After Ossoff: Who’s Demoralized?

Yesterday, as I sat in the Atlanta airport waiting for my flight back to JFK, I read the press coverage of my first political campaign. This summer between my sophomore and junior year of high school a school friend and I decided to go down to Georgia and spend a week volunteering for the Jon Ossoff campaign. Though I have been active in the Trump resistance movement since November, the special election in Georgia’s 6th District was my first time campaigning for a political candidate. When we arrived at the Ossoff office in Roswell, Georgia we were shocked to realize that we weren’t much younger than the people running the campaign. Everyone we met was under the age of 25. This probably shouldn’t have come as such a surprise considering the candidate was only 30 years old, but it was the youthful quality of the campaign that was so starkly at odds with the pessimistic coverage I was reading in the lounge at the airport. The media were very quick to call our loss in Georgia “demoralizing”. Some journalists insisted that this Georgia congressional race tells us that future democratic candidates need to go to the left. Others argued that we must double down on centrism. They said that this loss means that the house is virtually “un-flippable” in 2018. Having, spent a week as a 16 year old on the front lines of this race, I find these stark and hasty conclusions unconvincing.

Firstly, it’s ridiculous that the press is spinning this loss as crushing to the morale of democrats. As was previously mentioned this was a campaign for a young person run by young people. How long ago was it that these same young people were being taught by their well-meaning parents that when you fall off your bike you get right back on? The press has grossly underestimated the tenacity of the millennials who have fired up this political movement. They have forgotten that every day these young people are imbued with fresh motivation, in the form of news reports from Capital Hill. Yes, the Ossoff “watch party” saw its fair share of tears. But it’s wrong to assume that these were tears of acceptance of a new America. For many, these were tears of anger and frustration, the kind of feelings that are likely to make these highly organized and enthusiastic young people seek out every possible new opportunity to get a win. Now, with a little more experience under their belts, these young people aren’t going away, and they are likely to bring with them many of their equally angry friends, with whom, thanks to social media, they are more connected than ever. They are going to be ready to fight for victories when 2018 gives them the opportunity. If the Democratic Party is weak enough to be demoralized by a near win in a race for a seat that shouldn’t have been up for grabs, then we need some more tenacious leadership. Whatever their political leaning, this fight is going to take guts.

That Jon Ossoff’s loss should teach us that the next wave of candidates need to be farther left or right is absurd. If Democrats are serious about flipping the house next year they are going to need to be smart and tactical. There are some districts where a candidate to the left of the party might do well, but in Newt Gingrich’s old seat, where hope of a win came from a bad showing for Trump last year, a Bernie-style radical would have been laughed off the stage. Rather than generalizing about what direction the party should move towards, to have any chance of wins in 2018, the party is going to need to build a coalition of more and less left-leaning politicians all committed to fighting a climate-change-denying-corrupt-untrustworthy-racist-power-hungry-misogynistic-reckless commander in chief and the spineless Republican party willing to back him. This is not to say that there aren’t lessons to be learned from this campaign. When recruiting new candidates Democrats should not repeat the mistakes of this campaign. Ossoff, a very young and relatively inexperienced candidate running in an affluent and well educated district he couldn’t even vote in, had the odds stacked against him. Democrats also need to be aware of the backlash generated by pouring “Nancy Pelosi’s San Francisco money” into a Southern congressional race. In my experience speaking to voters, the huge amounts funneled in from outside Georgia left even registered Democrats feeling uncomfortable. The aggressive media attention on the district, declaring this local election a referendum on Trump, was not good for Ossoff who was already perceived as an outsider. In 2018 a balance will need to be struck between prioritizing pivotal local elections and avoiding antagonizing locals.

Unfortunately the press may be right, we may have little chance to flip the house in 2018, but this can easily become a self-fulfilling prophecy. We will certainly lose, if the party and the media friendly to it do not trust and empower millennials to lead a new generation of candidates to victory. This fight may not be winnable by the tired DNC, but do not rule out the power of fired up young people. There is a lot of talk about fascism. Though, I think some of this is hyperbole. What I have learned from my experience volunteering for this campaign is that America is only a democracy if you fight for it. We must fight for it at every stage from the sweaty doorstep, to the polling station line, and the media aftermath. We must insist that press coverage is accurate and fair and the spin of the postmortem is not negative and demobilizing. Trump may be too incompetent for an outright dictatorship, but our opponents will fight us at every stage. Our democracy is certainly at stake. This is too dangerous a time to let ourselves give up, its not going to be pretty, but we have no choice but to dust ourselves off and get ready to keep fighting for the America we want to live in.