Dead End Centrist Politics: Jon Ossoff Edition
A failing strategy in a failing system.
Congratulations to Jon Ossoff! Your losing campaign in the GA-06 special election, as well as your personal essence, will be the subject of much analysis, consternation, grief, and discussion until the 2018 midterms. Timing is everything when it comes to the media cycle, and your election was both the most expensive congressional race in this cycle of post 2016 special elections and the last of a string of major contest since the #resistance began.
Ossof’s campaign was practically a laboratory example of what would happen if the centrist consultant class that has had a powerful grip on the running of Democratic party campaign’s continues its reign of calculated mediocrity and upper-middle class haughtiness.
From the Washington Post:
“The Ossoff approach was to toe the middle of the road politically. His calls for civility, at a time of a nontraditional brand of politics from Trump, served as an indirect contrast to the president — a polite rebuke while trying not to offend those who voted for him.”
“What a great idea!” said the totally real and not hypothetical strategist in my head “Disagregate the impacts of Republican politicy from electoral politics and then make it about tone! This way we can get all those suburban professional women that should have elected President Yaz Kween if not for all those Macedonian teenagers posting about the pope endorsing Trump!” You know how bourgeoise white people in the south just want a reason to vote for Democrats right? They have just been waiting for someone who looks like if the old feather duster left in the broom closet mated with a cardboard cut out of DJ Kwalls younger, handsome brother.
This strategy misses the reason why people outside of the middle aged #resistance Facebook group demographic disapprove of Trump and illuminates how Democrats are disconnected from political reality. The world isn’t the West Wing. It isn’t a question of tone or civility or compromise, as third way centrist would have you believe.
Still, if there was a district where this would work, GA-06 would have been it. This is the district with an average income significantly higher than the national average, and Hillary actually won the district in the 2016 even with the Republican congressional incumbent Tom Price riding to an easy victory in 2016. Think about that: Ossoff couldn’t even hit Hillary’s numbers. This should be enough evidence that this was a failing strategy in a failing system.
Beyond Ossof’s millennial “nice guy” tone, his actual policy message is exactly the wrong direction to go. In the WA post article about the election results, a 52 year old Ossoff supporter spoke about how Ossoff “wants what we want: to bring high tech and biotech jobs to our community.” This is the professional class of the modern Democratic party’s prescription: high skilled jobs bring wealth to the community. Essentially, the bourgeoise, like any other class or organism, wishes to propagate itself and views it’s existence as a moral end for itself. In a very direct way, this is the center left version of “Trickle Down economic,” except instead of primarily benefiting the top 1% it’s benefitting the top 5%. If you are a public school teacher or a truck driver or [insert sympathetic middle income job here], these are still people richer than you, just now the professional class folks think they earned it more morally than the oligarchs.
This worldview is examined further in Thomas Frank’s “Listen Liberal.” The primary political class of the Democratic Party shifted in the late 20th century, away from the working class roots of the post New Deal coalition to a primacy of the professional class, especially those in the burgeoning tech sector, as examined in Lily Geismer’s “Atari Democrats” in Jacobin. This strategy was supposedly successful in the 90’s with figures like Bill Clinton and Tony Blair, as well as with more modern incarnations like Obama, this limited strategy appears to be at its breaking point, as all of its most successful incarnations had a once in a generation political talent at the head and left a decimate party in it’s wake.
For those of us on the Democratic Socialist left end of American politics, Ossoff’s loss can serve as useful ammunition for a radical takeover of the Democratic party. However, having strong evidence for a political restructuring doesn’t stop the Republican party’s massive restructuring of our society in the form of their new “healthcare” bill. We need a proactive future based message for the left in America, and soon, or the behemoth of the right will swallow us all.
The clock is ticking…