Democrat Jon Ossoff lost a close U.S. House race in a district that was reliably Republican, so…? (More)
“Ossoff lost … in a decisive fashion”
The first thing you need to understand about yesterday’s U.S. House special election in Georgia’s Sixth District – or any other election – is that anything less than a Democratic landslide is, by definition, a stunning Republican victory. Take it from the Washington Post’s Paul Kane:
Ossoff lost Tuesday to an underwhelming perennial Republican candidate, Karen Handel, in a decisive fashion that is sure to spark more questions about what type of candidates and what type of message Democrats need in the Trump era.
Never mind that former Rep. Tom Price routinely notched 20-point wins in that district. Never mind that Handel’s 5-point margin underperformed the Cook Report’s Partisan Index of R+8.
Ossoff lost “in a decisive fashion” because that’s how the media describe any Democratic loss. And even if a Democratic candidate wins, anything less than a landslide is a “narrow victory” that “should worry party leaders and strategists.”
Thus we get ‘analysis’ like this, also from Kane:
The most passionate Democratic activists have wanted a full-frontal assault on Trump and congressional Republicans, angrily denouncing party leaders for not aggressively supporting more progressive candidates.
Indeed, more than 200 miles to the north, a dramatically underfunded Democrat, Archie Parnell, nearly pulled off an upset victory in a House seat that the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee largely ignored. In Ossoff, Democrats hoped they had found a potential new path to defeating Republicans with a message of peace and civility. They calculated that the fiery rage, often associated with supporters of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), would not win over moderate Republicans and centrists, whose support Ossoff needed to have any chance to win a district that Tom Price, the six-term congressman who is Trump’s health secretary, won by more than 20 percentage points in November.
So Ossoff chose the high priest route instead of the fierce warrior. It was civil disobedience rather than civil unrest. And he still lost, by an even wider margin than the almost forgotten Parnell.
On the eve of the vote, [volunteer Jeff] Jacobson acknowledged that there were times he wanted Ossoff to be more of a fighter.
“Sometimes my wife and I are a little frustrated, but if that’s who he is, that’s who he is. He’s not getting down and dirty,” he said Monday.
For months, the media have insisted that Hillary Clinton’s mistake was to emphasize her opponent’s negatives while offering no vision of her own. Never mind that she did offer a positive, progressive vision, and the media ignored it so they could devote more column inches to her emails or the God-King’s latest rants.
Perhaps in response to that narrative, Ossoff “took the high road” and focused on his solidly progressive platform. Or not….
“One thing they might want to try is developing a substantive policy agenda to run on”
Jon Ossoff’s narrow loss in the Georgia House special election seat will come as a crushing emotional blow to Democrats even though it hardly dooms their hopes to take back Congress next year.
To win in 2018, Democrats will have to find opportunities to do better, but it’s certainly an achievable goal. The fact that the district was competitive is a sign that the GOP majority is at risk; the question is simply what can Democrats do to put themselves over the top?
One thing they might want to try is developing a substantive policy agenda to run on. They came close this time, and they’ll just need to put forth an attractive package for voters in the 2018 midterms.
Wait, what? Which is it: that Ossoff was too policy-focused and not enough of a fighter, or that he focused too much on Handel’s (and Republicans’) negatives and didn’t offer his own policy vision?
Maybe neither, Yglesias kind of admits:
Ossoff, like so many losing Democratic candidates over the years, was brought down fundamentally by arguments grounded in identity politics.
Karen Handel didn’t argue that the Republican Party’s health care bill is a good idea (it’s very unpopular) or that tax cuts for millionaires should be the country’s top economic priority (another policy that polls dismally). Instead, her campaign and its allies buried Ossoff under a pile of what basically amounts to nonsense – stuff about Kathy Griffin, stuff about Samuel L. Jackson, stuff about his home being just over the district line, stuff about him having raised money from out of state – lumped together under the broad heading that he’s an “outsider.”
Oh, and Kane noted that House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi’s face appeared in every Handel ad. So while Ossoff ran on a coherent, solidly progressive policy vision, it didn’t matter. Handel didn’t run against Ossoff; she ran against Kathy Griffin, Samuel L. Jackson, and Nancy Pelosi. She still underperformed in a reliably red district … but for a Republican even that is winning “in decisive fashion.”
“We didn’t produce a positive alternative on health care”
So where did Ossoff go wrong? Umm, uhh … more from Yglesias:
A chief of staff on Capitol Hill observed to me Tuesday morning that absolutely every faction in the Democratic Party – from Third Way to the Berniecrats – thinks Democrats “need a positive economic vision,” and not just to talk about Trump. The DCCC’s analysts agree.
“But when the rubber hit the road,” the chief of staff said, “we didn’t produce a positive alternative on health care.”
Not exactly because Democrats don’t have any ideas of how to make the American health care system better. But because in some respects they have too many ideas – ranging from small tweaks to improve the functioning of the Affordable Care Act to the idea of radically transforming the entire health care system by having taxpayers foot the bill for everyone’s insurance. The easiest way to maintain party unity was to stick with what Democrats could agree on – that financing an enormous tax cut for the rich with stark cuts to Medicaid and deregulation of the insurance industry was a terrible idea.
Still, it should be sobering to Democrats that a CBS News poll released Tuesday morning filled with devastatingly bad approval numbers for the Trump administration found that only 31 percent of voters thought a Democratic takeover of Congress would make their lives better.
