The Centrism of Jon Ossoff is a Plague on the Left, and it Has to Die

Politics Features Jon Ossoff
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The Centrism of Jon Ossoff is a Plague on the Left, and it Has to Die

You know by now that last night’s special election in Georgia’s sixth district—in which Republican Karen Handel defeated Democrat Jon Ossoff—was the most expensive House race in American history. Thanks in large part to individual donations, Ossoff out-raised Handel, but it was close, and neither lacked for funds. With that in mind, let’s take a look at two sets of results:

1. Nov. 8, 2016, Georgia’s sixth district

Donald Trump: 48.3%
Hillary Clinton: 46.8%

2. June 20, 2017, Georgia’s sixth district

Karen Handel: 51.9%
Jon Ossoff: 48.1%

All that money, and all that alleged backlash to Trump, resulted in…a worse loss.

(Quick side note: Some Democrats are trying to paint this as a huge moral victory based on the fact that Tom Price, the Republican who previously held this seat, won his election by 23 points. Don’t buy into it—it’s famously hard to defeat a long-time incumbent in the House, and the Democrats didn’t even try. I mean that literally—Rodney Stooksbury, Price’s opponent, failed to spend a single dollar competing against him. This will sound like a joke, but a local news outlet actually went to his house to try to learn more, and found nothing. His neighbors had never heard of him. There were no pictures of him, and no information online. People wrote blog posts theorizing that he wasn’t a real person, and I’ve seen nothing to contradict this. Essentially, Price ran unopposed, so let’s stop using that election to signify anything.)

Back to Ossoff. He’s young, he’s good-looking, he’s a rich kid from a rich family, and he belongs unapologetically to the Hillary Clinton/Tom Perez wing of the corporate Democratic party, which is to say that he’s a “pragmatic centrist” who smirks at the idea of actual progressive reforms. Take a look at his position on universal healthcare, and you’ll see why the DNC considered him such a boy wonder:

I imagine Perez reading this with googly eyes—”he's perfect!” Ossoff is also against raising taxes on the wealthy:

(Amazingly, and absurdly, Sirota was attacked by Democrats on Twitter for bringing this up yesterday, and had to defend himself for re-stating a candidate's public positions.)

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.”

Interestingly, Ossoff's campaign has not put out any television ads focussed on a perhaps garbled comment that Handel made at a recent debate. “This is an example of a fundamental difference between a liberal and a conservative,” Handel said, in an exchange about the minimum wage. “I do not support a livable wage.” ... (Ossoff had said that “the minimum wage should be a living wage.”) The national press made hay out of the gaffe, but Ossoff didn't pounce. When I asked him why not, he told me, “I think her comment speaks for itself.”

What a pathetic wimp. There's only one conclusion to draw from that article, and it's this: never trust a politician who is afraid to state a damn opinion. Has nobody learned the chief lesson of 2016, which is that voters crave authenticity??

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.

So why not go for broke? Why not campaign on what people actually want? If they're going to call you a socialist anyway, why not stick up for your values? As someone said on Twitter yesterday, “why suffer the political costs of being smeared without reaping the political benefits?”

You've undoubtedly heard the talking point that America is more polarized than ever before, and to an extent that's true. But Donald Trump's election proved conclusively that the economic principles Republican voters are supposed to care about are actually bullshit, and they are fully willing to vote for a populist. BUT, when Democrats try to trick them into voting for Republican-lite, they will absolutely circle the wagons and vote for the home team.

And hell, let's get beyond this milquetoast idea of pandering to voters from the opposite party, which is a defeatist tactic that has reliably failed, from Ossoff to Hillary Clinton to everyone who has impotently tried to stop the Republican surge in Congress and state governments. What about motivating the base? What about the party of the left actually catering to…the left?

Instead of hawking this bullshit…

...why not try to inspire young people?

Why didn't Jon Ossoff say a single word about student debt or the cost of a college education? At the risk of inundating you with tweets, there was an excellent point made last night by a user who brought up a comparison with Jeremy Corbyn's labour campaign. “Ossoff could never run an effective ad like this,” the user wrote, “cause he doesn't believe in anything.” Watch:

And he’s right! That’s the kind of inspirational political rhetoric that actually motivates the left, but Ossoff had no right to stake out such a position. How many times do we have to see cowardice of this type play out on the big stage, and to see its proponents get whipped like dogs by the Republicans, before we realize it’s a total strategic failure?

Let’s ask that question in a simpler way: Why was anyone supposed to get behind Ossoff? What did he offer, besides caution, vague language, and the depressing persistence of a failed status quo? Was it supposed to be enough that he was good-looking and didn’t embarrass himself when he spoke? Do Democrats truly believe that people vote based on image alone, and will enthusiastically back an empty suit with no soul?

Enough. Congress is ripe for the taking in 2018, people legitimately dislike Trump, and the time for half-measures is over. Centrism has failed, and now it’s nothing more than a crippling virus hindering a resurgent left. Put it to death, at last, and give the people what they want.

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