Kinsley on “Electability”

Michael Kinsley’s latest column skewers the “electability” canard better than I ever could:

Democrats are cute when they’re being pragmatic. They furrow their brows and try to think like Republicans. Or as they imagine Republicans must think. They turn off their hearts and listen for signals from their brains. No swooning is allowed this presidential primary season. “I only care about one thing,” they all say. “Which of these guys can beat Bush?” Secretly, they believe none of them can, which makes the amateur pragmatism especially poignant.
Nevertheless, Democrats persevere. They ricochet from candidate to candidate, hoping to smell a winner. In effect, they give their proxy to the other party…
Some Democrats cheated and looked into their hearts, where they found Howard Dean. But he was so appealing that he scared them. This is no moment to vote for a guy just because he inspires you, they thought. If he inspires me, there must be something wrong with him. So, Democrats looked around and rediscovered John Kerry. He’d been there all along, inspiring almost no one. You’re not going to find John Kerry inspiring unless you’re married to him or he literally saved your life. Obviously neither of those is a strategy that can be rolled out on a national level.



February 6, 2004
12:53 pm

I’m curious–were Democrats inspired by Dukakis or Mondale? Or was it just that, compared to Gore, even Ralph Nader seemed inspiring last time responsible for the “if we love him/her/it, it must be a vote-loser” meme? If the answer is yes, Mondale and Dukakis aroused liberal passions, then Democrats are right to hide their love. Otherwise, well, Republicans were burned by Goldwater but won big with Reagan. So being inspired by a candidate does not necessarily mean no mass appeal.
But it doesn’t ensure it, either.

Jason Lefkowitz

February 6, 2004
1:22 pm

I’m not sure Mondale and Dukakis aroused much of anything. In ’84 the big liberal-passion candidate was Gary Hart, and the same was true in ’88 until he imploded in his bimbo eruption. Mondale was a long-serving party functionary, and Dukakis was a bland technocrat; neither won the nomination by riding a groundswell of popular sentiment.
(If you want an outstanding account of the ’88 nomination process, read Richard Ben Cramer’s “What It Takes”:
It’ll give you a good sense of how Dukakis plodded his way to the Democratic nomination.)
And, of course, they both got creamed — Mondale forgivably (who could have beat Reagan in ’84?), Dukakis less so. Let’s hope history doesn’t repeat itself.