by Jason Frerichs
On June 20th, 2017, the race for Georgia’s 6th district congressional seat was won by Michelle Bachmann wannabe Karen Handel. She defeated Democratic challenger Jon Ossoff by 3 percentage points. Ms. Handel stated that she opposed a living wage. During her 2010 run for governor, she stated that she would “absolutely” outlaw gay adoptions and that “gay parents aren’t as legitimate as straight parents.” This race had the potential for an unexpected win and the chance to prove that the Democratic Party learned the lessons of 2016. Unfortunately, none of that happened.
Jon Ossoff was chosen to as the nominee to run for the open seat in this special election. Mr. Ossoff is exactly the type of candidate that has been losing elections since 2008. The most popular theory is that we can’t run an actual populist progressive because these red states are too conservative. We have to run a Republican-light, someone in the mythical “mushy middle.” If you’ve been paying attention since 2008, that theory has been proven wrong time and time again. Former President Harry Truman had the following to say, “The people don’t want a phony Democrat. If it’s a choice between a genuine Republican, and a Republican in Democratic clothing, the people will choose the genuine article, every time; that is, they will take a Republican before they will a phony Democrat, and I don’t want any phony Democratic candidates in this campaign.” The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over while expecting a different result. The Democratic Party just dumped $23 million into a case of insanity.
What made Ossoff such a disappointing candidate? The Weekly Standard dubbed Ossoff “a political Janus, flirting with progressives while campaigning like a moderate.” National Journal political editor Josh Kraushaar similarly attributed Ossoff’s strength to “running like a moderate Republican—hardly talking about President Trump.” This playbook has been proven to be a failure time and time again. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee spent nearly $6 million on Ossoff’s race, compared to $340,000 for Montana’s Rob Quist. “If Jon Ossoff wins despite his milquetoast policy proposals and his Republican-lite campaign, it will be because the resistance wanted to defeat Trump,” said Charles Chamberlain, executive director of the progressive political action committee Democracy for America.
Mr. Ossoff said in an interview “that he would not support raising income taxes, even for the wealthy, and opposed ‘any move’ toward a single-payer health care system.” This quote perfectly encapsulates the problem with the Democratic Party. Far too often, candidates are further to the right than the base. The majority of Democrats support HR 676 aka Expanded Medicare for All, including the majority of congressional Democrats. The majority of Democrats support raising taxes on the wealthiest Americans. If that is a nonstarter for you, then you should concentrate on reforming the Republican Party.
It seems that the centrists who insist on being a cheerleader for bad candidates are the folks asking for purity tests, not progressives. If the Democrats want to be the party of the people, it’s time to shit or get off the pot. It’s time draw a line in the sand and actually, have some core values that Democrats of all stripes will rally around. One can be a moderate or even a conservative Democrat without being a neoliberal. Expecting a candidate to not oppose things that help the working class is not expecting perfection. Expecting a candidate to support raising taxes on the wealthiest Americans is not expecting perfection. Expecting a candidate to not put reproductive rights on the chopping block is not expecting perfection. Expecting a candidate to have the balls/ovaries to go beyond the ACA and actually fix the system is not expecting perfection. Being upset over the party dumping $23 million into a candidate that embodies what is wrong with the Democratic Party and why we keep losing is not expecting perfection. It’s expecting that leadership stops doing the same thing over and over while expecting a different result. Want to know why there is a divide? Certain people have a vested interested in the status quo because if they give up power, they’ll lose income and their income is more important than party or country. Others are able to see the forest for the trees. I don’t believe in the cult of Bernie. I don’t believe in the cult of Hillary. I believe in actually taking an objective look at the results and making the necessary changes.
I want to win again and I want to help people. Fourth District activist Jesica Bulter said, “The party loyalty allows for corruption to continue because without constructive criticism, people are allowing a free pass to candidates to campaign and then legislate however they want.” We can be a big tent party and still remain true to our values. Not everyone will be “far left” but if we can’t point to what we stand for, we don’t stand for anything. If we’ll say anything to get elected, why would people trust us? It’s our party and it’s time to take it back. Si se puede!!!
Chair of the Iowa Democratic Party Progressive Caucus