Lionel Shriver

Democrats are trying really hard to lose this election

Democrats are trying really hard to lose this election
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Should Bernie Sanders become the Democratic presidential nominee, expect the media to overuse these sprightly English expressions: ‘between a rock and a hard place’, ‘between the devil and the deep blue sea’, ‘on the horns of a dilemma’ and ‘Morton’s fork’. After all, you wouldn’t call a Trump vs Sanders race a ‘Hobson’s choice’, which means ‘no choice’. Centrist voters would confront two options, all right — both of them dreadful.

The past few weeks, the firebrand socialist from Vermont has pulled ahead in the polls in the early-voting states of Iowa and New Hampshire, and a Sanders pick has become more plausible. But for never--Trumpers, the selection of an American Magic Grandpa has become no more intelligent. The most unpopular leader in the country’s history, Trump should also be the most beatable incumbent of all time. You’d think that to lose the upcoming election Democrats would have to try awfully hard. Give my fellow party members their due: they’re trying really, really hard.

I asked my American husband point-blank whom he would vote for in a Bernie vs Donald election, and I’ve rarely seen him so paralysed. His face looked like that queasy little colour wheel you get when Apple laptops freeze, which threatens to hypnotise you into a zombie until you force-quit. He finally sputtered something about how New York going Democratic was a foregone conclusion, so it wouldn’t matter whom he voted for: flagrant conversational cheating. That evasion of resolving which candidate is the lesser evil wouldn’t help swing-state electorates, whose votes couldn’t matter more. In constituencies where the Lib Dems weren’t contenders, sane Remainers confronted a similarly confounding quandary in December. It must have been a bastard to determine whether Boris or Corbyn seemed more horrific.

I’m not the first to observe that for Democrats to opt for a wokey hard-left nominee would court electoral suicide, nor the first to rank electability as the top qualification in this of all contests. An Elizabeth Warren nomination would be as foolhardy as a Sanders one. She’s the candidate whom Trump would most relish running against, as he clearly regards the hectoring schoolmarm as a reincarnation of Hillary. But which opponent would the Donald most fear?

I wager that would be Michael Bloomberg. (Trump’s snide tweeting about the 5ft 8in ‘Mini Mike’ multiple times this month is a sure sign of anxiety.) Accordingly, the hypothetical face-off I began with — lunatic socialist versus lunatic, period — may be what’s called a ‘false dilemma’, aka the ‘fallacy of the excluded middle’. We still have a viable, electable, moderate third way. It’s regrettable that Bloomberg entered the race late, thereby having to give the first four primaries a miss and not participating in those interminable televised debates (though maybe that makes him lucky). But he may be deliberately placing himself in the wings as the obvious last-minute salvation for a party about to make a historically catastrophic mistake that needs to pull back from the brink.

Plenty of Americans want more than anything to return to normal, or what once seemed normal and now seems like asking for the moon: a competent, possibly even boring caretaker president (oh, to be bored again during presidential press conferences — blissfully bored) who speaks in complete sentences and doesn’t conduct delicate diplomacy with misspelled words and multiple exclamation marks on Twitter. Who can keep appointees in his government for longer than five minutes. Who doesn’t do anything weird and who doesn’t keep you up at night because even so he might yet do something weird. Who isn’t a public embarrassment. Whom you can safely ignore. Rather than rooting for socialist revolution, many Democrats and independents yearn to give CNN a rest and go back to reruns of Friends.

Bloomberg is what Trump only feigns to be: a successful self-made billionaire who built his own business from scratch. He’s also as rich as Trump acts as though he is (worth about $60 billion; Trump is merely worth three). He’s a genuine centrist, and has previously run for office as a Republican. For over a decade Bloomberg was an excellent mayor of New York, a city with the population of Switzerland. If Bloomberg’s a little dull (a relief, in my book), he doesn’t, like Joe Biden, leave you perched on the edge of your chair in terror that he’s about to say something incredibly stupid. At nearly Bernie’s age of 78, he is, alas, even older than 73-year-old Trump. But he’s not fat.

As a political voyeur, I cannot let go of this past year without stepping back to appreciate what fabulous entertainment Britain sponsored in 2019. No other bracket of my time on this earth has proved so suspenseful, so chocka with nail-biters. Largest governmental defeat in parliamentary history! Vote of no confidence survived! May’s withdrawal bill defeated for second time! With seven days to go, EU departure deferred! So much for three times lucky: withdrawal bill defeated for third time! Another departure date deferred! PM resigns! Exciting Tory leadership contest! Behold, Boris! Prorogation! Ruling against prorogation! Withdrawal bill’s 11th-hour revision, which was supposed to be impossible! Refusal to hold a general election that used always to be possible! Boris forced with ‘surrender bill’ to ask for third extension and therefore die in ditch! Boris impotent captive of parliament, like caged zoo animal for tourists! SNP/Lib Dem reversal = general election at last! More nail-biting, to the quick, hardly any fingers left, what with threat of communist takeover! 10 p.m. exit poll… drum roll… 80-seat majority! Way, way too much to drink!

I’ve had a wonderful time. That’s not to trivialise; it’s the very fact that I care so much that’s made this signal period so exhilarating. So thank you, United Kingdom. I feel honoured to have shared this rollercoaster with you all, during a time I wouldn’t have lived anywhere else.

I worry that 2019 was the pinnacle of my political life, and it’s all downhill from here. We’ve not even crossed 11 p.m. on 31 January yet. I’m already suffering from withdrawal withdrawal.

Written byLionel Shriver

Lionel Shriver is an American journalist and author who lives in the United Kingdom. She is best known for her novel We Need to Talk About Kevin, which won the Orange Prize for Fiction in 2005 and was adapted into the 2011 film of the same name, starring Tilda Swinton.

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