Friday, July 07, 2006

Electability as a Code Word

Our governor's race seems to be dissolving into a battle of electability claims. This can be a code word for race. In this contest, it certainly gives voters the chance to choose wealth over ideas, the chance to take the okay future behind door number one over the shining aspirations behind another.

Electable has two definitions, one covers likely and the other covers fitness. In news coverage, we are seeing and hearing more and more from candidates and polled voters alike that they want to go with the electable one.

A case in point is the trend piece in this week's Bay Windows. It certainly isn't scientific research, but it does a great job at highlighting the electability meme in considering whether the gay community will be torn between voting for Deval Patrick or Chris Gabrieli.

Statewide, gay voters are not a huge factor, but they are substantial enough to bring candidates around and flavor the debates. Specifically, the issues of both the pending anti-same-sex-marriage amendment and those disgraceful 1913 laws used to keep out of staters from marrying here keep coming up as debate questions.

In the most recent televised debate, Patrick had a fairly strong statement against the amendment, but Gabrieli mush-mouthed his attitude. Patrick has the edge in public gay support, but Gabrieli is not far behind. Neither stresses gay issues on his Website.

The BW piece interviews some Patrick-to-Gabrieli converts and some fence sitters. One switcher, Mark Walsh, conveyed another meme with, "I like to look at it as like ‘The Three Bears’: we got one that’s too liberal, one that’s too conservative and somebody who’s just right and Chris is just right from my perspective."

Regular readers here should know that I endorse Patrick. To me, his ideas, platform and proposals are fleshed out, headed in the right direction, and much more substantial and any other candidate's. Yet, I find him not liberal enough. I am amazed that the popular thought seems to be that he is too pink. I would call him a moderate or a moderate progressive.

Yet Walsh's view is significant in and beyond the gay communities. It reflects the dissatisfaction with the decades of Republican leaderless stagnation in every sense for the commonwealth. People seem afraid of supporting a candidate who might turn off the huge number of independent voters here. They also know that beyond a few urban areas, much of Massachusetts remains socially conservative, often fiscally conservative, and racially homogenous.

Which bring us to another electability issue -- how afraid are liberal voters that other voters will not ink the oval for a Black man?

As Gabrieli is courting gay voters, Tom Reilly plays his own Black card. He grew up and remains good friends with Black men and families, particularly in his native Springfield. His effort to curry favor against a Black candidate has the underlying theme that he is palatable and electable to white voters.

Additionally, Patrick is still earning name and message recognition in Black communities. His support is probably under 50% still with Blacks. While like gays, Black voters do not swing elections here solo, they represent a solid enough set of numbers to pursue.

So, we are back to a contest with three candidates who claim they will spend what it takes. New reports suggest that indy Christy Mihos may not have enough voter support or personal disposable income to keep pace with Gabrieli and GOP Kerry Healey. Yet at least the two latter make much of their money.

The message from Healey is much like Gabby's -- "I can spend and spend. I can buy this election."

With my view that Patrick has the right ideas, the right stuff, that is the wrong claim. What we need is 1) to knock the do-nothing Republicans out of the governor's office, 2) have a progressive governor who will lead us out of economic gloom and public-policy stagnation, and 3) install a leader with both the ideas and the will to force the inert legislature to sit up and do the people's business.

Unfortunately, the candidates who promise to buy the office don't deliver on any promise other than electability. What do we liberals and progressives gain if we elect one of them and end up with more of what we've had?

We can hope that Suffolk and other local pollsters ask those questions about electability. Would you sacrifice content for a sure winner? Are you afraid that Patrick's left slant or skin color will freak the independents and exurbanites?

To illustrate the gay angle, BW quotes hesitant and waffling voter, Arlene Forunato:
With three candidates in the race, she says, "it just seems like they’re all cannibalizing each other’s candidacies and we’re going to end up with Governor Kerry Healey." Fortunato says she believes that Gabrieli would be "a fantastic governor." Yet she also says, “after the convention I thought they all should get behind Deval. He’s got the endorsement, let’s just forget about our own individual agendas and make this thing work. But that’s not going to happen."
Indeed, she's right. We have to consider then whether we have the guts to go with ideas and direction. We could take the electable option and always wonder what we might have had behind the other door.

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Andrew Varnon said...

Interesting commentary. I think "electability" has something to do with who's supporting you, rather than what your positions are. Howard Dean is a great example. He was labeled a liberal because liberals supported him, but his record as a governor in Vermont was actually very centrist. The "three bears" quote on Gabrieli is great -- it seems to sum up at least one feature of Gabrieli's candidacy nicely.

Ryan said...

I almost always hate the "electability" factor. I mean, just look at the last election... the people of Iowa more or less chose John Kerry to run for President because they thought he was the electable one.

My philosophy has been as thus: Vote for who you want to win! Are there exceptions to that general philosophy? Sure. Ralph Nader, 2000, Florida... but not this year in Massachusetts. Any of the three candidates running as a Dem has a real good shot of beating Kerry Healey, so electability is a moot argument here and now.

Ultimately, electability is only a question that can be answered in hindsight - by who actually loses.

Anonymous said...

We went for electability in the last presidential election, and look what we got: Kerry. Would have been a better pres than Bush (but then so would my dog), but was a truly lousy candidate (and a marriage equality weasel supreme).

