Bernie Sanders, who was a Democrat for six minutes or so until he wasn't anymore, had some cool, cool things to say about Jon Ossoff, who came very close to winning the Georgia 6th district last night, and will now compete in a June election against Republican Karen Handel. Per Reid Epstein and Natalie Andrews in the Wall Street Journal:
Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, in an interview Tuesday in Louisville, Ky., said he didn’t know much about Mr. Ossoff, a 30-year-old former House staffer. Mr. Sanders said he isn’t prepared to back Democrats just because of a party label.
“If you run as a Democrat, you’re a Democrat,” he said. “Some Democrats are progressive and some Democrats are not.”
Asked if Mr. Ossoff is a progressive, Mr. Sanders, an independent who challenged Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential primary, demurred. “I don’t know,” he said.
I have a few problems with this.
First, I have a problem with the fact that a guy with Bernie Sanders' track record on guns, immigration, and saying shitty things about women gets to be the arbiter of what's progressive. I have a problem with the fact that he's happy to enthusiastically endorse as "progressive" a guy who once sponsored a mandatory ultrasound bill, and endorse him as a real "progressive," and still touts himself as the ultimate decider of what's progressive. I have a huge, huge problem with that.
I also have a problem with this slagging of a very viable Democratic candidate.
Bernie Sanders has been elevated to co-chair of Democratic outreach. Democratic. As in the Democratic Party. Not the "Bernie Sanders-Approved Party" outreach.
And outreach is exactly what Jon Ossoff needs in GA-6. Over at Daily Kos, user trafficmac has a few notes from the ground in GA-6. And one of the points is that Ossoff won't be able to win the election just by turning out identifiable Democrats. (It's not easy to even identify Democratic voters in Georgia, since voters don't have to register with a party. The only way to identify someone as a Democrat is if they have voted in a Dem primary before.)
Bernie Sanders has claimed that he's some kind of miracle man who can reach out to Republican voters via a message of economic populism and
white supremacy a lack of "identity politics." So I guess that's why anyone cares abut his opinion on Ossoff. But his one-size-fits-all approach has never looked worse.
The Georgia 6th has not elected a Democrat since 1978. Its GOP representatives have been Newt Gingrich, Johnny Isakson, and Tom Price. You can click through their records here, or you can just trust me that their politics are garbage. Isakson is now a Georgia Senator. Price, God help us, is now Secretary of HHS.
Does anything about these men smack of "economic anxiety" or populism? Price is a wealthy surgeon, who has probably made himself wealthier by dirty insider trading. Tom Price is the 18th wealthiest member of the Senate. The GA-6 is a suburban district. It's pretty safe to say that economic populism has probably not been the main thrust of their GOP support in the 6th.
Yet somehow, Sanders, and those who support him, view Ossoff with suspicion, as illegitimate because he's not their brand of progressive. Jamie Peck published a piece in the Guardian last week condemning support for Ossoff, because he's a "centrist, establishment shill" whose sins include:
Although he is young, he’s an acolyte of the Democratic establishment, having worked for Representatives John Lewis and Hank Johnson, and he endorsed Hillary Clinton in the primary. He went to Georgetown followed by the London School of Economics and speaks fluent French. He has the support of several Hollywood celebrities.
HE SPEAKS FLUENT FRENCH. Get thee hence, francophones! We don't need your snooty non-progressive kind here.
I have a fun fact for Peck: Newt Gingrich, the former West Georgia University professor who won the district in 1978, wrote his dissertation on Belgian education policy in the Congo. Using Belgian records. Which are in French. Somehow, the people of the 6th got over his command of French and elected him anyway.
(Also: if you think it's some kind of disqualifier to be an "acolyte" of John Lewis, then your progressivism needs a tune-up. You might be confusing it with racism. )
It's almost as if the Democrats know they can't be a one-size fits all party if they want to get anything done.
Which brings me to my next point: Bernie and his fans, who seem to think that rural Montana and suburban Atlanta are interchangeable, need to start listening to red state voters.
So let me tell a story.
Once upon a time, I lived in a district represented by a Conserva-Dem. He didn't vote for the party's bills all the time, just most of the time. I didn't care for his stances on many issues. But he did defend key voting rights measures, immigration rights, gender pay equity measures, and approximately 80% of Democratic agenda.
Despite repping a fairly conservative district, he kept winning. He was great at constituent services and communication—holding job fairs, sending letters, and letting his constituents know his door was open. So of course, the GOP-controlled legislature released the Gerrymander Monster, which gobbled up part of his district and pooped it elsewhere. And he lost his seat.
So the district came to be represented by a Conserva-GOP. And no, Bernie Sanders, the parties are not interchangeable.
This man votes with Democrats approximately ZERO percent of the time. This man opposes voting rights, immigration rights, and recoils from gender equity like a vampire from garlic. He views constituent services as optional, and only communicates with his district to let folks know how much Democratic legislation he's obstructing. Naturally, he's held no town halls since the election, so he doesn't have to face the local Indivisible chapter. And sadly, thanks to the fire-breathing Gerrymander Monster, he's probably safe in his seat for the time being.
My experience in this district is proof that yes, the R or D makes a difference. The choices weren't between a conservative Democrat and a liberal-moderate Republican. They were between a conservative Democrat and a garbage nightmare of toxic white supremacist patriarchy hell bent on destroying the country's social safety net and regulatory structure.
See the difference?>
Maybe by Vermont standards, Jon Ossoff is some corporatist shill, but not by the standards of GA-06. I suspect he'll be a reasonably reliable progressive vote, if not on every single thing. If he's smart, he'll provide top-notch constituent services and be responsive to local concerns. I suspect he will make a big difference for the more marginalized members of his district, especially on civil rights issues. He is a very viable candidate.
Bernie isn't obliged to support Democrats just because they are Democrats. He has that right. But then why did he agree to do Democratic outreach? He should know by now how party politics works. In fact, he very obviously does—he is perfectly willing to sacrifice pro-choice positions to win a seat in Montana. And indeed, that guy might have a great chance of winning there. This isn't about, winning, though. It's about forcing the Democrats to use the Bernie Sanders Straight White Men Progressive Measuring stick.
And he must know that this campaign to re-make the Democratic party in his mold, without actually giving a shit about whether that will result in winning races, is a vainglorious ego project. It is hostile to civil rights. It is also simply piss poor politics. It could set back the progressive agenda in this country by decades. Instead of insisting that, from his high perch in Vermont, he can see what's best for every district, how about paying attention to the very real differences—even among red states, and within red states?
I know you'd rather eat fossilized dinosaur eggs than follow Hillary Clinton's example on anything, Bernie, but try listening.
Listening to the people actually in the districts goes a long way towards winning. Winning elections gets the votes in Congress. Winning the votes changes policy. It's that simple.
Democrats, what are you even doing with this man?
Bernie, what are you even doing to this country?