Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Advice for Primary Voters

Days Until Bush Leaves Office = 370

Ron Klain has a terrific op-ed piece in the New York Times today on the subject of electability. Klain's article points out a number of difficulties inherent in basing one's choice of candidate in a primary election on prognostications about how they will fare against the other party's candidate in the general election, and, along the way, throws in some sage advice for primary voters.

Aside from the dubious practical problems with picking candidates based on electability, there are other concerns too. When I was supporting Senator Joe Biden earlier this year, I often had people say to me, “I think Joe Biden would be a great president, but I won’t vote for him, because he can’t win.” In this way, electability becomes a tautology: voters won’t support a candidate who isn’t electable, and he isn’t electable because voters won’t vote for him.

It's a fair question, but, no, it wasn't just the pro-Biden quote above that got me. The most compelling argument in the piece follows.

More philosophically, an excessive focus on electability diminishes the franchise. Taking something as sacred as your presidential preference and turning it into an act of political prognostication cheapens your choice: being a voter is a more important job in our system than being a pundit or a consultant. Why should you cast your vote based on how you think others will vote (even if you could guess that accurately)? Why should their choice matter more than your own?

Yes, ultimately, presidential campaigns are about winning: a candidate who does not win cannot achieve policy changes or make the country a better place. And being mindful of the consequences of our votes is important, as many people who voted for Ralph Nader in 2000 — only to put George Bush in the White House, instead of Al Gore — have painfully learned.

But Klain's real gem is at the conclusion of the article, and goes to the heart of what primary elections are (or should be) all about.

If you want to back a winner in 2008, focus on persuading your neighbor to come over to your choice, instead of guessing how he will vote.

I could not agree more. The study of politics - things like polling, punditry and commentary (even on blogs like this one) - is to democracy as astronomy is to space travel: observation, rather than participation. Both may be necessary to their respective pursuits, but neither one will get you anywhere on its own. Involvement is the distinguishing factor.

If you care about who wins the next election, then ride the rocket: suit up, strap in, and hit the blast off switch. Don't settle for watching through a telescope.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the kinds words.

Ron Klain

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