I find the 'electability of a black man' question very interesting. Perhaps racial bigotry is even worse in MA than I realize, but I'm not convinced that this is an important hitch in Patrick's possibilities. After all, the majority voted in a freaky Mormon Bishop. What's Black compared to that? A very cute, soft-spoken black man with a brain is NOT going to scare anyone away. Rather, I think Patrick's lack of name recognition is a problem. Also a problem: when you don't have name recognition, you rely on your great platform, but that requires voters to be *thoughtful* and *think* through the problems and your proposed solutions. Uh oh. He's too much hard work for many. Reilly and Gabr. are no work for the brain-lazy. Patrick may have to find simple ways of doing the thinking for the masses. I hate to have that viewpoint of my neighbors, but I'm afraid that for many its a legit one.

massmarrier said...

I hope you're right about the racism issue. However, we have a very poor record on electing Black officials, particularly at the state level. We can see it as centuries of coincidence or something else. This primary should help indicate whether it is an issue.

I've mentioned this several times, but it's not discussed. It's like, "Sure, we have no problem electing a Black governor." So, why haven't we?

I agree about the platform issue. Certainly going into the primary, he's going to have to pick a few key areas that he can express simply and with neat-o, keen-o sound bites. Anytime a debate, interview or speech gets into specifics, he can skunk the other guys. However, for ads and drive-by campaigning, he can't appeal only to the literate and politically savvy.

Anonymous said...

I reread my post and I realize that it looks like I'm saying racism isn't an important problem. I think it is. An enormous one. However for Deval I still think he has more pressing ones which I mentioned. But does he have a steeper hill to climb than white candidates, all else being equal? Absolutely. Can the electorate get past their knee-jerk racism? I sincerely hope so. One note: his stance on SSM furrows brows in with parts of the Black community, which tends to be religously conservative. So he must face racial bigotry from some non-Blacks and social bigotry from some Blacks. If he makes it it will be a triumph in so many respects.

Related topic I would be intersted in your views on: Very intersting is this new multiracial coalition that seems to have formed in the anti-SSM camp. Is this just barely holding together for the current occasion, or will it outlast the amendment process? Are the haters overcoming their own racial barriers by banding together to quash our civil rights? Or is it just another fly-by-night grab by the more powerful/numerous whites to use the energies of the minority groups? Maybe it's just an example of 'the enemy of my enemy is my friend'.

Anonymous said...

Ok, I realize that I misspelled Mrs. Healey's last name throughout.

Sentiments are the same.

massmarrier said...

The working affiliation of disparate anti-gay/anti-SSM groups is outwardly fascinating. Having spent many years in the South, I can project many sublimated tensions. Down these, it was always a puzzlement to lefties wondering why poor Blacks and Whites did not join politically or vote the same. They had great similarities in culture, economics and otherwise.

Of course, it often came down to two key issues. One, many of the poor Whites denigrated Blacks in the stereotype of needing someone to look down on, not to be the lowest. Two, their churches supported the separation and differentiation.

Now in places as distant as Redmond and Mattapan, we have big church big shots calling for unions as you note that work for the harm and hindrance of gay men and lesbians. We can only surmise what such bigots as Ken Hutcherson and Gilbert Thompson think of their White evangelical counterparts. Clearly they did not find friends in each others' churches in other civil-rights campaigns and struggles.

It says much of our culture that we can look to the peaceful and beneficial marriages in Canada and Massachusetts, while still screaming bizarre paranoias of doom. What is it about Americans that makes us so fearful and so far behind the other First World countries?

To your point, it appears that the homophobia needs many of authoritative personalities. They want authority figures -- if not God, God's self-proclaimed spokesman -- to tell them what to think and whom to love or hate. To such congregants, orders to fight SSM marriage with money, calls, letters and emotions are the order of the day. Yes, sir, hate them queers.

Looking out the other end of history though, I have hope. As we saw in Maine's decade-long struggle to pass gay-rights, have it repealed, pass it again, and repeat the cycle, we watched the public swaying to equality and compassion. Eventually, the vote was to support the law and the issue is settled.

Similarly in Massachusetts, the public is now solidly in the majority in favor of SSM, with most of those opposed telling pollsters they want to give it a rest, that it is settled. I see that happening in the nation, slowly and with difficulty where the basest of legislators pushed for DOMA amendments to the constitutions.

The what-were-we-thinking moments may be 10 or more years away in some cases. Yet, I have come to believe that they will come.

Meanwhile, we can see Black and White groups, largely church based, who really don't like each other working together to defeat or overturn gay rights and SSM. There is no indication that they find any other common ground or will have anything to do with each other as their various campaigns close.

More intriguing to me long term is what will happen to the nastiest of these clerics after they lose on this issue in a year or 10 or more.

I know homosexual Black men and women who sometimes attend churches, the churches they grew up attending, where the current minister preaches with the bile unbefitting a Christian. They say that this is a package and the anti-gay portion is the smallest parcel within it. Many fellow parishioners tell them they know they are gay and are sorry the minister or bishop feels and preaches this way. They look beyond the mouthpiece and to God, whom they do not believe hates and belittles them.

That is difficult for me to comprehend, but it explains much.