NOTE: Please keep in mind as you read that the author belongs to no political party, and generally eschews them as bastions of compromise and corruption.
One doesn’t have to listen to people discuss presidential primary candidates for long before he hears the nervous question, “…but is he electable?” This question is often asked in conjunction with the notion that “I don’t want to waste my vote” (by voting for a candidate who is not “electable”).
I’ll cut to the chase right away and state quite unapologetically that I think that this extremely-popular political idea is counterproductive, short-sighted, and just plain stupid!
And now it falls to me, naturally, to support my assertion.
What Are the Goals Here?
First of all, what’s the goal in having a national government in the first place? Is it to ensure peace, liberty, and prosperity? Are these the ideals toward which we should be aiming? Or is the goal to seek after things like war, oppression, corruption, compromise, graft, failure, poverty, and the unfair advantage of certain privileged entities over the rest?
I’ll assume that you’re going to say the former, rather than the latter.
Now that we have that on the record, I ask: What is the goal of voting in an election? Is it to appoint bad candidates to office? Or is it to appoint good candidates to office?
If I give you only those who choices, it’s quite likely that you will pick the latter. But a troublingly-large number of Americans really believe that the answer should be something more like:
“to choose the best from among the available candidates”
or, if we want to get utterly honest with it:
“…to appoint to office the person most likely to beat the candidate I most want to keep out of office.”
The problem with this view, however, is that it is completely obtuse and loses sight of the goals you (hopefully) acknowledged above. It is an unhealthy obsession with the voting booth to the detriment of the “big picture” of the constitutional republic and its purposes. Though many are sure to argue to the contrary, this reasoning is the logical equivalent of the following absurdity:
“I might not like arsenic, but I really hate cyanide, so I’m going to hold my nose and vote for arsenic because I think that orange juice (my true favorite) is unelectable.”
If a person’s dream is to put a good candidate into office in order to move the nation to higher ideals, how can that ever be possible if he continues to vote for bad candidates? Does it really matter why he’s voting for bad candidates? No, the result is just the same as if he really wanted the bad candidates in the first place. And there is no credit to be given for those who say, “Well, at least I didn’t vote for cyanide!” Nor is there credit for the guy who says, “Well, I had to hold my nose and vote for arsenic, because at least I thought he could get elected.” So what? You can hold your nose and act stupidly at the same time. And we’re supposed to congratulate you for that?
Those who pretend that the most important matter is to do whatever it takes to keep “cyanide” from winning are deceiving themselves into ignoring the real situation, which is this: The average American voter is ignorant and easily swayed to vote for bad candidates.
The Big Picture
If I am right about the big picture—if the average American voter is indeed ignorant and easily swayed to vote for bad candidates—then what’s the solution?
I can assure you that the solution is not to go and vote for bad candidates ourselves! Indeed, that won’t do a thing to solve what’s wrong in the big picture. Yet that’s exactly what millions of Americans do every election! Because they think so irrationally and at such a shallow level, they think they are “helping” but actually, they are a substantial part of the problem, themselves.
Indeed, who has sold them this irrational bill of goods?
Well, they’ve learned it from the media, mostly, and it can likely be tracked back to a 1967 statement by the late William F. Buckley:
18 April 1967, Miami (FL) News, “A Trip Into Idea Land With Bill Buckley” by Bill Barry, pg. 6A, col. 5:
He (William F. Buckley, Jr.—ed.) was asked who would be the wisest Republican choice.
He said: “The wisest choice would be the one who would win. No sense running Mona Lisa in a beauty contest. I’d be for the most right, viable candidate who could win. If you could convince me that Barry Goldwater could win, I’d vote for him.”
For the record, the Buckley Rule, as this came to be called, is supported by many pundits and talking heads, including the following (along with many others I didn’t have time to look up):
- Charles Krauthammer of The Washington Post
- Bruce Bialoski of TownHall.com
- Jonah Goldberg of National Review Online
- Anne Coulter
- Karl Rove
If Mr. Buckley is to be believed, the most important thing—the “big picture” idea—is to have one’s political party win the election. In his mind, therefore, having a strict adherence to one’s political paradigms took a back seat to getting a man in the White House.
