Clinton and Obama have made much of this, and they're right to do so.

In fact, the four candidates left are a remarkable group. An African-American, with an African father and Kansan mother, who was the first African-American to be elected president of the Harvard Law Review; a former first lady and U.S. senator; an ordained Baptist minister and former governor of Arkansas; and one of America's true heroes, a man who not only survived years of torture in a North Vietnamese prison camp but went on to serve as a U.S. senator from Arizona. Who could have imagined such a remarkable group of potential presidents even a few short years ago?

Given the strength of the candidate field, I find myself both surprised and rather annoyed at the amount of discussion as to "electability" in both parties. The whole idea that Americans should base their votes for their party's candidates on their estimation of which candidate has the best chance of winning leaves me with a bad taste in my mouth.

There is no job in our nation more important than the president. We have had all too much evidence in the past 50 years of how dangerous a poor president can be to the nation and the world. Partisan politics have caused our country untold problems in the past few decades.

The coming presidential election is, in my opinion, one of the most significant most of us will ever vote in. We are in trouble abroad and at home. We're fighting two wars, both of which are controversial, and our domestic economy is rapidly heading toward a recession. We need a great leader in this our time of crisis. Each voter, in both parties, should be asking himself or herself who will make the best president, and they should vote for that individual. Asking who can most easily win is a path that may well not lead to a great president, and that would be tragic.

It is time for the candidates themselves to stop telling us why they are the most "electable" and to start telling us in detail what they believe, what their policies will be and what personal qualities they possess that will make them great leaders. Let's choose our candidates and our next president wisely and not simply based on estimates of who might win. I believe that if we choose our candidates based on substantive qualities and ideas, then "electability" will follow.

- Mike Hoeflich, a distinguished professor in the Kansas University School of Law, writes a regular column for the Journal-World.


tashtego 10 years, 3 months ago

The issue of "electability" might seem to be superficial, but this is a country that "elected" Bush in 2000 based on his stupid promise to "restore honor and dignity to the White House" and the re-election of Bush in 2004 had everything to do with the terror alerts (when are they going to start again this year?) and the gay marriage issue.

Professor Hoeflich is once again WAY off target. The candidate wins who is the most likable. No candidate wins who offers detailed positions as if he or she could enact them by fiat right after inauguration. People get bored with that kind of thing, and it is risky to put out specifics.

One proposal I would like to see is a national sales tax on stocks and bonds transactions. Think of it. In many states, including Kansas, you pay sales tax on clothes and shoes for your kid. (Many northeastern states exempt clothing as well as food, or apply sales tax only on clothing priced above a certain level per item.) That is a state issue, but a national sales tax on stocks and bonds, a great idea, would likely lead to opposition from all kinds of quarters.

So it really does not pay to offer specifics.

But some things can be implemented right away. A President Obama or McCain can likely close Guantanamo and change Iraq policy without too much Congressional influence--and that itself ought to be a national scandal.

The biggest issue in this race ought to be what the candidate might do to curtail the imperial presidency that we have seen in the last seven years.

Look for Obama to bring this up--no more wars without a declaration of war, no more secrecy and "Scooter Libby" justice. He's already doing it. And the success of his campaign so far is proof that he knows what he is doing, in stark contrast to the hapless campaigns of Gore and Kerry.

WilburM 10 years, 3 months ago

Jeesh. You want specifics? Go to the candidates' websites and you'll get them by the boatload. so what? FDR campaigned on a balanced budget.

The key here is to be able to GOVERN. And with a Democratic Congress all but assured, the person who can do best with the Congress (and pull back the presidency, I agree) is the best suited to govern.

This is where electability comes in. It's not just "likeability" -- rather it's the ability to grasp the moment, even if the specifics are a little hazy. And Obama is far more likely to do that -- and bring in with him 56-7 Dem Senators, while HRC would only have 53 or so. The ability to have enough numbers and bargaining ability to move legislation through the Senate is crucial (the House is easier) -- and an electable, forward looking Obama can do that and recast politics. That's electability, and it's a good thing.

meggers 10 years, 3 months ago

In addition to electability, one also must look at the favorability ratings of individual candidates and how these will impact other races. I'm fully convinced that with Hillary as the nominee, we lose down ticket in a big way. She can rally the republican base far better than any republican candidate can- to get out and vote against her, that is. In that scenario, we stand to lose a number of House and Senate seats...and perhaps even control of Congress in either 2008 or 2010. Even if she were to pull off a win in the general, she won't be accomplishing much of anything with a republican congress.

SpeedRacer 10 years, 3 months ago

With a change in front runners on the Democrat side, I think things are going to start getting nasty. The Republicans have focused their attention on Clinton as the presumptive candidate, and ,frankly, her closets were cleaned out a long time ago. Obama is fresh meat and I am sure his closet door is about to be opened. If he does become the candidate, there is sure to be alot of stuff dug up we don't know about and which will hurt his popularity before the general election. The infamous "whispering campaigns" haven't even started yet. I think we need to go with the candidate we know rather than the one we don't.

Phoenyx 10 years, 3 months ago

Rather than ramble back and forth on the specific candidates, let's get back to the topic... voting by "electability".

Voting on the basis of electability reminds me that I did not vote last election. And I made the mistake of admitting I didn't to an aquaintance of mine. When asked why, I stated the truth - I had absolutely no confidence in any of the candidates.

What followed was several minutes of sputtering and ranting that boiled basically down to the fact that how I felt didn't matter... I should still have voted. Because "Voting Matters". Because "How can I have a voice if I don't vote."

Which is, and has always been to me, the most ridiculous thing I have ever heard. How can just "voting" be a good thing, if I don't have an option I feel comfortable with? How can I have a voice with a vote when my "voice" isn't on the ballot?

Voting by electability strikes me as being very similar, perhaps with a dash of "Vote along Party lines"... but that's a rant for another day (a future topic perhaps, Michael?). When you vote on the basis of electability, you take out one of the most important parts of the election process -- yourself. Your vote should be just that, yours. Your beliefs, your hopes for the future, your decision as to who -you- think is the best choice.

Otherwise, you may as well just check with your local bookie.

JohnBrown 10 years, 3 months ago

My biggest issue is finding candidates who will truely "defend the Constitution", unlike Bush 43 who has done a good job of assulting it. This country will definately be on the mends if it's McCain vs O'Bama. It will be nice to have a candidate I can vote for, rather than against.

As for who will make a better Commander-in-Chief, I think its been demonstrated that either would be much better than the one we have now (who is the worst C-i-C ever...just remember, 9-11 happened during his watch).

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