Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Electability is important

Although the New Hampshire primary had different results in the bottom line, some of the underlying trends were the same. Young voters increased their share of the vote, and — which is more significant — Obama won the independent vote. It just happened that in this case, Clinton’s win among Democrats was enough to put her on top.

According to CNN, 43% of independents voted for Obama, compared to 31% for Clinton. But a little over half of those who voted in the Democratic primary identified as Democrats, and Clinton won more of those votes than Obama did.1 Simply put, New Hampshire ended up being Democratic enough that Obama’s lead among independents wasn’t enough to win him the primary. But although two states out of 50 is hardly the last word, the results so far indicate that Obama is the better candidate.

Independence from independents is wrong

Voters who weigh the good of choosing a strong candidate against the evil of sacrificing some of their ideals are assuming an evil that simply doesn’t exist. Picking a candidate without regard to others’ opinions is the right thing to do in a parliamentary system with proportional representation, but in an winner-take-all government like America’s, it is exactly the wrong approach.

It all comes down to where compromise factors into the process. In systems with proportional representation, it happens within the government. Each voter steadfastly selects the candidate or party that most closely fits his own ideals, and the elected officials work out compromises as they establish ruling coalitions. Constituents determine how much weight each opinion should have by determining how many of its supporters are elected.

America’s presidency, for the most part, doesn’t work that way. Only one party can be elected (and only one candidate at that, really, since most people don’t weigh the vice president or potential cabinet members much in their decisions) so any compromise has to happen during the primaries. A party does the nation a disservice by nominating a candidate that matches the extremes of its constituency while alienating the rest of the nation. In fact, one could argue that this is what the general election is really all about; with the Democratic and Republican parties roughly equal in strength,2 the election goes to the party whose candidate represents the best compromise.

In practice, this system has a few complications. Strategic loyalties to core party bases restrict either party from moving too close to the middle, and voters can hedge a president somewhat by voting for Congressmen of the opposing party. But those who categorically dismiss a candidate’s electability as a factor, claiming that doing so tarnishes the processes by infusing it with Machiavellian pragmatism, are missing the point: a democracy works best when all of its citizens are involved, and picking a candidate who can’t effect that is a worse compromise of ideology than is picking someone who differs a bit from your own views but more closely matches the majority’s.

[1] Clinton wins back women, narrowly takes New Hampshire (accessed Jan. 9)
[2] Democrats Gain Edge in Party Identification (accessed Jan. 9) While the parties’ numbers are not actually equal — Democrats currently outnumber Republicans by a few percentage points, or at least they did in 2004 — it’s fair to assume that many people in both parties are close to center and may even switch their votes. In fact, that’s probably where those fluctuations in the parties’ share of voters comes from.

Friday, January 4, 2008

Eye o' ah

I'm feeling motivated, and why the heck not. Here's my thoughts on that raucous caucus. Well, half of it -- I don't especially like any of the leading Republicans, so I was pretty ambivalent about their half of the night.

Obama, Clinton, Edwards — in that order

Up until about a week ago, I was in favor of Clinton, with Obama a close second. I actually came into this process most excited about Edwards, but the more I heard of him, the less impressed I was. His domestic views are laudable (if a bit populist), but he has next to nothing as far as foreign policy. We aren't some small country that can focus exclusively on its intramural problems; we are the world's dominant superpower, and our leader should reflect that.1

Between Clinton and Obama, I favored Clinton mostly because I think she's the more experienced, and probably smarter, candidate. The two are fairly similar in many of their views, except that in the traditional stick-and-carrot balance, Clinton seemed less hesitant to use the stick — which I agree with. On pure, apolitical merit, I still think Clinton is better. Of course, apolitical merit only goes so far in politics.

About a week ago, I switched my allegiance for a purely pragmatic reason: I think Obama's more electable. Say what you will about voting on that strategy, but I think it's an important consideration. I'd much rather have a great shot with Obama than an okay shot with Hilary. The caucus vindicated that more than I expected it to, since Obama's fairly significant lead was almost entirely in the independent voters — among Democrats, the three leading candidates more or less tied.2

In short, I was happy with the results.

Taking the 'M' out of 'MVP'

A few weeks ago I had discussed with some friends the possibility of a Clinton-Obama ticket — which we liked — as well as an Obama-Clinton ticket — which we liked more but thought unlikely. As I think about it now, both of those would be the wrong way to go. Clinton and Obama are similar enough that they'd compliment each other more than they'd complement each other, and that would be a waste.

What I think I'd really like to see is Obama-Edwards. The two would make a great team, with Obama able to focus more on foreign policy and broad domestic agendas, and Edwards really battling it out domestically. The guy who wants to fight for the middle class, who wants to take on the big corporations with conviction and even enmity, but who won't necessarily have the time to look at foreign policy as much — that's the perfect guy to have in as vice president. Obama's charisma and calming words would mix with Edward's fiercer posturing, and the two would play good-cop-bad-cop fantastically against those corporations.

Get off my lawn!

One last thought: The media hints at it a bit, but I think there's really not enough emphasis put on the moral victory won last night by a politically repressed demographic: young people. We've grown up listening to our elders talk all the time about how the nation's youth is apathetic and uninformed, which I think many of us would disagree with. Well, the "under 30" voter turnout last night tripled compared with the last two presidential races. That's actually not as impressive as it sounds at first; the "over 30" turnout roughly doubled, so we younguns only slightly increased our showing measured as a percentage of total caucus-goers. 3 Still, the media is starting to notice that we're not the politically retarded people we've been painted as, and that makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside.

Questionable quotations

"None of this worries me — Sept. 11, there were times I was worried."

Rudy Giuliani, once again unintentionally living up to the joke

"To end the political strategy that's been all about division, and instead make it about addition. To build a coalition for change that stretches through red states and blue states. Because that's how we'll win in November..."

Barack Obama, who forgot that the opposite of division is actually multiplication, and who talks about how bipartisanship is how he plans to beat the other party

[1] Those who know me hopefully realize that I don't say that to be jingoist. If anything, I say it with resignation, since I think little good ever comes from one country wielding so much power.
[2] Today on the Presidential Campaign Trail (accessed Jan 4, 2008; no longer available)
[3] Revised Estimates Show Higher Iowa Youth Turnout than Expected (accessed Jan 4, 2008)