There are many in the blogosphere who are so terrified by the prospect of four more years of Republican rule in the White House that they would be willing to put just about anyone with a "D" by their name into the Oval Office.
For these people, the logical formulae used to make their judgments about candidates go something like this:
- If "R" = "in office", then "D" (who can beat "R") = Good. This is the the "More Democrats" formula.
- If "Bad D" = "in office" AND "Bad D" is not threatened by "R", then "Better D" = Good. This is the "Better Democrats" formula.
It all sounds reasonable at first, but there are very serious problems with this line of thinking.
1. Enthusiasm. Just because a certain Democrat looks like they can beat a Republican today, doesn't mean that they can beat a Republican tomorrow. If a certain candidate has, say, high negative approval ratings among the general public even before a single Republican attack ad has been launched, the only thing that Candidate will be able to count on to propel them to victory is their Party affiliation and the enthusiasm of their base. They will have to pray that Republicans have become so distasteful to the general public that, given the choice between a candidate they don't like in a party they do like and a candidate they like a little more in a party they detest, they'll make their decision based on Party rather than individual characteristics. That's a dangerous gamble.
Moreover, if a candidate with a history of triangulation, DLC politics, dirty tricks, and a view not toward sweeping change but incremental baby steps does succeed in winning a primary, there is no chance that the Democratic Base will turn out to work or vote for that candidate in the same kinds of numbers. Again, one would have to gamble that fear of Republican rule would motivate the Democratic Base more than love of a candidate. That's a very dangerous gamble as well.
2. The Long-Term View. In politics as on Wall Street, short-term thinking is usually the name of the game. The question is always "What can help me WIN today?", as opposed to "What can help us all get what we want over the long term?" It's the standard prisoner's dilemma, and unfortunately most human beings are shortsighted and greedy.
In politics, this shortsighted thinking is what allowed Karl Rove to believe that keeping Mark Foley in his seat was a good idea. It is what allows some Democrats to ally themselves with Rahm Emmanuel and Terry McAuliffe for short-term victory in swing states, against Howard Dean and long-term party building. It is what allowed Republicans to defend Bush at all costs even as he dragged the entire Republican brand into the gutter. There are arguments that I've seen made repeatedly on Republican blogs that it would have been better to let John Kerry win in 2004 and deal with Bush's wars and his economy; and that had that happened, Republicans would have held Congress in 2006 and been better off in 2008. These arguments are not entirely without merit. When you put a candidate in office who drags down the entire brand of a Party, you may win in the short-term, but the long-term may be devastating.
Overlooking a candidate's serious weaknesses just because they may be able to win in the short-term can often cause those victories to be Pyrrhic--and short-lived.
One has only to look at the effect of the presidency of Bill Clinton: the man himself held the Oval Office for eight years (though without ever winning the popular vote outright). In that eight years he managed to so obscure the lines between Republican and Democrat that many had no idea what the lines were anymore. His triangulation managed to ruin the chances of countless Democrats down-ballot, and allow the Democrats to get cornered into competing in fewer and fewer areas of the United States. His personal scandals were influential in forcing Al Gore to avoid running on his record in 2000, to devastating effect. His personal scandals also allowed Republicans to ruin and forever make partisan the Constitutional recourse of impeachment. Sometimes, in the long run, a political party could do worse than losing.
This does not mean, of course, that one should vote Republican or advocate losing elections. I myself will vote for the Democratic nominee, because the future is unpredictable. But it does mean that one should try to elect the BEST candidate without regard to considerations of "electability". It also means that one should OPPOSE bad candidates at all times--even if it might harm their chances against Republicans later.
Which leads right into the next point:
3. Avoiding the politics of fear. For the last six years, the Republican Party has run solely on fear. The politics of fear has permeated every aspect of Republican strategy. It is the fear of "the enemy" that allows torture to become a debatable issue in America. It is fear of "the enemy" that allows pre-emptive war using tactical nuclear weapons to be considered in American political discourse outside of an insane asylum. It is fear of "the enemy" that allows America to trample on its own principles and Constitution with nary a second's thought.
I reject the politics of fear when it comes to Republicans, just as I reject them when it comes to Al-Qaeda.
I refuse to stand quivering in such terror of John McCain that I am willing to overlook the flaws of my own candidates or remain silent about them. I refuse to be so terrified of conservative Supreme Court justices that I am willing to defend "my guy/gal" at all costs and sell out my own principles. Defending a terrible candidate just to avoid the prospect of Supreme Court Justice John Yoo isn't "smart politics" or "strategic thinking". It's short-term stupidity and moral cowardice. All of which leads to point number 4:
4. Principles and the purpose of the blogosphere.
"What is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?" Matthew 16:26
The progressive blogosphere is supposed to be about crashing the gates of power, not about becoming party operatives.
And I think it bears reminding that the "gates" we are attempting to crash are not the gates put in the last 8 years, but rather the gates put up over the last 16 years and more. If you're into progressive politics these days simply out of a desperate need to end the Bush Administration policies of the last 8 years, I respect that. But you and I--and, hopefully, the majority of those of us in this game for the long haul--are working with completely separate agendas.
Granting that Democrats start at a level 1,000 times better than Republicans, an honest observer must still admit that for a Democrat, the presidency and politics of Bill Clinton were just as unacceptable for a Democrat as the presidency and poltiics of George W. Bush were for a Republican. The last thing we need is another Republican President. But the next to last thing we need is another Democratic president in the mould of Bill Clinton.
Our principles as progressives should lead us to reject DLC politics, centrism, dirty tricks, cheating, scandalous royalistic behavior, swing-state strategies, baby-step incremental changes, and "whatever it takes to win" ideologies. Our desire to crash the gate and change such behavior should make us fight like crazy to keep our Party from becoming associated with such things ever again.
The politics of fear that lead us to take any viable candidate lest we get a Republican elected must end.
The short-sighted thinking that leads us to believe that any win is a win no matter the cost must be rejected.
The stupid acceptance of uninspiring Democrats, while counting on public and Democratic-base revulsion toward Republican policies to carry the day, must finally die.
The selling out of progressive principles in the sevice of a misguided view of what "victory" means must no longer be tolerated.
And the idea that we are trying to end the politics of the last 8 years, rather than those of the last 16 and beyond, must finally be put to bed.
This notion that we have "three great candidates" is false. We have two great candidates. The third is a candidate we may have to choke down our throats when push comes to shove--but any progressive worth their salt should be doing everything in their power to prevent that terrible choice from needing to be made.