Let’s take a closer look at the politics of issues activism versus the electoral process of selecting candidates. They are both quite similar and significantly different. It has always been my contention that we can’t do both, at least at the same time, without solid compartmentalizing and a clear understanding of the essentials of how to do both.
When involved in issues activism it behooves one to focus on the issue that you can devote your entire energy to. You immerse yourself totally, 100%, into moving the needle on the issue that you give an ‘A’ grade. Even the A-minus and B-plus issues, though critically important to you, will dilute your ability to effectuate your A grade activism. You support that highest grade issue and give it your full attention and strength. Only in that way do your policy goals have any chance of being realized.
In electoral politics, on the other hand, one deals with numerous issues simultaneously. When discerning which candidate is the best option for one to support and ultimately for the party to support not only must we look at the candidate’s position on any number of issues but also numerous non-policy factors. We grade all of these factors, issues and non-issues. Then, all grades must, or should, be actively considered together when choosing a candidate to support and possibly work or volunteer for. Herein lies the major difference between issues politics and electoral politics.
In issues politics, it is your highest graded issue that is supported on all levels. Politicians given A grades on an issue are supported and those given F grades are actively opposed. Grades in between distract and aren’t worth spending time and energy on. This is how one does issues politics. When we approach electoral politics in the same way as we do issues politics we wind up with skewed situations. One candidate is supported and campaigned for because they score an A on the prime issue, or, they are rejected and attacked because they score an F on your favorite issue.
Once elected, because of our firmly entrenched two-party system, any representative’s vote will grade out to the issues activist as either an A or an F dependent on their vote. This causes them to determine the issues part of a candidate’s worthiness with a binary A or F being the only possible grades. Of course, they can display more variety in assessing a legislator’s non-issue-based qualities. But, even though such things as astute political instincts or media-savvy should be as important to constituents as policy, they are often not actively considered.
Regardless of how complex an issue is and how subtle and nuanced the proposed policy and legislation addressing it is, when in office a legislator can only vote up or down, yes or no, A or F. As we know, binary logic works fine for computers but is outdated for addressing the complexity of modern law and society. This dualist nature of modern politics has influenced the current rampant partisanship we see everywhere, which in itself reinforces the dualism. A rather vicious circle.
To put this in a nutshell, in issues politics, to succeed one may work solely on their highest graded issue. But in electoral politics, the best results are achieved by working with the ‘student’ with the highest GPA.
Let me repeat that. In electoral politics, it is wise to use the grade point average of a candidate to measure their value to the voter and not simply the one who grades the highest on an important issue. Likewise, it can be unfair to reject out of hand a candidate whose grade on your main issue is ‘unacceptable’. If we aren’t careful our policy biases can tarnish the candidate best positioned to win the election based solely on their positions on select issues. Once again, because of our two-party system, it is difficult, read impossible, to find a party and/or candidate who satisfies all our policy desires. To insist on issues purity in a candidate is a recipe for disaster.
Many voters will take the apparent high road and vote for a candidate that has no chance of winning simply because that candidate more closely reflects their values. They do this because ‘it’s a free country’ where ’I can vote for whomever I want’ and ‘stand up for my principles’. These choices are noble and in keeping with the best philosophy of the American way of life. Unfortunately, as long as the two-party system dominates our elections this manner of voting will only result in more decisions based on either a single issue or a grade point average, between two divisively partisan candidates. One party’s candidate might only support your issues 40% of the time but the other only 5%.
If you choose not to vote for the 40% candidate, which your logic says you shouldn’t, there is the possibility that you get the 5% candidate. You might walk out of the voting booth proud of voting your values but one month later you’re gnashing your teeth at a vote taken by the 5 percenter we elected. I should say here that it is right and good to vote your conscience. We just need to be aware of the potential for unintended consequences and consider our choices accordingly.
Yes, this ‘ F**k, I have to vote for the lesser of two evils again’ scenario is patently unfair. It sucks. We shouldn’t have to hold our nose and vote for somebody we can barely stand. Our current system paints us into frustrating corners filled with anger. Having only two parties we sadly have only two basic philosophies of governance in the U.S.. The opposing parties must need to create coalitions of voters with varied interests. There are many more than two philosophies of government to cram into one or the other.
For candidates to appeal to the entire spectrum of different philosophies in one party we often find that it is the candidate who best tempers their candidacy with alleged ‘moderate’ rhetoric that delegates think will appeal to the most voters. These candidates will fake or hide their true politics in order to get nominated. Candidates want to win. Obviously, they can’t win without being nominated. Parties want to win. They choose who they think can win. Many of us find this incredibly distasteful and foolish, and rightfully so. But it is a political reality and a maddening one.
