Give ’em Hell, Dems!

Let’s start on a positive note, which is a campaign advertisement for Randy Bryce, who is running as a Democrat for Paul Ryan’s House seat:

I like this ad, and I like this guy. He seems authentic. He makes me think of my dad, a machinist, and a lot of his friends who were blue-collar guys. I hope he intends to wrap Donald Trump around Paul Ryan’s neck.

Compare/contrast to the recently defeated John Ossoff, who ran a hyper-cautious, centrist campaign for a House seat in Georgia against far-right wackjob Karen Handel. This is from Paste:

I mean, when the New Yorker wrote about him, the piece was titled, “Jon Ossoff, With Election Day Looming, Explains His Cautious Politics.” The entire piece is cringe-inducing—this is a man who refuses to say anything with any passion or real belief, a bloodless suit mindlessly mimicking Barack Obama‘s gestures—but my favorite part came when he refused to attack after his opponent ACTUALLY UTTERED the following sentence at a debate: “I do not support a livable wage.” …

… The strategy here was clear—Georgia’s sixth is a moderate Republican district, Mitt Romney country, and Ossoff tried to win by running as a moderate Republican. Which, again, is right in line with what the ruling corporate wing of the Democratic party has been doing since the ’90s. But it’s stupid, and you know why?

There’s already a Republican party.

You cannot out-flank these people from the right. If there’s a mantra the left should internalize, it’s this: Republicans beat centrist Democrats. Always. And the crazy thing is, moderation never saves the Democratic candidate from being portrayed as America’s answer to Che Guevara. Ossoff is basically a Republican, but look at the ads they ran against him! They either paint him as Nancy Pelosi’s no. 1 San Francisco latte butler or imply that he’s Osama bin Laden’s second-in-command. There’s a wonderful irony here—the further you drift from any appearance of socialism, the more viciously Republicans will smear you as the reincarnation of V.I. Lenin.

I’ve made this speech before, but here it is again: The Republicans are now an ideologically right-wing party. The Democrats, however, are not an ideologically left-wing party. Instead, they seem to be trying to broker interests among a lot of constituencies, including urban minorities and the business community.  They are perpetually threading fine policy needles so as to not anger any particular group, but in doing so they becomes champions of nobody. 

Yes, Democratic policies, on the whole, are at least sane and generally beneficial to most Americans, which is not something you can say about Republican policies. But too often when a Democratic politician tells voters “I’ll fight for you,” what that means is something like “I’ll save you some leftovers.”

Paul Kane’s article in WaPo is headlined “Ossoff chose civility and it didn’t work. How do Democrats beat Trump?

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. …

… This was the beta test for the DCCC’s theory of the 2018 case that well-educated, suburban voters who swung away from Trump last year would reject GOP candidates for Congress.

What they don’t get is that there’s a big difference between inchoate rage and fire in the belly. The latter is what’s missing from too many Dems. It’s not enough to put up pleasant candidates who at least don’t scare the chickens. The electorate isn’t in the mood for “safe.” Bleeping stand for something, Democrats!

Maybe, once in a while, ask “What would Harry Truman do?” Would Truman have let a line like “I do not support a livable wage” pass without remark? I don’t think so. They didn’t call him “Give ’em hell, Harry” for nothing.

What would Truman say about the current state of the Dem party? Nothing good, I don’t think.

Will Bunch wrote,

Jon Ossoff was a very sincere candidate, and he seems like a nice young man. Running for office in today’s climate is a brave thing. But I listened to an interview that he did with NPR on Tuesday morning, and by the end I practically wanted to gouge my eyes out. It was the some of the most insipid, focus-group-tested-and-consultant-approved meaningless happy talk I’ve ever heard from a Democrat, which is saying a lot. He wanted to bring tech jobs to Atlanta, and cut wasteful spending. Health care needs to be — somehow — “affordable.” Ossoff and the Democrats couldn’t have run a more effective “show about nothing” if Seinfeld’s Larry David had been their show-runner. No wonder voters curbed their enthusiasm.

Why can’t Dems grow a spine? Paul Waldman wrote this about the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (emphasis added) —

When I asked Jeff Hauser, the director of the Revolving Door Project and a former Democratic operative who has been critical of the DCCC, to lay out this case for me, he argued that the organization shapes how individual races play out, especially in their early stages. Here’s part of the email he sent in reply:

  • The DCCC recruits candidates and influences primaries by signaling who is viable or not to donors and state and local party actors.
  • Mega-donors and independent expenditure groups take cues about which races matter and which messages work from the DCCC.
  • Young but experienced political staff are often directed to campaigns by the DCCC — there are a lot of arranged staffing marriages where candidates and staff, even campaign managers, barely know each other.
  • And candidates pick and choose messages with an eye toward being in line with the DCCC’s thinking, as they know direct contributions and independent expenditures go to campaigns in line with the DCCC.
  • When Ossoff went wholly bland and didn’t run on Trump, Russia, or almost anything else readily identifiable as an issue, that represented a campaign following DCCC directions.
  • If you are a Democrat and think Ossoff blew an opportunity and fear more of the same in 2018, you need the DCCC’s theory of the electorate to improve.

Hauser said that as important as those broad national factors are, “the difference between a great and poor DCCC could easily be 20 seats won or lost.” If that’s true, it’s the difference between not taking the House and taking the House.

In short, the donors, “expenditure groups” and lobbyists pick the candidates. But the problem with that is that the donors and lobbyists have their own agendas that don’t exactly match what’s going on in real-world America. Lee Fang writes at The Intercept that several people who were behind Hillary Clinton’s campaign last year are now trying to cash in on the Trump agenda:

Lobbying records show that some Democratic fundraisers, who raised record amounts of campaign cash for Clinton, are now retained by top telecom interests to help repeal the strong net neutrality protections established during the Obama administration.

Others are working on behalf of for-profit prisons on detention issues, while others still are paid to help corporate interests pushing alongside Trump to weaken financial regulations. At least one prominent Clinton backer is working for a health insurance company on a provision that was included in the House Republican bill to gut the Affordable Care Act.

While Republican lobbyists are more in demand, liberal lobbyists are doing brisk business that has them reaching out to fellow Democrats to endorse — or at least tamp down vocal opposition to — Trump agenda items.

Again, these are the people who help pick the congressional Democratic candidates.

I can just about guarantee that the DCCC will fail to support Randy Bryce in Wisconsin next year, while Ryan will have all the cash he wants from the GOP and Wall Street. In fact, it wouldn’t surprise me in the least if the DCCC tries to kneecap Bryce in the primaries to run a nice, pleasant, centrist candidate who looks better in a suit in the general election against Ryan. I hope I’m wrong.