There’s an insightful piece by Liz Mair up on The Bulwark that’s worth a read if you find yourself between our contemporary political extremes. She makes a concise case for Joe Biden’s candidacy from her perspective on the political right. A couple of interesting tidbits that jibe with my thinking follow.
It’s also worth remembering that regardless of how conservatives and pundits may see them, not that many Democratic voters actually think of themselves as great big lefties. According to CNN data, about a quarter of 2016 Democratic primary voters were Independents or Republicans. Two in five call themselves “moderate” or “conservative.” And only a quarter call themselves “very liberal.” Biden’s perceived centrism probably helps more than it hurts.
Biden has been long hailed as a Democratic legislator with whom Republicans could and would work. He’s well-regarded by his remaining colleagues in the Senate and by policy-makers and pundits in the non-Trump GOP. His centrism is more real than “perceived.” That’s a clear advantage for any Democrat succeeding in winning the campaign for president.
At the same time, the CNN data Mair quotes neatly lassos the label-refusers among the electorate. I’ve long denied the labels “liberal” and “Democrat.” I’ve never belonged to a party longer than the time required to vote in a primary. Even then, it was as often Republican as Democrat, and quickly reverted to Independent a week or so after. Among the current crop of Democrats vying for the 2020 nomination, I’m most closely aligned with Amy Klobuchar, who is neither a wild-eyed liberal nor a darling of the woke Left.
In short, Biden is home territory for me and, I suspect, quite a few not-Republicans.
But of course, there’s this bottom line fact: As much as everyone who is a political activist or an ideologically driven political opiner wants to deny it, the truth is, voters do not actually vote on policy. As documented by Christian Lenz in Follow The Leader, voters actually rarely support candidates whose issue positions accord with their own. They are actually quite likely to pick a politician-avatar, and then—you guessed it—follow the leader. If you don’t believe me, or Lenz, go look at polling of self-described Republicans on topics like trade or foreign policy over recent years.
This is a critical point for anyone seeking higher office. Mair is saying that voters don’t pick a candidate for their policy takes, but rather as an aspirational choice for what they want America to become. In short, we select our candidates as a better version of ourselves. This strikes home for the thoughtful crowd.
The entire piece is well-reasoned, and critically there’s not a hint of inflammatory rhetoric within. That last bit delights me, coming as it does from a conservative publication. Have a look.
An aside: I’ve been pleasantly surprised by The Bulwark lately. A new publication edited by Charlie Sykes and boasting writers with a decidedly conservative bent, it’s become a home for the intelligent remnant of what was once a functional conservative movement. From among their writers, you’ll also find an occasional left-of-center piece, like the recent CPAC-focused writing of Molly Jong-Fast that skewered the rabid, Trump-leaning “Republicans” at their annual conference. The Bulwark isn’t afraid to poke a little fun at the excess within and without their fellow travelers and provides the sort of thoughtful insight opposing the Left’s policy intentions that’s always handy to an informed opinion. At the risk of appearing the fool for it down the road, I endorse a close read of its offerings.