low expectations

The best argument for Hillary Clinton and Rudy Giuliani is that Hillary (or Rudy) would be the candidate most likely to beat the other in a general election matchup…at least you would think so from the press coverage they get. Republicans are told that Giuliani is the only Republican candidate who might possibly be able to beat HER.  Because of this “fact”, we shouldn’t care about his lack of social conservative credentials or his messy personal life, or that being mayor of NYC doesn’t automatically qualify him to be president of the United States.  We might be giving up a whole bunch of red states to (maybe) gain a few blue ones if Giuliani is our candidate.  That’s ok with us, as long as we have a chance to beat Hillary, right?

There is no great love for Hillary out there as the Democrats’ preferred candidate. The netroots gravitate toward Edwards, or one of the other “no chance” candidates.  Those disenchanted with the status quo or Washington insiders have their guy in Obama.  But until that debate where we saw Hillary stumble just a little bit, many of us bought into Hillary’s inevitability as the Dem nominee. It’s still difficult to see how Obama can gain enough ground to knock her off, but several wins in early primary states, such as Iowa, can throw a monkey wrench into Hillary’s coronation plans. 

Obama does have the opportunity to pull this off as Democrats start to doubt that Hillary is their strongest possible nominee. That’s the whole point of all these increasingly sharp attacks on Hillary’s experience (or lack thereof) — to make them doubt her viability.  Maybe it will work.  Maybe not.  Hillary has experience where it counts with Democrats — successfully fending off Republican attacks.  This should be enough to get her to the Democratic nomination.

Is this the kind of contest we want?  Would we be satisfied with a contest between two candidates each party nominates by default?  Wouldn’t we rather nominate candidates with the best vision for the country, and the two people who we feel have the best ideas to solve the country’s problems?  Hillary and Rudy may be those two candidates.  But we don’t seem to care much about vision and ideas, just as long as our candidate is the most electable. It’s the most practical way to look at the election, but there’s no joy in the choice.

Jason Zengerle explores the electability argument further in New York Magazine.