But is this sound reason? No, it is not. It reduces the mentality of a political party to that of a mere mob seeking power without the benefit of any particular or prevailing reason or principle. Further, it strongly encourages party members to seek out candidates as close to the “center” of the entire political spectrum as possible, in hopes of gathering the multitudes into a “big tent” (as opposed to a small tent that would not be widely popular). A great example of this is the crowning of John McCain as the Republican Party presidential candidate in 2008. McCain had previously been listed frequently as one of the most “liberal” or “left-wing” members of the Republican Party, meaning that he was on the fringes of what that Party generally believes and stands for. Yet he had the support of most Republicans in the 2008 election because, after all, he was “their man”.
But if you’re a Republican, are you a Republican because you love John McCain’s political doctrine? Statistically speaking, the answer to this question is going to be “no”. So why were you supporting John McCain? I know…and I don’t really need to ask; it’s because you wanted to keep Barack Obama, or whatever other Democrat was going to get the DNC nod, out of the White House.
You would never have picked McCain yourself for the White House; you’d have picked someone far more representative of your Party’s most common views, but look what you did! You supported someone whose left-side Republican ideals were suspiciously close to Hillary Clinton’s right-side Democratic ideals! And in the aggregate, the Republican Party might as well have said aloud, “In order to win this election we’re going to behave unlike ourselves, and like right-side Democrats.” In the political world, however, behaving unlike oneself changes the nature of that self into something else entirely. Indeed, you are how you act far more than you are how you passively imagine yourself to be.
Thus, my disdain for the political parties. They claim to be driven by principle, but they are nothing more than popularity hounds. And while I’m at this point, let me ask you an intriguing question: Since when are doing what is best for the nation and seeking a popular consensus the same mission? When the majority are ill-informed, distracted, and conditioned by all manner of bad political paradigms, the real problem is to change their character. Neither major party has such a goal, however; their goals are simply to win the majority’s approval. Is it any wonder, therefore, that we are where we are? This constant pandering to the lowest common denominator is our national lust, and things like true political reform are nowhere on the task list.
So shame on you, if you have ever behaved as did most Republicans in 2008, “holding your nose” to vote for McCain because he had an “R” after his name. You gave no stark alternative to the Democratic Party offering—you remember…the party that you believe is ruining the nation.
Now, before you (Republicans) get too deep in defense of your “tried and true” political strategy, I’m going to get really dirty and ask you a question you’d probably rather not answer:
“So, how did that work for you in 2008?”
That’s right. Not only did you “lose your way” and vote in the primary for a guy who doesn’t believe in many of the things you believe in, but you lost in the presidential race to the very guy and party to whom you were so afraid of losing! So again, I challenge you with the question, “How’s that working for you?”
A Little Logical Stick Fighting
“Ah!”, you retort, “It’s not my fault that McCain lost to Obama! I did my part; I voted for McCain. No, the fault is on the part of all those who didn’t vote for McCain; they’re to blame!”
Really? Is that really the stick that you want to bring into this fight? If so, you’re in imminent danger of having that very stick snatched away and used against you.
“Whatever do you mean?” you may be wondering. Well, I’ll tell you.
If you claim that McCain would have won if only the other people had made the right voting choice, then you are rightly acknowledging that your McCain was not truly “electable” after all. Yet you voted for him because you (or more likely, someone in the media) said he was electable. How could you possibly have known before the election that he was electable? You couldn’t possibly have known. Therefore, your Buckley Rule is flawed.
Secondly, when you put the blame on others for voting wrongly, you acknowledge that they did indeed have a choice, and that they could have (and should have) exercised that choice differently. If they could have been persuaded to vote for McCain rather than to vote for Obama or not to vote at all, then why couldn’t they have been persuaded to vote for a candidate who is actually good?
“Oh, it would be impossible to change that many people’s minds that much,” you say.
And just how do you know what is possible and impossible? Indeed, you were wrong about the electability of McCain, were you not? So how is it that you are so certain that it is impossible to change people’s minds to a large degree?
Crickets: “Chirp-chirp. Chirp-chirp.”
OK, I’ll assume by your silence that you’re in deep contemplation about my question, so let me continue as it starts to sink in.
Have you ever studied just what it may take to achieve a massive paradigm shift in a society? Have you quantified this? Do you have actual data? Or are you just repeating hearsay or indulging in sheer conjecture when you opine that such a shift is impossible?
Further, I want to know if you’ve ever tried to change the nation’s political paradigm? And if not, how have you taken such a low view of what is possible and settled into such a cynical position?
“Oh, I’m no cynic, mind you; I’m a realist.” (You feel particularly proud of this snappy comeback.)
A “realist”, eh? So you’re telling me that reality itself bids you to conclude that it is impossible for the nation to change its political paradigm to a sound one?
“That’s right. Reality.”
