09/19/2007 08:41 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

What's in a Word Anyway?

The following piece was produced through OffTheBus, a citizen journalism project hosted at the Huffington Post and launched in partnership with NewAssignment.Net. For more information, read Arianna Huffington's project introduction. If you'd like to join our blogging team, sign up here If you're interested in other opportunities, you can see the list here.


This word has been often used in reference to the various 2008 presidential candidates, both Republican and Democrat, by political pundits on television, members of the press, and the grassroots level citizen volunteers that support them.

Civic-minded citizens who donate their time and energy to their candidate's campaigns believe that candidate has what it takes to win their party's nomination and then the presidency, while also believing that all other candidates lack whatever criteria they have personally deemed necessary for achieving victory (although there are a few who are secure enough to acknowledge the merits of other candidates.) and thus proving themselves electable.

But what does electable mean?

I recently interviewed volunteers from the campaigns of each Democratic candidate. I want to thank all of them here for agreeing to be interviewed and I commend them for their faith in the democratic process.

With a combination of state and national poll numbers and the arguably deliberate creation by the mainstream media of a two tier system, placing Clinton, Obama, and Edwards in the first while everyone else (Kucinich, Richardson, Dodd, Biden, and Gravel) shares the second, it is very likely that anyone who still watches CNN, MSNBC, or any of the other "news" networks, will be persuaded to vote for a "front runner", a.k.a., a "first tier" candidate. This is especially true in a post "anybody but Bush" environment where a person's perception of who is electable may be influenced not by a particular candidate's stances on the many issues of the day, but by sheer popularity (the kind of name/face recognition that propelled Hollywood action star Shwarzennegger into the governor's seat of California) and the inevitability that there will eventually only be a choice of two anyway, both assuredly from the two dominating parties. In the "black/white", "good/bad" dichotomy way of thinking, one must be for one and against the other, making the choice extremely easy. Unless you are Mar Nealon, a knowledgeable and passionate Dennis Kucinich campaign supporter and volunteer, who, like me, believes that a choice between the lesser of two evils is really no choice at all.

Nealon, who supports Kucinich because "he is a man of his convictions" who "walks his talk", believes "people need to vote their hearts. They have an addiction to settling." Gail Davis, another Kucinich volunteer, states that her candidate is "the real deal" and "sounds unlike any other politician.." She thinks, "people are just brainwashed...beaten down by a system they feel they cannot fight." Kucinich volunteer Joseph Palermo believes , "If he had a fair shake in the media, more people would see how sincere he was." Kucinich volunteer Sally Hampton states, "most don't know about Kucinich because the media focuses on Hillary and Obama because they are already bought and paid for by the private corporate interests who also control the media. I am sickened by talk over who is electable based on hair and height."

Still another Kucinich supporter, Harrison Watkins, when asked to give his definition of electable, recognized it rightly to be a perception based question. He thinks that some people, influenced by our Cult of Personality that is American popular culture, will base their decision upon a subconscious worship of celebrity and the subsequent devaluation of actual stances on issues. When asked to respond to opponents' accusations that Kucinich is running a vanity campaign (like CNN's Wolf Blizter and (formerly) ABC's Ted Koppel, both of whom very rudely and unprofessionally asked Kucinich in '04 why was he such a loser and why was he continuing to run a vanity), Watkins replied, "They must have no idea of how hard candidates and their staffers work." He insists that "if they read his views, they'd see his sincerity. There is very little ego involved."

Now of course one must have a little bit of ego, I.e.: personality to be a public figure; but I also believe a public figure's sense of humor about said ego indicates a healthy self esteem as well as the ability to differentiate between personality and that inner, intangible, substance that resonates with principals, integrity, and truth.

So what about other Democratic candidate's volunteers?

Bart Anderson, who has been involved in the Democratic party for the last ten years, supports Obama because, "I don't feel like I have to hold my nose." He is impressed with Obama's campaign in general, especially with how much money he has raised. Mr. Anderson is not impressed with Clinton, who he feels is not electable. He elaborates on his understanding of that word to mean, "someone who can be competitive in all regions of the country." He is also fond of Chris Dodd, but similar to Clinton, thinks, "he has no chance." " Part of it," explains Anderson, "is going with the horse that I think can win.' However, when asked if he is compromising by supporting someone who may or may not share his ideas, Anderson, insists he has the best of both worlds.

So states, Milca Cuello, also an Obama volunteer, who believes her candidate satisfies both the popular perception of and her own personal understanding of the term electable. She states," it depends on how the candidate is marketed to the public. If a person is well packaged, they can become electable." In a statement revealing her likeness to the mind set of other"second tier" candidate supporters, she also added that she would support him regardless of his front runner status.

When asked the same question, Obama volunteer Jason Armbruster replied, "I don't feel Obama's a compromise. Obama's the best chance for change, looking to represent everyday people like me and my family." Subsequently, Armbruster's definition of electable is, "someone competent, capable, intelligent, possessing common sense and ideals that ordinary people can relate to." He added that an electable person also has to have "the ability to work with the other side."

