Mary Schmich: Hey, stop telling us which Democratic candidate is 'electable'
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Mary Schmich: Hey, stop telling us which Democratic candidate is 'electable'

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Stop telling me who's electable and who's not.

Tell me why you like the presidential candidate you like or why you hate the one you loathe. Tell me why you love or hate their policy platforms, their histories and, oh, if you must, talk about their hair.

But please, stop telling me who's electable.

We all play the electability game sometimes. Guessing is essential to human thought and conversation, and we all want to back a candidate who can win. A candidate's wide appeal is part of what we try to measure.

But the great electability guessing game over which Democratic candidate can beat Donald Trump? That's as fruitless as predicting the weather for Nov. 3, 2020.

So, please, stop it.

Electability is a buzzword that sometimes covers for racism, sexism and ageism.

Well, she's not electable (because she's a woman).

He's not electable (because he's black, or Latino, or Asian).

They're not electable (because they're too old, or too young).

But electability talk isn't always a reflection of bigotry. It often manifests something less ugly but just as pernicious: a lack of imagination.

Even people who are ready for a candidate different from most previous presidents - one who isn't necessarily male or white, who believes in universal health care - may have trouble believing that enough other people are ready.

The doubters may be right, of course. Or they may be miscalculating their fellow Americans because, let's face it: Most of us have a limited range of experience and acquaintances. We have trouble imagining how other people think. Looking toward the past, we have trouble imagining a future that looks different.

Barack Obama. Donald Trump. In the eyes of many pundits, neither of them was electable, remember?

Nobody plays the electability game more fervently than what I call the resident scholars at the prestigious School of Punditry, a bipartisan institution made up chiefly of college professors, newspaper and magazine columnists, TV talking heads and former campaign staffers who have turned to podcasting.

The pundits' pronouncements are called "predictions," a word that offers guessing with a veneer of expertise.

Most of these scholars make their case based on varied factors, including electoral history, the latest poll numbers, gut feeling or Twitter likes. They couple their arguments with a talent for sharing their opinions VERY FORCEFULLY.

Consider just a few headlines from resident scholars at the prestigious School of Punditry:

"Why Obama Cannot Win in 2012" (Forbes, April 2011).

"Relax, Donald Trump Can't Win" (The Nation, June 2016).

"Why Kamala Harris Will Win the Democratic Nomination" (RealClearPolitics, January 2019).

Wrong, wrong, wrong. Again.

As a lesser member of the School of Punditry, I understand the temptation to pronounce loudly on a candidate's electability. Electability matters. Political predictions are fun. But they're wrong as often as they're right.

Reams have been written on the electability of the various Democratic candidates. Bernie Sanders is the most electable. Or not electable at all. Amy Klobuchar is surging. Oh, wait, not anymore. Elizabeth Warren, Michael Bloomberg, Andrew Yang, Pete Buttigieg, Tom whatshisname - they've all been subjected to the electability guessing game.

And, oh, right. Joe Biden. I inadvertently left him off the list above - I'm not kidding - even though we're often told he's the most electable of all.

Contrary to some predictions, Kamala Harris is no longer in the race, but before she dropped out she talked about how the obsession with electability can warp the discussion.

"There has been a conversation by pundits about 'electability' and 'who can speak to the Midwest,'" she said at an appearance in Detroit. "But when they say that, they usually put the Midwest in a simplistic box and a narrow narrative. And too often their definition of the Midwest leaves people out."

A few months later, after Harris dropped out of the race, Kelly Dittmar and Glynda Carr wrote a provocative piece in Ms. Magazine under the headline, "Kamala Harris' Liability Was Not Electability."

After noting that there were various explanations for her departure, they wrote: "When it comes to talk about electability, though, it's vital to remember that Harris' electability as a Black woman was not the problem in the 2020 race. Instead, doubts of that electability - whether from voters, donors, media or political elites - were an added burden to her campaign."

And that's why the electability obsession isn't just innocent fun. Pundits who have no special insight or fortunetelling skills are seeding doubt in voters, not about the candidates' essential worth but about this elusive thing called electability. Remember that the next time you're told who can or can't win.

For the record, I still think Elizabeth Warren could beat Donald Trump.

___

ABOUT THE WRITER

Mary Schmich is a columnist for the Chicago Tribune and winner of the 2012 Pulitzer Prize for commentary.

Visit the Chicago Tribune at www.chicagotribune.com

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