Counter to how things truly work, parties will cautiously nominate who they imagine is the ‘right’ candidate instead of boldly choosing the ‘best’ candidate. Most often the right candidate turns out to be the one with A’s on the popular issues. The party then develops selective amnesia about their nominee’s possibly numerous and critical F’s and their often suspect, vulnerable character flaws. It is not this candidate that will win. Contrary to conventional wisdom, the candidate who scores well across the board, who may not be ‘right’ but certainly ‘best’ can win. Maybe they don’t get so many A’s but not so many F’s either and a goodly number of B’s.
The candidate’s grades must be earned not because they got the test ahead of time and answered the way they thought the teacher wanted but rather truthfully answered with courage and conviction. Only in this way will the party nominate the person who best represents the essential values of the party. This is the candidate that inspires. This is the candidate who can actually win.
Having the better GPA is not to be confused with ‘electability’, that scourge of cautious and lukewarm centrists. The elusive quality of electability is considered to be vital in selecting a candidate. Not only the rank and file but respected pundits and influential party leaders often insist that this is the gold standard of candidate selection. Nothing could be further from the truth. The two party system certainly gives the impression that because of the diverse coalitions both parties form, their right candidate is the one who appeals to everyone in their ‘base’.
This is the seemingly safe ‘centrist’ candidate. But in trying to appeal to everyone this candidate moderates their stance on many issues they either do not support or support more vociferously. This not only lowers their GPA accross the board but can only increase the perception of them as a phony and liar. Then, in the general election, they are more likely to not only lose appeal with the ever-decreasing number of moderate voters but also cause issues voters to look away from them and toward the vote my principles candidates.
Another spurious means of selecting a candidate is the ‘next up’ method. Here we find the candidate who has paid their dues. They have been around seemingly forever. They are visible, high ranking elected public officials who have accomplished just enough to have some name recognition and popularity. They have been considered serious contenders for a long time. Why in god’s name do these qualities make someone a good candidate much less the best candidate? It’s beyond me. This is this nepotism that is not genetic but seems to be designed to motivate career politicians to consistently do the party’s bidding over the long term. What a foolish practice.
Both parties claim to have a plan based on candidate selection and the corresponding policy positions. They both claim to be appealing to young voters and non-voters in an effort to find more supporters. But these are the very voters that vote for the person who best exemplifies their philosophy of existence, and not the measured and overthought offerings of the major parties. Our current President ‘got it’ before his rivals and appealed to the populist mindset of the non-voter, helping him eke out a victory in 2016. And disillusioned milennial voters, who have been shown to be more progressive than not, largely became third party or non voters.
That the current occupant wasn’t honest about what he offered did not matter. He sold his brand of populism well. He convinced, falsely, that his care for the fed-up non-voters was genuine. As his presidency has advanced these facts have become more clear. Some of his less virulent followers have become disillusioned. He, as well as his party, are vulnerable to candidates who are wisely chosen. Currently, there are a plethora of Democrats seeking the opportunity to run against him in 2020. We will see what criteria rise to the top of the delegate’s selection process and what sort of candidate emerges.
If a safe, electable, centrist presidential candidate is nominated by the Democrats there will be a struggle that will have the most influential existential impact on American democracy, and thus the planet, as any preceding it. However, outside of the perception that the candidate has to be everything to all people there exists a basic, simpler philosophy of progress. Of the wide variety of people who tend to identify with the Democratic party nearly all embrace it. It is not issues-based, nor personality or identity dependent, but value and feeling based. If a candidate emerges that best represents that basic philosophy we could see a Democratic landslide of historic dimensions.
The centrists tell us in strongly-worded diatribes that a ‘far-left’ candidate cannot win. They present numerous examples of leftist candidates who have failed over the last half-century. Could it be that the electorate has changed enough to reverse that trend? Could disillusioned millennials and non-voting liberals turn the tide for a progressive candidate who more closely projects their values.? Can the centrists support a candidate they see as a Democratic Socialist, one they feel the country is not ready for? The jury is out. The result of the 2020 presidential election, regardless of the nature of the Democrat’s candidate, is up for grabs. This is for all the marbles. And, vastly more serious, for the future of the planet.
To summarize, all of this is to say that when fighting for a cause it is imperative to give it 100% of your power. Stay focused, don’t ever give up and don’t take any prisoners. But in discerning elections and politicians, in the beginning of the process, you must hedge your bets. Never stop looking at the big picture, the overarching values you share with diverse but like-minded compatriots. Remember that compromise and the language of confluence is not your enemy but your friend.
And everyone, everyone, always keep mindful of that GPA.