Electability Revisited

The attempts by some bloggers to “prove” that Faisal Gill is not an electable candidate set me to wondering about the idea of electability in general. Electability seem quite important to some people, particularly as device to oppose certain candidates. They would have us worry, for example, about a candidate’s “baggage.” “No,” they reluctantly agree, “nothing has been proved, but he has too much baggage.” Oddly, no amount of proof of a candidate’s integrity seems sufficient to dissuade such people that this “baggage” is unimportant.

Because they want to do well in the general election, political parties spend a lot of time worrying about a candidate’s electability. An electable candidate is one we presume capable of, or has a reasonable chance of, being elected to public office. That is, we believe the person is fit for the job. They have the experience, education, skills, political platform, and the character required to do the job appropriately.

It has not been my experience that people usually disagree on the first three items: experience, education, and skills. What we generally argue about are the last two items, the candidate’s political platform and the candidate’s character.

Political platforms are the stuff that elections should be about (At least we all say we want the candidates to debate the issues.). If a candidate’s position on the issues is too distant from the majority’s position, then the candidate cannot reasonably expect to win. The candidate may be right, but this after all, a democracy. So let’s move on to the issue of character.

The character of a candidate is a far sticker issue. Here I use the term is its most general sense, including the total aggregate of features and traits that form the individual nature of a candidate. What each of us are to everyone else is a composite of our race, sex, religion, charm, reputation for integrity, profession, social background, and many other things. Herein lies a potential problem. If one feature of a candidate’s character can be made to appear unappealing, then the candidate can be said to be unelectable.

Except for reasons we well understand, my personal opinion is that as voters we should be most relunctant to arbitrarily declare any candidate for office unelectable. The processes of running for and serving in elected office are such an ordeal most of us want no part of these things. Only a few special people have what it takes to enjoy such a challenge and perform well.

For most of us, running for office would be nightmarish. If we were not sleeping, we would have to be campaigning or fund-raising. Like as not, our opponent and much of the news media would be trying to dig up dirt on us. Would they find any? If they could not find any, would they make up mud to throw at us anyway? At the end of the campaign, would we consider ourselves lucky if the electorate hated us less than they hated our opponent(s)?

On the job, would we care that the pay stinks? That the hours are long? That people are constantly making unreasonable requests? Blaming us for saying no, blaming us for things we thought we did right, and blaming us for things we do not even know about?

Success in elected office requires talented people, charismatic individuals with tough hides and healthy egos. Such people are extremely rare. We cannot afford the luxury of excluding any such people for trivial reasons. In fact, for the sake of our own moral character, we must guard against grading a candidate’s fitness for office based upon anything except obviously legitimate criteria.

Each of us must consider our vote as an ethical decision.  Consider that in past times (and to some extent even now) electability criteria included race, sex, creed and national origin.  As individuals, even if we think the majority might not consider someone of the “wrong” race, sex, creed, or national origin electable, should we allow the moral failings of others to affect our own personal decision? If all of us always based our decisions upon the moral failings of the other guy, would blacks, women, and Catholics ever have found their way into public office?

There is a point where you must do the right thing because it is the right thing to do, and that point is every time you have something to do. Please vote with your values. Vote for the candidate you believe has the character and competence to get the job done.

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