Is Politics Like Making a Child Custody Decision?

The current issue of The New York Review of Books includes a wonderful (which is not at all to say "positive") review of the latest books about Hillary Clinton (A Woman in Charge by Carl Bernstein and Her Way by Jeff Gerth and Don Van Natta Jr.) Early in the piece, the reviewer, Michael Tomasky, asks a rhetorical question that Democrats who support a candidate other than Clinton on the ground that she can't win because she starts out with high negatives:
After an unprovoked war built on lies, the deaths of tens and possibly hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians, illegal domestic spying, government-sanctioned torture, the indefinite incarceration of suspects, a scandal surrounding efforts by the nation's highest-ranking law enforcement officer to install prosecutors willing to undertake blatantly political prosecutions, and astonishing tales of congressional corruption, is it not at least demeaning and superfluous to be presented with one-thousand-plus pages revisiting such questions as how many hours of billable work Hillary Clinton actually performed for Madison Guaranty?
The answer, of course, is of course. It's not just demeaning. It's also insulting. If Clinton ends up as the Democratic nominee, and if she ends up losing the general election because some number of voters who find her otherwise more qualified than the Republican nominee vote against her because they are turned off by the largely bogus scandals of the 1990s, that will be a profound failure of democracy.

Still, what are Democratic caucus and primary voters to do? If you support another candidate because you think that other candidate would make a better President than Clinton, there is no issue. But suppose you think that Clinton is actually best for the job but you worry that for a variety of bad reasons---including sexism as well as Clinton fatigue---the general electorate would be more likely to vote for some other Democratic nominee than for Clinton, and that this could be the difference in the overall race. Should you therefore support this other Democratic candidate?

In part, this is simply the familiar issue of electability. I do not mean to suggest that it's never legitimate to consider electability in deciding whom to nominate. But where electability tracks affirmatively bad reasons, we might worry about the Palmore v. Sidoti factor. In that 1984 case, the Supreme Court ruled that a family court judge could not choose to award custody to a single-race couple over a mixed-race couple on the ground that a child raised by the latter would face racial prejudice. To do so, the Court said, would be to adopt that very prejudice. To make the issue as sharp as possible, suppose that you think Clinton (or Obama) is the best candidate on the merits but you also think that if she (or he) got the nomination, enough voters would go for the Republican on sexist (or racist) grounds to tip the election. Could you in good conscience decide to support a different candidate (Edwards, say), without thereby effectively acting as a conduit for sexism (or racism)?