A January 11 Wall Street Journal article, titled "Democrats' Litmus: Electability," purported to examine whether Democratic voters would consider presumptive presidential candidates Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY) and Barack Obama (D-IL) "electable" in a nationwide race, citing "[w]idespread concerns" about both candidates. The Journal, however, offered no evidence to support the idea that Clinton and Obama are "unelectable" and ignored polling data indicating otherwise.
Claiming that the Democratic Party is "known for subjecting presidential wannabes to a battery of litmus tests," the Journal reported that "Democrats are uniting in raising one big issue for 2008: electability." The Journal offered what it suggested are the reasons why there exist "[w]idespread concerns" about Clinton's and Obama's "electability": "Mrs. Clinton because she is a woman, and a polarizing figure; Mr. Obama for being African-American, and relatively inexperienced." The article went on to quote two progressives -- Campaign for America's Future co-director Robert Borosage and former NARAL Pro-Choice America president Kate Michelman -- who agreed that "electability" matters to Democratic voters. Borosage, however, did not address Clinton or Obama's "electability." Michelman merely noted, according to the Journal, that skeptics ask, " 'Do you think the country is really ready for a woman?' "
Unmentioned by the Journal, however, was polling data undermining the claim that voters are not ready for a female or black president. According to a December 6-7 Newsweek poll, when asked if they would vote for a qualified woman or African-American candidate for president, if nominated by their party, 86 percent of respondents said they would vote for a woman, and 93 percent responded that they would vote for an African-American candidate. When asked if America is ready to elect a woman, 55 percent said yes, while 35 percent said no. When asked if the country was ready to elect an African-American president, 56 percent said yes, while 30 percent said no.
The Journal also declared that the "three Republican frontrunners," Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, "have the opposite problem of their Democratic counterparts. Each of them is considered electable. The question is whether they can get nominated in a party in which the conservative base demands that the nominee oppose abortion, same-sex marriage and taxes, but believes that each of these men is suspect." Again, no evidence was offered to support this contention -- either that the potential GOP candidates are more electable in the general election, or that their views are antithetical to those of the Republican base. Indeed, there is evidence to suggest that Clinton and Obama are just as "electable" as the Republican frontrunners -- if not moreso. According to a December 15-17 CNN poll, when asked to choose between voting for Clinton and McCain, Romney, or Giuliani, respondents were split between Clinton and McCain (47 percent each), and favored Clinton over both Giuliani (48 percent-46 percent) and Romney (57 percent-34 percent). When respondents were asked to choose between voting for Obama and McCain, Romney, or Giuliani, McCain and Giuliani outpolled Obama (47percent-43 percent, and 49 percent-42 percent, respectively), but Obama was favored over Romney (51 percent-35 percent).
Notably, while the Journal claimed that Democrats are known for imposing "litmus tests," it did not apply the same loaded phrase to the Republican Party, despite reporting that the party's "conservative base demands that the nominee oppose abortion, same-sex marriage and taxes." Nor did the Journal note that the reason Romney and McCain may be considered "suspect" by the conservative base is not that the candidates' views are different from those held by the base on these issues, but that they have hedged or flip-flopped on them. According to The Washington Post, Romney, in preparation for his 2008 presidential bid, became "an outspoken opponent of same-sex marriage and supported overturning the Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion," but during his 1994 Senate campaign, Romney boasted he would be "effective in fighting discrimination against gay men and lesbians" and "proudly recalled his family's record in support of abortion rights." As Media Matters for America has noted, McCain has equivocated or flip-flopped on all of these issues. McCain offered a nonsensical defense of South Dakota's proposed ban on all abortions except when the life of the woman is threatened -- he claimed he would have signed the bill into law but would "also take the appropriate steps under state law ... to ensure that the exceptions of rape, incest or life of the mother were included." He voted to extend the 2003 tax cuts on dividends and capital gains after years of opposing them. And he has taken several inconsistent positions on gay rights issues.
The Journal went on to note:
Mr. Obama exudes the charisma, authenticity and optimism that many Democrats find lacking in Mrs. Clinton. Yet while he was raised in Hawaii by his white mother and grandparents from Kansas, his public identity is defined by the African skin and Muslim name inherited from his late father, Barack Hussein Obama, of Kenya. Inevitably Democrats ask: Would Americans elect an African-American, and one whose name rhymes with the terrorist they most revile?
The Journal offered no quotes from any Democrat questioning Obama's electability based on the fact that his last name rhymes with that of Osama bin Laden. (Presumably, the Journal was unable to locate any Democrats who are concerned about Obama's middle name.) As Media Matters for America has noted, several media figures -- especially conservative media figures -- have gone out of their way to mention Obama's middle name.