The Agony of Jon Ossoff
This past Tuesday we concluded the most expensive House race of all time. Neophyte Jon Ossoff, a 30-year-old NatSec wonk, lost to Karen Handel, an insane theocrat, in Georgia’s Sixth district. Belying the traditional Democratic understanding of the South, GA-06 is one of the most educated districts in the nation; it is wealthy, white, suburban, full of retired professionals and white-collar workers. It is also very, very red. It’s Newt Gingrich’s old seat and Republicans have consistently won it by double-digit margins. The last time a Democrat held it was before Ossoff was born. However, Trump only beat Clinton by 1.5 points, suggesting that the district was vulnerable. The grassroots poured in the money, and Ossoff raised more than $15m. This was matched by a flood of out-of-state “dark money” for Handel from Republican affiliated super-PACs.
In the waning days of the race, Handel’s message seemed to be purely cultural. After Kathy Griffin’s “decapitated Trump” photos went viral, Handel ran two ads linking them to Ossoff. After Steve Scalise was shot on the baseball field, Republicans tried to tie him to “leftist violence.” Ossoff, for his part, ran as a bland centrist, a “moderate” who would not commit to Medicare-for-All. He sought moderate Republican votes, figuring that a suburb that clearly loathed Trump would be receptive to crossover voting.
He failed. In fact, he underperformed Clinton, losing by four points. Despite the large swing towards the Democrats that this represents, it shows that his core tactic, luring disaffected Republican “moderates,” went nowhere. The loss shocked Democratic pundits, who had assumed that a wave of anti-Trump reaction would push disgusted white suburbanites into their column.
As the results came in, the sense of deja vu was vivid. I flashed back to November 2016, when those same white suburbs, the heart of Romney territory, delivered a crushing loss to Clinton. It turns out that their fealty to their pocketbooks and the cause of keeping their suburbs white trumps any disgust they might feel at voting for a senile orange rapist or his grinning enablers. Democrats keep reaching out to these people, and it’s not hard to see why. They’re the kind of people Democratic strategists want to be friends with. They shop at Whole Foods, they read on Kindles and swim in their in-ground pools. They watch Game of Thrones. Then they go out and vote for the guy who said “You can grab ’em by the pussy.”
Democrats have long assumed that education is the key to everything. Anyone as educated as they are would surely come to the same conclusions that they have. Anyone who doesn’t think the same way just needs to be educated. Anyone who is struggling to find a job? More education. Even as college tuition spirals out of control, Democrats repeat that mantra, clinging to it like a drowning man clinging to an anchor. The result? Total annihilation at all levels, and now this: smiling, fresh-faced Jon Ossoff losing to a woman whose message was, basically, “LIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIBS!”
Republican voters are Republicans. They vote for Republicans because they want Republican policy. They are not Democrats-in-waiting. They are not temporarily embarrassed liberals. They are the petite bourgeoisie, the willing handmaidens of fascism, the craven and bloodsoaked base of the Republican party who would wade through an ocean of blood to cut their taxes by 1%. You cannot win them. You will never win them. Faced with the choice between a real Republican and a Republican-lite, they will go with the real thing every time. They fucking hate you, guys. Centrists, moderate Dems: they hate you, if anything, MORE than they hate the Sanders Left. Sanders is more popular among Republicans than almost any other Dem. They still hate him, of course, but they have a wary respect for him: here’s a man who has principles and sticks to them. Mainstream Dems are just empty suits, mouthing platitudes about equality while supporting the same gang of corporate and financial criminals who brought us to this precipice.
Democrats cannot ever win by stealing Romney voters, but they don’t have to. There are thousands, hundreds of thousands, of natural Democrats out there waiting for a reason to vote. You can’t take them for granted. You can’t say “well, are you gonna vote for the Republican?” Of course they won’t. A lot of them just won’t vote. Republicans can count on the lockstep support of their entire base, every time. Democrats can’t. That’s life, and it’s not fair, and you can whine about it and lose or do something about it and win.
Offer these people something. Ossoff offered nothing. He talked about cutting wasteful spending and the deficit as if that’s the only issue that matters. As if the federal budget is what’s keeping up African-Americans and Muslims and young people and sick people and all of the other people targeted by Republicans. As if anyone gives a shit about that. Ossoff was Clinton, But Male, and like Clinton he got demolished by people conditioned to see Democrats as the enemy. The counterweight to that is people who see Democrats as their advocates. Right now, they don’t, and you can’t blame them. Democrats have been shitty advocates for decades. But it doesn’t have to be that way.