by L. Arthalia Cravin
I am very familiar with the word, “electabilty.” I heard it repeatedly when I ran for mayor of a small East Texas town several years ago. Oddly, the word “electabilty” was tossed at me by both white—and black citizens. “Electability” will be heard a lot between now and November regardless of who is nominated for president—from either major party.
On the Democratic side, the two candidates who will hear the term “electability” the most will be Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. The reason is obvious—gender and race. On the Republican side Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney will have to face the “electability” music over religion and personal “baggage” issues. Between and among these divergent concerns over “electability” are two crucial words—“mainstream Americans.”
Who are these “mainstream American” folks and how will their concerns for “electability” dictate who gets elected?
When I ran for mayor I was repeatedly told that I was indeed the most qualified candidate. Before I was given this “acknowledge of worthiness,” for the first time in the history of the town’s local politics, a public debate was scheduled at a local church. After the public debate was suggested, I recall one phone call in particular from a local black magistrate who told me not to participate in the debate because it was a “set-up.” He went on to explain that even though I had forced the incumbent into a run-off election, that the debate was already rigged because the incumbent had already been given the topics questions in advance so that he could prepare. I thanked the official for his input and agreed to a public debate. Still there were many who surmised that out of fear that I would be a “no show.” I decided to humor these folks by waiting until the very last second to make my entrance into the church and to take my seat on the podium—then I quietly said to myself—“let’s get in on.” When the debate was over I was the clear winner. Still, I faced electability issues. Why—race and gender. I was a black female bucking a “white system of things” in a southern town with deep confederate, slave-holding roots. Concerns for my “electability” turned into plain old nastiness. Some black folks told me that they would not vote at all but that they would “pray for me.” Others claimed that pressure was being exerted by certain “powers that be” suggesting that a vote for me would translate into definite economic repercussions such as job losses, denial of loans and/or loans being called—nothing unusual for Texas politics. Shortly before the run-off election, I found my self counteracting a bevy of smear campaign “lies, and more lies.” I lost the election by a hand full of votes that changed only slightly after a recount. After the election one white voter told me that, (in that town) I should feel pretty damn lucky that I got as many votes as I did. In the eyes of the mainstream Americans of that small Texas town, I was clearly the most qualified, but the least “electable”—the reason–I was not a white male. (There have been 32 mayors since the town was founded in 1872—all white males.) After my mayoral bid, a white female rode my tail wind into the mayor’s office—with fewer total votes, no church house debate, and unquestioned black support.
In the current race for president, Rudy and Mitt are also facing electability issues from “mainstream” Americans. So what do “mainstream” Americans want when it comes to political leaders? A) Folks who look like they do? B) Folks who think as they do? C) Folks who worship as they do? D) Folks with the same moral values as they have? The answer is “all of the above” is varying combinations. Barack Obama campaign has made every attempt to sidestep A, B, C, and D and to base his electability on his primary message of “change.” If he gets the nominations it will be change of the most radical and unprecedented kind. Hillary has done likewise with her message of “experience.” Her nomination will also be unprecedented. Mitt and Rudy do not face similar “radical or unprecedented” electability issues. Even with several handicaps of other assorted varieties, Mitt and Rudy still fit the “mainstream American” profile because they are white males. Overcoming their “electability” issues will not be as formidable as Hillary and Barack because white males have historically enjoyed certain “privileges, immunities, and “presumptions of competence” denied to non-white males and females.
The crux of “electability” concerns, within the context of current politics, means, “given the current prevailing attitudes on a variety of issues, including race, gender, religion, family values, etc, can a candidate garner sufficient support from “mainstream America” to get elected. This is the essence of electability. Hidden with the term electability however, is also an important little word called “viability.” Electability refers to the persona of the candidate, while “viability” refers to the ability of the candidate to stay alive, and thrive, given the current state of American social, economic, racial and political affairs. Here is where the rubber will “meet the road” with at least two of the candidates, Obama and Clinton. Unless John Edwards becomes the Democratic candidate, for the first time in American politics, who is, or is not electable, and viable, will have to be addressed head-on. For the first time in American politics, the unspoken stuff of race and gender will move center-stage and “mainstream Americans” will have to take a long hard look at themselves. I say, it’s about time.
© Copyright 2008 – L. Arthalia Cravin. All rights Reserved. No part of this commentary may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without written permission from the author.