Frankly, I’m surprised the number was as high as 31%. The God-King will remain in the White House unless he dies, resigns, or is impeached. I don’t wish death on anyone and I doubt he’ll resign or be impeached. Even if he were, the Vice-God-King would replace him. So no matter what happens to the God-King, a Republican president will be able to veto any legislation Democrats pass … and a Democratic takeover of Congress – in 2018 – will not make Americans’ lives better. It would, however, stop a GOP-run Congress from making things worse.
So I’ll go out on a limb – squirrels do that – and say that 31% figure says less about disapproval of Democrats and more about Americans recognizing that Republicans will hold the White House until 2020. I realize that cuts against the Voters Are Idiots Who Don’t Understand How Government Works narrative, but not all progressives are ‘smug.’ Just sayin’.
Regardless, to the heart of Yglesias’ (and the anonymous chief of staff’s) argument. Yes, every Democrat agrees that we “need a positive economic vision.” But every subgroup of Democrats has their own “positive economic vision.” Worse, too many of those subgroups think a platform with less than 100% fealty to their “positive economic vision” is either “too radical” or “a corporate sellout” … and insist that any candidate who seeks compromise among those subgroups has no vision at all.
That – not the absence of a vision – was Hillary Clinton’s ‘failure.’ She tried to represent the entire Democratic Party, with the most progressive Democratic Party platform ever, yet one that reflected compromise among the many Democratic subgroups, all nicely summarized in the party’s 2016 Convention theme: “Stronger Together.”
Ergo, “she had no vision.” Pardon me but … bullshit.
“Liberals must take seriously Americans’ yearning for social cohesion”
And then there’s this pile of manure from The Atlantic’s Peter Beinhart:
The myth, which liberals like myself find tempting, is that only the right has changed. In June 2015, we tell ourselves, Donald Trump rode down his golden escalator and pretty soon nativism, long a feature of conservative politics, had engulfed it. But that’s not the full story. If the right has grown more nationalistic, the left has grown less so.
What follows is the usual I’m-a-liberal-but… diatribe, this time on immigration. From 2008 to 2016, the Democratic Party platform on immigration changed slightly. In 2008 we put more focus on border enforcement; by 2016, our focus had shifted to immigrants as “our neighbors” and paths to citizenship.
Beinhart concedes that the challenges of immigration changed from 2008 to 2016, as illegal immigration rates dropped to almost zero. Does that excuse Democrats shifting the focus away from border enforcement? Not in Beinhart’s view, because “The number of undocumented people in the United States hasn’t gone down significantly, after all; it’s stayed roughly the same.”
But the stable number of undocumented immigrants has nothing to do with border enforcement. They’re not sneaking across the border now. They’re already here. That’s why Democrats shifted our focus from border enforcement to paths to citizenship … to address what is still broken in our immigration system.
You can guess where this is going, and you’re right. To win, Beinhart insists, Democrats must find some way to appeal to white nativism:
[Sociologist Ariela] Schachter’s research also shows that native-born whites feel a greater affinity toward immigrants who speak fluent English. That’s particularly significant because, according to the National Academies report, newer immigrants are learning English more slowly than their predecessors did. During the campaign, Clinton proposed increasing funding for adult English-language education. But she rarely talked about it. In fact, she ran an ad attacking Trump for saying, among other things, “This is a country where we speak English, not Spanish.” The immigration section of her website showed her surrounded by Spanish-language signs.
Democrats should put immigrants’ learning English at the center of their immigration agenda. If more immigrants speak English fluently, native-born whites may well feel a stronger connection to them, and be more likely to support government policies that help them. Promoting English will also give Democrats a greater chance of attracting those native-born whites who consider growing diversity a threat. According to a preelection study by Adam Bonica, a Stanford political scientist, the single best predictor of whether a voter supported Trump was whether he or she agreed with the statement “People living in the U.S. should follow American customs and traditions.”
In her 2005 book, The Authoritarian Dynamic, which has been heralded for identifying the forces that powered Trump’s campaign, Karen Stenner, then a professor of politics at Princeton, wrote:
Exposure to difference, talking about difference, and applauding difference – the hallmarks of liberal democracy – are the surest ways to aggravate those who are innately intolerant, and to guarantee the increased expression of their predispositions in manifestly intolerant attitudes and behaviors. Paradoxically, then, it would seem that we can best limit intolerance of difference by parading, talking about, and applauding our sameness.
The next Democratic presidential nominee should commit those words to memory.
Which is exactly what Clinton and the Democratic Party did, by framing immigrants as “our neighbors” and letting them tell their “American stories.” We now pause for a reminder that Clinton won the national popular vote.
Welcome back. Beinhart also goes on and on (and on, and on) about how undocumented immigrants depress wages at least somewhat for poorly-educated native citizens. Well yes, they do. But the solution to that is not dumping yet more money into “tougher border enforcement.” The solution to that is … wait for it … a path to citizenship that brings them “out of the shadows.” Democrats recognized that greedy bosses can pay undocumented immigrants below-minimum wages because they have no legal documentation. They can’t afford to complain, for fear of deportation.
In short, Democrats didn’t “get it wrong” on immigration. We got it right. We focused on fixing the problems that still exist, and on framing undocumented immigrants as “our neighbors” with “American stories” that fit precisely our nation’s long history of providing opportunity and unity … “Stronger Together.”
Why does Beinhart get away with this rubbish? For the same reason Kane and Yglesias do, because anything less than a Democratic landslide is, by definition, a stunning Republican victory.
And that’s the real lesson of yesterday’s election.
Photo Credit: David Goldman (AP)
Good day and good nuts