Wavering over the kingmaking

I get the sense that a lot of people out there — not necessarily a plurality, but enough to justify having a public conversation with them — share roughly my preference order with respect to the remaining non-Gravel Democratic Presidential candidates.  In terms of what I’d like to see in a nominee, I’d give Edwards a 90, Obama an 84, Clinton a 72, and I’ll explain where Kucinich fits in later.  So here’s where I stand after today’s debate, and y’all can hash it out in comments if you want.  There’s no special reason that you should be that interested in what I think, so there’s no particular reason that you should be abusive in comments.  I’m mostly setting this down as my own diary for the record, so I can refer to it years down the line.  (Thanks again, buhdy, for providing this service.)

I was ready to bolt from Edwards to Obama after Nevada.  I remember a year ago how well Edwards looked like he’d be doing in Nevada, and falling to 4% — even though it’s a caucus — is deadly, almost no matter what happens in South Carolina.  But the debate tonight slowed what I expect will be my inevitable conversion.  I liked Obama tonight, but Edwards just hit all the right notes again, as usual.  I do want to support someone who will beat Hillary, in any event, although more because of my doubts about her electability than disagreements over the policies she’s now presenting.

Policywise, Hillary has tacked well to the left by now and, as I’ve argued before, if she gets elected I think the times will call for her to govern as a progressive.  Presidents and their policies are largely determined by circumstances — ask poor Jimmy Carter, plagued by Ruhollah Khomeini and Paul Volcker, about that one — as well as by their intent.  (Bush the Lesser is an exception, but his policies are not intended to be constructive.  It’s easy to destroy.)  I don’t care much about the specifics of health care plans, etc., because I think that the brunt of the work will be done in Congress and whatever their personal preferences none of them will stand in the way of a good plan.  (They should just enroll everyone regardless of ability to pay, counteracting it with progressive taxation, but whether they will or not has little to do with what they say now.)  The problem with Hillary is that so many people other than committed, and usually older, Democrats dislike her so intensely.  Yes, everyone has high negatives, but there are gradations among those negatives that a simple binary “like or don’t like” question will miss.  Lots of people really don’t like her — including the press, which will be a serious problem if the GOP nominates McCain (less so if it’s Romney, none at all if it’s Giuliani) — and I am not willing to be Starbuck to her Ahab.  The sort of caucus shenanigans that thereisnospoon is writing about, if proven, won’t help lower her negatives, of course, though I’d certainly support her in a general election.

The one statistic about Obama that strikes me most is how he keeps winning the independents and Republicans in every race, including Nevada.  I love that sort of prospect, because I really want to win this election.  I don’t feel the toe-tingling magic when he speaks as intensely as many other people do, but I can read poll numbers and election returns.  Normally, if you see results like those separating Hillary and Obama, it’s because the one winning over the Democrats is much more liberal than the one getting the independents, and the question becomes how much ideology one is willing to give up for a better chance of winning.  But this time, one doesn’t have to give up any ideology to get the one who can capture the middle: while Obama’s talk of reconciliation and bipartisanship can be frustrating, like Hillary he will govern very much as a progressive simply because the times demand it.  So he will carry the Democrats strongly — seriously, who’s not going to come out for him? — and will make substantial inroads among non-Democrats.  I like that kind of outcome.  The only reason I’m not already for him enthusiastically, despite his frustrating limitations, is that another candidate is talking in such a way that I can’t fail to support him if there’s a chance he could win the nomination.

I thought that Edwards’s answers were the most compelling tonight, including the one regarding a match-up with McCain.  Edwards does have a problem in that the media does not like him as much as it does Obama and McCain, but he’s right that he matches up better than Hillary against McCain and I think he’ll be preferred to Romney (who I still think will win) as well.

So why not stick with Edwards?  It’s largely because I don’t think he can beat Hillary, and I really think she matches up poorly against McCain.  More on that later.  Essentially, my problem with Edwards is that if I support him at this point, it is hard to explain why I am not supporting Kucinich.