I must admit when I heard that last statement, I felt slightly insulted on the part of the few registered Independents who do hold office in our Legislative branch. To me, the phrase 'the other side," conjures up that black/white way of thinking, where there are only two ways to think about anything and everything. Either you are for or against state funded abortion. Either you are for or against prayer (read: only Christian prayer) in public schools. Either you are for capitalism or for communism (read: socialism). Either you believe that life starts at conception or you believe it doesn't. Too often, there are no shades of gray (and no, I am not talking about moral relativism), no multi-faceted, holistic approach to anything. Either you're with us or against us.

This either-or way of thinking that may have lead Armbruster to confess to me that, like Kucinich, he would love to see a universal health care system, but just doesn't believe it can happen. Obama certainly does not believe in free universal healthcare. If Armbruster truly believes in it, then how is supporting Obama, who (at least publically) does not support universal health care, not in some way a compromise for him?

So then is it possible to support a candidate who you do not agree on everything with?

It seems this may be a worth while question to consider for volunteers on the campaigns of the "first tier" candidates who privately agree with some (if not a lot) of what the "second tier" candidates have to say. For those backing anyone who is not Obama, Clinton, or Edwards, this question may have already been pondered as evidenced by the fact that they generally seem to be more knowledgeable about their candidate's positions than their "first tier" counterparts (although this is not the case with everyone), who may be more likely to give talking points already found on their candidate's web sites, talking points they may have heard being given by the candidates themselves on mainstream media , which gives them more spotlight in which to speak than the "second tier" candidates.

Bill Richardson volunteers Diana Faust and Erica Waddell both believe Richardson is the only Democrat who can flip states (from red to blue in this case) and beat a Republican, (because of course, no third party has a chance. Sorry, but sarcasm, soly the author's, seemed appropriate here.) Ask about any of Richardson's ideas and Faust can go into detail about what they are as well as about what he's done via his many years of legislative and diplomatic experience with tangible results for his efforts.

Faust states that she " would love it if it were an equal playing field financially... If money is the only qualifier (of who is called a frontrunner), then Richardson would be top tier as well." She goes on to claim that in the last quarter, Richardson raised more money than fellow contender Edwards.

So guess which guy is treated like a media darling and guess which one has been marginalized to the point where, during the first ever Democratic candidate debate for a Spanish speaking audience he was barred from speaking Spanish because the powers that be felt it would give him an unfair advantage.

If you answered Edwards first and Richardson second, you're right!

Faust also believes that, " those who support 'second tier' candidates have done their homework because their candidates don't get the media coverage." She smartly calls the occurrence of popularity/fame/celebrity/race/religion/gender based voting a 'symptom of the less thoughtful voter." This is exactly the kind of voter who supported Arnold or any other actor turned politician because of their connection to Tinsel Town. This is also the kind of voter who votes or doesn't vote for Hillary just because she is a woman or Obama just because he is black.

Faust does add that she agrees with Kucinich (like a lot of other publicly non-supportive people of Kucinich) on a lot of issues... but she just doesn't think he's going to win. Yet, Waddell, like Faust, does not believe she is compromising. "This is the first year the person of principal and the best electable person is the same."

Rona Newman, a volunteer for Hillary Rodham Clinton, feels the same way. Even though she acknowledges that her candidate is "ahead in state after state," Newman, who believes Clinton is electable because, "she's got the platform, the experience, and is the only one who can win and get around the system" (to get things done in Washington, presumably,) states she would still back Clinton should her poll numbers theoretically swap with Kucinich's. Something tells me her convictions will not be tested so strongly in this way (there's my sarcasm again.)

For those who already support a candidate with low poll numbers (which doesn't say squat about that candidate's ideas and convictions), like Sen. Chris Dodd volunteers Jonathan Yoo and Jonathan Feuer, the tests come everyday, every time they have to defend or explain to nay sayers why they are supporting their particular candidate. "We'll fight to the end because we believe in the guy," states, Yoo, who concedes that, " each of them (the eight Democratic candidates) would bring change." Yet he has cast his lot with Dodd, poll numbers be damned, after doing the research and resonating most with Dodd's morals, ethics, and personal legislative experience (I.e.: Dodd's support of pro-labor union legislation.). Feuer agrees. "At the end of the day, " he states, " I want to feel like I'm working for someone I believe in, regardless of the outcome."

Ditto for campaign volunteer Casey McIvaine, who feels Mike Gravel has persuaded him he is the right person for the job. "He's the least typical candidate," states McIvaine. "He's not trying to put on a show.... He puts the country before himself."

After talking with all of these passionate campaign volunteers, I must say my own faith in this democratic system became stronger.

Okay, that's a lie. I have always believed in the system, just not in the present day American people's ability to truly become aware of their power and use it effectively to heal said system that I feel has been so poisoned with greed, corruption, lack of personal responsibility, and apathy that perhaps nothing short of the next major American revolution will help it. But when talking with those who take the time and energy to educate themselves on the backgrounds of the various candidates, who have unwavering faith that things would change if people were just properly informed and made to be aware of the true state of things, I smile and I am reminded that the only time I am truly powerless to change anything via voting to get my chosen candidate elected is when I myself believe in that most unpatriotic of lies.

The following piece was produced through OffTheBus, a citizen journalism project hosted at the Huffington Post and launched in partnership with NewAssignment.Net. For more information, read Arianna Huffington's project introduction. If you'd like to join our blogging team, sign up here If you're interested in other opportunities, you can see the list here.