Monday, January 14, 2008

Ideology or Electability?

The time to Super Tuesday draws short, when Arkansas will hold its presidential primary, and I will have to decide who to vote for. What to do, what to do. Voting is open, so I could go either Democrat or Republican. Hmm, be a spoiler on the Democratic side? I don’t think so.

Of course, by the time that day rolls around, the voting in Michigan, South Carolina, and Florida may have served to whittle down the number of candidates. Still, the time is so short that maybe all of them will decide to stay in the race until that day and hope for the best.

But first, before thinking about individual candidates, I have to settle the question in my own mind, do I vote based on ideology, or based on electability? This is similar to the debate we used to have in college about practical politics vs. theoretical politics. Let’s see, who was it who said that theoretical politics was the wife, while practical politics was at most a flirt and much less than a mistress?

In the past, it seems Republicans have usually selected their candidate based on electability, while the Democrats were more concerned with ideology. Based merely on the candidates who have survived thus far, that appears to be holding true again. The three Democrats are all similar in ideology, and are straight down the liberal-conservative spectrum for the party base, maybe a bit to the left of the base center line. The Republicans, however, have but one candidate who could be considered at or to the right of their base’s center line: Fred Thompson. Indeed, candidates with firm conservative records either decided not to run (Newt Gingrich), or were weeded out through fund raising as unelectable (Brownback, Tancredo, and Hunter). So the field that is left falls this way on the Left-Right Continuum, left at the top, right at the bottom.


I don’t put Paul in the mix, for he is too hard to characterize on the continuum. The others aren’t easy enough to place, either. Each has economic or social conservative positions, whether or not their track record is where we think it should be. I wouldn’t argue with switching Huckabee and McCain, or Huckabee and Romney.

But how to choose? I guess first I need to decide what the issues are.

Clearly abortion and social issues are not in the forefront. Crime is not an issue; either we’ve taken care of it, or without a true conservative in the Republican mix, the issue doesn’t come up. Illegal immigration is portrayed more for its economic impact, rather than as a legal issue. The war on terror, including its theatre in Iraq, is foreign policy. No issue of interest to social conservatives has really surfaced, and likely won’t. Maybe everyone is tired of fighting those fights. So the main issues seem to be, not in any order: illegal immigration, the war on terror, the war in Iraq, health care, the economy. The whole issue of "change" as now dominating the Democratic and spilling over into the Republican debate is somewhat bogus, and nothing new. Kerry argued for change in 2004, Bush in 2000, Clinton in 1992, Dukakis in 1988, etc. I think that will somewhat fade as the general election draws near, especially if Clinton is the candidate we face.

Based on those issues, it would seem that Romney is the candidate for whom the sum of four or five variables is maximized, with Thompson second. Or maybe it’s Thompson over Romney by a whisker. However, if I think about those issues driving the debate up to November, and put electability as the basis for selection, I think McCain comes to the top, for he can better compete with the Democratic nominee and hold the base at the same time. Clearly, the choice is different if electability, rather than ideology, is the basis for selection.

But I ask my fellow bloggers, which is the right basis for selection? Ideology is somewhat easier to determine than electability. With the former you have records and positions to assess, however closely the elected would govern to their record and positions. With the latter you have only gut feelings, while at the same time trying to guess who the candidate will face. Is choosing based on electability a sell-out to principles, or is abandoning the most likely winner handing the office over to the opposition, with all the consequences thereto?

What to do, what to do. Only 23 days to decide.

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