I am not supporting Kucinich largely because I don’t think he could win, and if he did win I don’t think he could govern, and having ruled him out long ago I haven’t worried that much about his specific stands on the issues.  It’s certainly conceivable that I’d agree with his issue positions more than Edwards’s, but that’s not so critical: they’re both good enough that I’d make the decision on other factors.  But the argument for supporting Kucinich is that it strengthens the Left of the party, and — to choose the metaphor I dislike so — moved the Overton Window further to the left than does a vote for Edwards.  That’s a strong argument, and if I didn’t have a preference between Obama and Hillary, it might well convince me.  (I voted twice for Jesse Jackson, who I didn’t think could win or govern, for much the same reason.)  But, if I won’t support Kucinich because he won’t win, then why support Edwards if — as may well be apparent by this Saturday night — he won’t win either?

I see two answers to that floating around, one moral and one tactical.  The moral answer is that one does it because it’s right and it sends a good message, but again if that was my sole concern, to the exclusion of helping someone beat Hillary, I might well vote for Kucinich.  The tactical reason is this: the better Edwards does, the more delegates he has, and the greater the chance that he can be a kingmaker at the convention.  That is the judgment now separating me from several friends who share my preference ordering but have said that they’ll vote for Edwards no matter what.  So that is the argument I have to address here.

Let’s assume that my vote is the deciding one that will determine the fate of a delegate.  Let’s further assume that Edwards could direct that delegate to vote as he saw fit in Denver.  Does it make sense to send that delegate out as an Edwards supporter, or as an Obama supporter?

This is where I get hung up.  I look at that question, and the answer keeps coming back “you want the delegate supporting Obama.”  Here’s the reason: while I like the idea of Edwards holding the balance of power at a convention, I am not neutral to how he would exercise that power.  I want him ultimately to side with Obama.  I don’t care that much about his being able to exact a price in the platform — I don’t care that much about the platform — nor about his using it to gain a spot on the ticket, if that’s what he wants.  I care only about which way he throws his support.  And the one way to make sure that Obama winds up with that delegate on the second ballot is to give the delegate to Obama in the first place.

There are offsetting advantages and disadvantages to Obama’s ultimately getting that delegate from Edwards, if that were something I could control by force of will, rather than his coming into the convention with that delegate in hand.  On the positive side: more exposure and appreciation for Edwards and his message.  On the negative side: for Obama to have to beg for delegates makes him look weak, which hurts his chances in the general election.  Overall, it looks like pretty much of a wash.  The only advantage I could see would be if Edwards would be able to veto a bad VP selection by Obama, but realistically I don’t think Hillary will deliver on that while Obama won’t.

Not for the first time, I wish that primary voting used an essay question rather than multiple choice, but Instant Runoff Voting is not yet on the horizon.  While Edwards’s performance tonight has kept me from calling up Obama HQ tomorrow and asking what I could do for the cause, I have a feeling that I may be making that call Sunday morning.  How well would Edwards have to do in South Carolina to make me call his HQ rather than Obama’s?  I don’t know — but, unfortunately, I also don’t expect to have to worry about that.


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    • Turkana on January 22, 2008 at 09:34

    he gets my vote. otherwise- gravel?

  1. Actually, I like Eugene Debs best (even though he’s dead), and I agree with him when he said,

    I’d rather vote for something I want and not get it than vote for something I don’t want, and get it.

    So I’m still going with Dennis even if he’s not going to get the nomination.

    I will end up voting for any one of the big 3 in the general election.  I’ll do it because the country and I cannot handle 4 years of McCain, Romney, or Huckabee, or a near republican majority in congress.

    Major, I’m impressed by how you have it figured out.  Maybe you’re right.  Unfortunately, the big 3’s “nuanced positions” leave me cold, so I’m sticking with the union Dennis.

  2. he’s viable through Super Tuesday.  Who knows what further great debate performances by him – (further scuffling between the other two)  will bring.

    Maybe my figure is lower than yours would be because I’m not sold on Obama.

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