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2/5/20

Electoral hostage-taking is fine when centrists do it

Dylan Matthews thinks that Pete Buttigieg is more electable than Bernie Sanders - or at least, that's what his latest post in Vox argues. Why? In part, we learn, because "moderate nominees have a distinct advantage over ones perceived as more extreme". To support this, Matthews points us to a post written by Matt Yglesias  - who, in turn, points us to a paper by Andrew Hall and Daniel Thompson. Here's what they argue:
we find that extremist nominees...suffer electorally, largely because they decrease their party's share of turnout in the general election, skewing the electorate towards their opponent's party.
To simplify: Dylan Matthews is telling us that if we don't vote for Buttigieg, many Democrats will stay at home.

Now as I understand it, this is what liberals often call a "hostage-taking" argument. Democrats, we are told, have an obligation to vote-blue-no-matter-who; if they refuse to vote against the Republican because they don't like the Democratic candidate, they are at fault. Not the candidate, and not the people who supported that candidate. It is also, of course, problematic to argue that we must accomodate these hostage takers, even if you personally plan to vote for the nominee; this just "enables them."

Curiously enough, however, we haven't seen any allegations that Matthews cited this argument because he is afflicted with white privilege. We haven't heard any allegations that Matthews was simply engaged in edgy posturing by writing that article. And we certainly haven't heard calls for Buttigieg to denounce Dylan Matthews.

Why not?

The reason is simple: centrist hostage-taking is so completely baked into our political discourse that most pundits don't even notice it or see anything wrong with it. If leftists say that they will only vote for Sanders, or praise Ralph Nader, Democratic loyalists will completely melt down and start coming up with elaborate personal criticism about the speaker's privilege, their lack of commitment to progress, and so on. But if respectable centrists like Matthews and Yglesias use their massive corporate platform to normalize moderate hostage taking, the same critics won't bat an eye.