When you wish upon a star, doesn't matter who they are

July 26th, 2007  |  Published in Politics

Because the 2008 Democratic primaries have seemingly already been going on for decades, everyone feels a strong pressure to identify their preferred candidates. The assumption is that there are important political consequences for progressives if they choose one over another. But what possible valid criteria are there for making this choice?

  1. Shared ideology with the candidate. Well, for an ultra-leftist like me this is right out. Even Dennis Kucinich is well to my right on many things; if I restrict myself to the people who have a chance at the nomination, things are even more hopeless. Nobody running for president is going to share my socialist inclinations at this point in American history.
  2. General progressivity of the candidate's stated positions. This is a weaker version of (1). Some people will spend lots of time parsing each candidate's positions, trying to see if they have a better health care proposal, or will leave fewer troops in Iraq, or will support card-check unionization, or whatever. This strikes me as futile, however, inasmuch as the things candidates say at this point in a campaign bear only the most tenuous relationship to what they will ultimately do in office. Bush certainly showed this with his "compassionate conservative" jive, but it was true of Clinton as well--he disappointed a lot of liberals who didn't expect him to choose NAFTA and welfare dismantling over national health care.
  3. Personal appeal of the candidate. I tend to think that trying to suss out how trustworthy or personally left-wing a politician is ends up being even more futile than dissecting their policy positions. Looking for "authenticity" in a candidate is pointless, since being a politician requires inauthenticity--you just end up supporting the person who is best at faking sincerity. And the "guy I'd like to have a beer with" standard has been pretty definitively demolished by George W. Bush.
  4. Candidate's base of support. I tend to believe that the behavior of politicians can be better predicted by the positions of their supporters (the people who give them money and resources) than by their stated positions. So this is actually a valid criterion. If there were a true insurgent candidate backed by a movement--like McGovern in 1972, or Jesse Jackson in the 1980's, or even Howard Dean in 2004--I'd be on board. But all the candidates for 2008 are taking the same money from the same corporations, and all of them are creatures of the mass media rather than of movements. So again, I don't think it matters.

The only thing that does matter is that any one of the people currently looking for the Democratic nomination would be preferable to another Republican. This is mostly due to (4): Democrats are at least somewhat dependent on people of color, pro-choice women, unions, and so on, so they're more likely to maintain progressive positions. So I'll endorse the position of indie-rock legend and general curmudgeon Steve Albini:

Anything the Democrats run out there, I'll vote for it. Broken piece of elk antler, chalkboard eraser, whatever.

Elk Antler/Chalkboard Eraser '08?

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