I see. So it’s impossible for a nation to throw off a former paradigm in order to adopt a new one instead?
“Right. Not gonna happen.”
Gotcha. So you’re disputing history then. You’ll have to cross out the Revolutionary War, in which the Americans decided at length that they no longer want to be subjects of the Crown, but subjects of liberty.
And you’ll have to cross out that particularly ugly episode in which, under the leadership of Abraham Lincoln, the whole country decided to throw off the freedom that states had to leave the Union at will, and adopted instead a policy that we would rather kill a state’s people than to let it secede.
And you’ll have to deny that Americans ever changed from living with slavery to rejecting it as immoral and improper for a civilized people. Further, you’ll have to deny that we’ve made great (though incomplete) strides in changing from a paradigm of racism to one of equality for all.
Oh, and you’ll have to cross out the time when they were all talked into giving up their gold for meaningless paper money instead, after which time they no longer put their trust in the stable gold standard, but in the shifting sands of financial governors with ulterior motives.
The fact of the matter is that our national paradigms have changed several times, sometimes for the better, and sometimes for the worse. You are no “realist” when you have to deny real events in order to defend your own presumption that something to the contrary is real instead.
What’s It Going to Take?
“So let’s say you’re right about all that,” you may ask. “What’s it going to take to accomplish such a huge paradigm shift?”
To answer that, we need to get back to where I was before you claimed that widespread paradigm shifts are impossible. I wasn’t finished yet. You had said that you had “done your part” in voting for McCain, and that the failure was someone else’s. So let me ask you:
Were you truly proud in your heart of hearts to support McCain?
“No, not really; I did it because I thought it was best for the party.”
And you thought he was “electable”?
And you were wrong about that, right?
So the first thing we have to change is your thinking. You did not cast a vote; you cast a prediction of how you thought the majority would vote. Never once did you endeavor, in that should-be sovereign intellect of yours, to decide what the nation actually needed in a president; you merely pitched in as a member of political party to try to help that party succeed. And when it failed, you blamed that failure on others.
Originally, voting was supposed to be an expression of each voter’s opinion, but now, it is largely an expression of each voter’s loyalty to opinions expressed by his favorite media outlets. The fact of the matter is that if you are like most party members, you have no opinion of your own. Not really. You have not done your own research, nor your own analysis. You are like the line from Gilbert and Sullivan’s H.M.S. Pinnafore:
I always voted at my party’s call, And I never thought of thinking for myself at all.
~W. S. Gilbert (When I Was a Lad, H.M.S. Pinafore)
Even your opinion about “electability” is not your opinion at all; it is someone else’s opinion, which you took as plausible without doing any analysis whatsoever.
Imagine the Lunacy!
Imagine the lunacy of a nation that, in need of wholesale political reform, seeks no reform at all, but only seeks the approval of the majority of its own intellectually corrupt public. The only “leadership” we see in this “party game” is leadership toward winning the approval of the majority. The American populace has long since been bought out. With about half the citizens paying no income tax, and with even more enjoying certain benefits from our ever-more-socialist government, is anybody really expecting a philosophical awakening that will prompt each voter to deny himself the benefits of the public treasury in order to do what is just and best for all?
Of course not! That’s why no political party is calling for such. And why is this? It’s because they’re not interested in doing what is best; they are interested in winning elections. Therefore, they never put forth actual reformers in the campaigns. And this next thought will really “bake your noodle” as the Oracle from the Matrix might have said: The two major political parties do not want reform. Even if one of them went away overnight, the other one would not begin reforming the next day. No, they intentionally back candidates whom they can be sure will reform nothing substantial, and they see to it that those are the candidates who are put forth in the best light by the media.
And you, voter? Where do you turn to find your candidates? Don’t you turn to one of the two major parties—the very parties who will take a victory over a reform any day? Yes, that’s most likely what you do. And even so, you continue to complain about the sad state of the nation and our constant descent down the “slippery slope”.
But never in a million years would you consider that you are the problem! …you and a bajillion other voters quite like you.
And so we see just how effective this myth of “electability” is. It works on most of you nearly every time. If, for instance, a true reformer were to run in your party primaries, all the media has to do to get you to shun that candidate is to tell you repeatedly that this candidate is “not electable” (or to interview others who will say the same thing). That’s all you need to pass him by in favor of the slick fella with the glassy eyes and the plastic heart.
