It’s impossible to know whether a political candidate is electable until they’ve actually been elected—but that hasn’t stopped pundits from speculating ad nauseam about the question. Episode 3 of The Politics of Everything investigates where the concept of electability comes from, the nature of the historical moments in which it crops up, and the risks we invite by using the term. How central to Joe Biden’s appeal is his ostensible electability? What do supposedly unelectable candidates have in common?
How much are voters prizing familiarity or “safety” over policy, and will this calculation get us into trouble? Hosts Laura Marsh and Alex Pareene talk to Seth Ackerman, the executive editor of Jacobin; Matt Karp, a historian at Princeton; and Rebecca Katz, the founder of New Deal Strategies, a progressive consulting firm.
Later in the episode, campaign reporter Walter Shapiro considers how coronavirus may shape the rest of the Democratic primary. Will the convention be held as planned in Milwaukee? Does anyone care if it isn’t?
• Alex Pareene argues that electability gets invoked mainly to make voters believe they can’t have the things they really want. It’s a way “to get voters to carry out a contrary agenda—not their own—while convincing them they’re being ‘responsible.’”
• If we believe something can’t happen, Osita Nwanevu points out, it becomes all the more likely it won’t—“an entirely self-fulfilling dynamic that cedes our agency to the judgments rendered by blinkered pundits and jury-rigged algorithms.” Meanwhile, we might consider “just how many of our freedoms have been extended and how many lives have been saved by people and policies that prevailed against perceived odds.”
• Libby Watson assesses Biden’s rise: “A majority of the Democratic base is convinced that Biden is the safe bet to win against Trump, and they value the way that certainty feels more than policy.”