One key question always arises in political campaigns, especially in Presidential races: what is a candidate’s electability factor? This goes beyond mere personality or polished good looks. Does a candidate have the “it” factor? Can she or he command the stage? How will they run against an entrenched opponent? Can they bring down-ballot candidates along with them?
The 2020 Presidential race is no exception. Commentators are already dissecting the growing list of Democratic candidates lining up to challenge President Trump in next year’s campaign. Bernie Sanders entered the race this week and, as a self-avowed democratic socialist, his presence adds yet another level to the electability debate. The President wasted no time in pouncing on the socialist label as a key campaign liability.
Other questions about the Vermont Senator signal the uphill climb he will face in 2020: he will be 79 in January 2021 when he’d take office; questions dog his candidacy about how women were treated the last time he ran; and his candidacy still has failed to capture the enthusiasm and imagination of people of color. Still, many of the issues central to the Sanders campaign in 2016 but on the fringes of American society have now become mainstream, and his ideas deserve an airing irrespective of his electability.
In my previous post, I lamented how political pundits were quick to dismiss ideas and approaches like the Green New Deal, which links economic empowerment to aggressive action against climate change, as championed by the new class of House members. Commentators picked apart specific portions of the proposal (framed as a non-binding resolution, not a bill) while overlooking the need for innovative ideas and bold actions. I regretted how support for policies like the Green New Deal were being weighed in the electability sweepstakes, keeping us focused on the horserace instead of on the vision for a future that such ideas might portend.
The Green New Deal debate was followed by Amazon’s decision to withdraw its proposal for a new headquarters in Long Island City, evoking anew commentators’ venom for the new crop of politicians in New York who opposed Amazon. One argument against the anti-Amazon politicians was—like the Green New Deal—that such brash pronouncements helped Donald Trump’s re-election bid. Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who figured prominently in both these debates, immediately received a robust smackdown by political pundits (you can see a startling rebuke of these politicians on MSNBC’s Morning Joe here, where one commentator labeled AOC as “dangerous”). The charge: her “democratic socialist” agenda was anti-capitalism, anti-job creation, too extreme for America and therefore played right into the hands of Donald Trump.
I argue that such a debate is a good thing for democracy, that we need new ideas and innovative approaches to solving the problems that confront us. Such proposals—Medicare for all, comprehensive immigration reform, radical changes to our policies on climate change, gun violence, mass incarceration and income inequality—are ripe for imaginative solutions.
Defeating Donald Trump and his sycophantic supporters in Congress should be a primary consideration for all Democratic voters. A responsibility of the electorate—certainly at this stage of the race—is to let a thousand flowers bloom, entertain candidates with ideas that get at the underlying problems in our society, irrespective of the electability factor and the possibility for success. This keeps our social discourse varied and vibrant and allows us to enjoy one of the enduring benefits of a free society—the opportunity to consider candidates for election on the merits of their ideas, not on the chances of their success at the ballot box.