And if “he’s not electable” isn’t strong enough for you, they’ll teach you other reasons to reject him—things you know nothing about, but that you can repeat with utter confidence nonetheless. For instance, they may teach you to think, “I like him, except for his foreign policy”. And that will be enough for you because, hey, you’re a shallow individual who craves the approval of others and who would not harbor an original thought if you believed it might endanger that approval.
A Novel Idea
Ever the thinker, I have a novel idea about political reform in America: I believe that the only real hope of reform would come in the form of a massive paradigm shift—a revival of the American character—one that gets people like you (if you’re typical) to become well-informed, rational, and proactive in overseeing your own government. Such a movement would free people from the fetters of popular belief. They would be freed from having to pay homage to certain American standards, such as a saintly Lincoln, a “two-party system”, “lesser of two evils” voting, a love for military conquest, and the incessant drive to suckle from the teats of the great government sow.
If there is any hope of persuading the public to a different paradigm, it is most certainly not to be found by catering to their whims, but by taking them by the lapels and talking some sense into them. This requires leadership, which itself requires high character.
If this is not you, you are the problem—you and about 300 million others just like you. When the magician gives you a “choice”, he has already done the trick, and you’re the last one to know it. As I was once an amateur magician, I’ve watched scores of people exhibit great confidence that I would not be able to trick them, since they got to “choose” the card, or the hand, or the cup, or whatever the trick was about. It was amazingly simple to manipulate them.
And it might interest you to know that it was also fairly easy (though not as much so) to manipulate the ones who were trying to figure it out! Whenever they would voice a suspicion, I’d alter my trick accordingly so as to do it some other way the next time around. I once kept a small group of math and science majors going in such fashion for thirty minutes on a simple card trick. Over and over, as they voiced their theories on how I had done it. They never caught me—or actually, they caught me several times, but didn’t know it, since I merely changed my tactics the next time around, doing the trick in a way that “proved” to them that their previously-voiced theory must be incorrect.
Magic tricks are built on certain assumptions. For example, no one ever seems to have a problem that the magician is handling the deck of cards during the trick. It is widely assumed that this is somehow acceptable and proper, and no one questions it. Insist that he does the trick without touching the cards himself and suddenly, there’s no “magic” to be found.
This is amazingly similar to our “two-party system”, which is never questioned, even though there is not a hint of it in our Constitution. All manner of trickery is conducted in Congress with regard to the “two-party system”. Majorities, minorities, whips, and the like—and a boatload of rules that have nothing to do with justice and the rule of law, and everything to do with keeping the nation ineffective at solving problems. But the public blindly accepts all this as somehow proper, assuming that some authority or other makes it all OK.
And so it is with “electability”. It’s just an assumption that makes people feel politically sophisticated when they repeat it aloud. Like the emperor’s new clothes, they wear it about confidently, basking in the admiration of those who see them sporting such a high-minded political measuring stick. “I admire certain things about that candidate, but I fear that he is simply un-electable,” they pride themselves in saying.
Thus must we decide: are we trying to look good, or are we trying to fix problems?
I, for one, would rather lose twenty presidential elections in a row while I was building a viable public movement of high character, than to spend 80 years trying to get “my man” in the White House without even trying to build a charactered base to support him. This is exactly the error of the Ron Paul campaign, who hope to win a majority of votes from a public that is too dull to appreciate his reformative political doctrine. This is the consummate “fool’s errand”, but the campaign is currently too busy for such a conversation. And so are the vast majority of its supporters, who are themselves ample evidence of the low thinking of the American public. They are not following because they are themselves towers of principle and rationality, but merely because they like Ron Paul for no more than one or two probably-not-very-popular reasons.
But I digress.
Back to “Electability”
The Buckley Rule is utter foolishness, yet it permeates the political paradigms of the American public. To win an election under the Buckley Rule is to lose in principle. Why? Because you deliberately compromised your principles just to win. If the public is too stupid to demand a good (reformer) candidate, and then to stick with him until he wins, then the primary issue here is not the election, but the public. And who is proposing any solution for that?
Nobody. (But me, perhaps.)
We currently suffer under the delusions that we can afford the luxury of another 4 years without substantial reform. Even amongst those stating in exit polls that their greatest concern is “the economy”, they are choosing Mitt Romney several times more often than they choose Ron Paul, whose economic policies are close to impeccable. This tells me one of two things: either they are really dumb about the economy, or they lied, and “electability” is more important to them than the economy.
Short of fooling the public by running a Trojan Horse candidate, who is truly a reformer but acts like a popular status quo candidate during the campaign, there is no other shot at reform but to reform the public first.