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electability, excellence, Edwards?

So, Your Humble Blogger was listening to John Edwards on NPR, and James Hattori asked flat out whether he was the most electable candidate. Then, after he said he was, he was essentially asked if electable was a code meaning white man. The Senator remained unperturbed, and stated (reasonably well) that he felt that his life and his history were what made him the most electable: small town, rural, son and grandson of mill workers, elected by a red state, etc, etc. And it bugged me, and I kept thinking (in the spirit of the stairs) what he might have said, and might say the next umpty-’leven times he is asked the same thing. I came up with this:

First of all, let’s take care of that right now. A few years ago, people were saying that there was no way, no way on Gd’s green earth that a black man could be elected president. And now, well, if Barack Obama is the candidate, I do think it’s possible that he will win in November. And if he did win, I think he would make a fine President. And a few years ago, people were saying that there was no way, no way at all, that a woman could be elected president—heck, it’s not that long since people were saying that a woman couldn’t do the job! And if Hilary Clinton is the candidate, I do think that it’s possible for her to win in November. And if she did win, I think she would make a fine president. So let’s let that be the end of that, nobody should say anymore that there’s anybody who can’t become president because they’re the wrong color or the wrong gender or the wrong religion. Not in America. Not anymore.

Now, that’s all true. But it’s also true that you asked who was the most electable. The most. And there’s only one most. And I think it’s me. The polls will tell you it’s me. But don’t look at the polls. My history will tell you it’s me. My life will tell you it’s me. And most important, the people will tell you it’s me. You walk around Iowa, you walk around New Hampshire, and you ask them who is the best Democrat to fight the insurance companies and pharmaceutical companies who are holding our health care system hostage, who’s the best to fight for a fair and honest tax system that doesn’t penalize the middle class to benefit the wealthy, who’s the best to fight for our future and the future of working men and women, so that we can give our children a better life, just like our parents did for us—you ask them and they will tell you John Edwards is the best fighter we’ve got.

That’s why I’m going to win in November. That’s why I’m the best candidate.

It’s not a great answer, but it (I think) acknowledges that there are issues there, insinuates (I think correctly) that although either Sen. Obama or Sen. Clinton could win, that he will have a bit of an easier time than they will, and turns the question back to his rhetorical strength. It also should gently wrongfoot the reporter for bringing the issue up in the first place, although of course the candidate may not want to do that at all. And I know that Mr. Edwards does not (this cycle) like to say that the other candidates are fine candidates, but I think he’s now at the point where he can reach back to the positive vibes he had last time around.

The thing that I dislike about my answer is that it repeats the word electable, which I think is a word John Kerry’s running mate should try to avoid. But I wanted to point out that he was asked the question directly—maybe he should just say You asked me who is the best candidate, and there’s only one best, completely (misleadingly?) paraphrasing the question. I don’t know. I do know that if I were John Edwards, I would not want people to be talking about my electability, but I would want people talking about what a good candidate I am. There may not be a difference in meaning, but there’s a huge one in connotation.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,


Democrats rarely reframe these questions, so it's almost always noteworthy when they do. Edwards is pretty good at that, but not consistently, as your example shows. I hope they (and their campaign staff) realize that they have a much larger job than doing well in any single interview. They have to break through the conventional wisdom (which may be conventional, but it generally isn't all that wise) and right-wing spin (which is extra-super-spinny, and has been since the aftermath of Watergate).

i think it's tricky to say "race doesn't matter" without making race matter -- see colbert's "i don't see race" running gag

this took me to the question of whether america is ready to elect a progressive-populist-leaning nonwhiteboy. would you trust a -=stranger=- with your social equity engineering?

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