National Commentary

Nicholas F. Benton: What is Your Candidate

So, what’s the point? In all the talking and posturing by the heavy field of presidential candidates in both parties so far, it’s not easy to get a clear handle on their differences. Many among the professional political ranks, of course, view it all from the standpoint of so-called “electability,” and that goes to honing the candidate to fit the preferred expectations of the voting public.

Of course, it breaks down more regionally and ethnically than just the “voting public.” For example, as Barak Obama is striving to reinvigorate his campaign with preparations for the early South Carolina primary, his effort is focused almost entirely among the nearly half of that state’s Democrats who are Afro-American, and among those at the likely women voters.

So, his key advisers gear their campaign efforts, including the whole packaging of their man and the content of his speeches and moves, to that very particular demographic. To the rest of us looking on from our perches around the U.S., what he’s doing down there in South Carolina might not make a lot of sense. But of course, for the purposes of this tactical move in his campaign, he doesn’t care about us, only his target voting block.

“Electability” means doing well in that state’s primary, and he’ll worry about shifting his image, style and content for the rest of us, or for his next target group, when he’s done there.

It’s the “electability” metric which turned Dennis Kucinich into a joke after a recent debate when he admitted to having seen a UFO. Not that he ever had any chance of winning (unless he could figure out how to suddenly raise big money like Ron Paul has), but the groans and giggles attending his UFO comment came from those who look at an election in this very narrow, and sometimes badly miscalculating way.

One could argue that there is a refreshing candor in such a remark, especially as he did clarify it to mean what he saw was merely “unidentified” and not necessarily a flying saucer. Couldn’t the nation use someone who really told the truth rather than limit his statements to what he thinks the public would support? Kucinich has a kind of Charley Chaplainesque truth-telling personality that plays better where folks have better senses of humor and irony than they ever seem to around presidential horse races.

Of course, the real subject of the “electability” matter is Hillary Clinton, who because she is a bossy woman will play, many expect, right into the hands of those nasty male chauvinist Republicans, who will eat her alive.

Forget that pundits said the very same thing about Hillary’s chances of getting elected to the U.S. Senate her first time around. To this day, there are many who insist she was the beneficiary of an uncommon good fortune that kept Rudy Giuliani out of that race. But that doesn’t explain how she sailed through her re-election. 

Frankly, Hillary should worry more about losing her “electability” quotient among more traditional Democratic voters than among the archetypical “stupid white men.” She’s got the female vote, especially the growing single woman vote. Those who are tending to be the most impatient with her are those who see her equivocating on Iraq and, now, on the immigration issue.

But try a different approach. Try judging the leading Democratic candidates on what their point is, namely, where they point to identify the problems facing the middle class. It can provide interesting insights.

Hillary points at Bush as the problem. Obama points at Washington (inclusive of Hillary). John Edwards points at the one percent of the super-wealthy who are screwing all the rest of us. Edwards’ point is dismissed as “populist,” but in fact he’s the only one coming close to really getting it right. Edwards is an also-ran, but instead of “electibility,” if candidates were judged by where they point, we might all have a better grasp of the whole campaign (including if Kucinich points to the skies).

Now, as for the Republicans, their point is not toward Bush or Washington (except for Hillary), and certainly it is not at the super-rich. On the contrary, it is at the immigrant! The most vulnerable people at the bottom of the national enfranchisement chain are the embodiment of evil as the Republicans would have you believe. This time-worn false flag approach, diverting attention by appealing to the basest racist tendencies in the population, is pure Republican playbook.

Do you get my point? Do you get theirs?