Arguments an annoying diversion

By Leonard Pitts Jr.

Our subject today is a word.

It seems to be the word of the moment, at least on the political left. One can hardly read an opinion page or watch cable news without confronting this tiresome term, this irksome idiom.

For the love of heaven, people, please stop saying “electability.”

Note, please, that the last president was a black man with the unlikely name of Barack Hussein Obama Jr., who came to office with just a few years of senatorial experience. His successor was a TV reality show host with no government experience whatsoever and a history of racist, misogynistic and incompetent behavior.

Neither was electable by any traditional measure. Both were elected, nevertheless. So what does “electability” mean?

Some may contend the word, in this context, simply denotes a search for the candidate best equipped to take down Donald Trump. To whatever degree that’s true, one can have no argument with it.

But here’s the thing: it is hard to escape a conviction that those raising questions of “electability” actually have far more in mind. Meaning a perceived need to sway Trump voters in next year’s election. That’s the unavoidable subtext of the ongoing debate over whether Democratic candidates are moving “too far to the left” in offering plans to, say, forgive student loan debt or extend health care to all.

Beg pardon, but: “too far to the left” for whom?

That’s not to endorse any particular one of the bold ideas being put forth by the likes of Elizabeth Warren and Kamala Harris. It is, rather, to say that something is wrong when boldness itself is identified as a problem. One learns not to expect profiles in courage from a party that agonizes like Hamlet over whether to impeach the most impeachment-worthy president in history, but even by the chicken-hearted standards of the Democrats, this debate is disheartening.

Ask yourself: when is the last time you saw the GOP wring its hands over whether its policies were attractive to Obama voters? Win or lose, the right knows what it believes, and it does not change that to chase voters who hold it in contempt. Note that after its 2012 “autopsy” advised the party to be more inclusive, the GOP instead doubled down on its message of white grievance — and won.

In fairness to Democrats, it is likely easier for Republicans to be ruthlessly single-minded, given that their audience is relatively monochromatic and clustered around a few core issues. Embrace guns, scorn abortion, immigrants and gays and drop Jesus’ name every now and again and you’ve pretty much covered all the bases.

Democrats, by contrast, must wrangle an unwieldy rainbow coalition of interests touching reproductive rights, immigrant rights, LGBTQ rights, labor rights, African-American rights, the environment, health care, student loan forgiveness, poverty, criminal justice reform and gun control, to name a few.

And while that’s a good argument for a third party, it makes you look foolish chasing voters who made themselves perfectly clear when they punched their ballots for a racist orange con man: they’re just not that into you. Deal with it. Decide what you believe in and find the courage to stand up for it.

Arguments over electability are, at best, an annoying diversion of the politically-obsessed. But when they morph into a means of stifling debate — especially in a cause as fruitless as wooing Trump voters — it’s time to recall the lesson of the night Obama swept to victory 11 years ago. Namely, that neither pundits nor pols define who is electable.

That’s what elections are for.

Leonard Pitts is a columnist for The Miami Herald, 3511 NW 91st Ave., Miami, Fla., 33172. Readers may contact him via e-mail at [email protected]

By Patricia Older

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