Electable Enough?

Bernie and Hillary signsThese are exciting times for those of us who reside in the dark blue bubble of the San Francisco Bay Area. Like the parents of teenagers, we’re used to being ignored by presidential candidates unless we’re being asked for money. But this time, our votes almost matter. That’s an unfamiliar feeling.

We’re also unfamiliar with impassioned disagreements among hitherto like-minded friends and neighbors. Now we get to experience what the good citizens of Ohio routinely practice—living peaceably through constructive persuasion alongside people who hold stupid and wrong different beliefs.

Take, for example, my Friday hiking buddies, who are Feeling the Bern. As for me, all I feel is heartburn at the prospect of any Republican in the White House.

“Okay, I’m officially undecided,” I said to my friends last fall. “The thing I care most about is electability. Persuade me.”

“I don’t give a damn about electability,” responded Gary. “I’m tired of voting for the lesser of two evils!”

“Same here,” chimed in Sharon.

Then Gary decided to turn up the charm on his undecided prospect: “One thing I’ve never liked about you,” he railed at me, “Is how willing you are to compromise your principles.”

Reading my mind before I could even open my mouth, Gary added for good measure, “And I don’t care about the Supreme Court!”

Like I said, this was a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away. Justice Scalia was still alive. The presidential prospects of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders were widely viewed as DOA. But as this crazy primary season has unfolded, all bets are off about who’s the most electable.

On most days, it seems like even I could beat Donald Trump. But given Hillary’s earned and unearned negatives, Bernie, pointing to national polls, argues that he’s the better candidate to prevail in the general election.

I’m still not feeling the Bern, though.

I love Bernie. He has assumed the mantle of electoral politics that the Occupy movement unwisely shunned. I am grateful to him—as I am to Occupy—for articulating issues like economic injustice, and for making Hillary a better candidate. I ought to feel as Sharon did when I first asked her if she was supporting Sanders: “He stands for everything I believe in? Why wouldn’t I support him?”

George McGovern stood for everything I believed in back in 1972. I supported him with the fervor so many of my friends now feel for Bernie. Like them, I was convinced that our righteous cause would prevail. How could it not? I still remember the disbelief I felt, the tears I shed the day after Richard Nixon creamed him. Those who lived in the one state McGovern carried coped by affixing bumper stickers that said, “Don’t Blame Me: I’m from Massachusetts.”

I do not want the cold comfort of a bumper sticker that reads, “Don’t Blame Me: I Voted for Bernie.” Because even though polls show that Sanders currently does better than Clinton in the general election, Bernie will likely get creamed once the Republican attack machine gets going. Besides, most of his supporters aren’t willing to pony up the taxes his proposals require. And even if they were, there’s that inconvenient truth known as Congress mucking up the political revolution.

I want a strong and competent Democrat in the White House who will get there with the votes of people more moderate and hawkish than I am. I want incremental progress rather than a failed revolution. I want the balance on the Supreme Court to shift left. I’m ready to skip the high hopes—and crushing disappointment—the candidate of my dreams evokes. Been there, done that.

I want Hillary. She’s highly intelligent, dedicated, a hard worker, and an indefatigable champion of women, children, families, and the middle class. She’s a credible player on the world stage. She knows how to govern. Besides, we need Bernie to remain a potent voice for change, a voice best amplified by remaining an outside critic.

I’m reminded of Henry David Thoreau’s words: “If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them.” Hillary Clinton can be the foundation upon which Bernie Sanders and the movement he’s sparked can continue to build.

But no political revolution or incremental progress will come about if Hillary and Bernie supporters who are duking it out right now stay home come November. These bumper stickers I saw today say it all:

So whether you’re Ready for Hillary or Feeling the Bern, get out there and vote!