CHICAGO — “This is an election that is trying to set a paradigm for a progressive politics, post-meltdown candidacy,” says Tom Geoghegan as braves lake-effect snow and diving temperatures in the frenzied finish to the most unlikely of congressional campaigns.
This talk of “paradigms” and “post-meltdown politics” reveals Geoghegan for who he is, an author and public intellectual who has spent a lifetime peddling ideas. And it begs the question: Has our politics changed enough to make possible the choice not just of a new member of Congress but of a new way of thinking about what progressivism advocates, about what Democrats should propose, about what Washington can do for America?
While a lot of Democrats are still busy complaining about George Bush, and a lot more are absorbed by the work of cleaning up the mess that the former president left behind when he helicoptered out of Washington, Geoghegan is knocking on the doors of bungalows and telling retirees they need a raise. This candidate is not proposing to “save Social Security,” he wants to expand it — providing recipients with a raise and creating a real national pension program.
Geoghegan does not propose to tinker with a broken health care system. He wants to “re-enact” Medicare — for everyone,” arguing that, “We should take our single-payer health-care system and just make it wall to wall.”
Banks and bailouts and the credit crunch? Geoghegan starts with the basics: stop foreclosures and put a cap on abusive interest rates.
And so it goes, on issue after issue. Geoghegan runs in Tuesday’s special election to replace Chicago Congressman-turned-White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel as a Democrat who is up off his bended knee, done offering apologies and ready to deliver that new paradigm.
At the doors, the soft-spoken and cerebral candidate takes the time to explain his ideas, answers questions patiently and enjoys the remarkable experience of watching as Democrats who have been taught to lower their expectations wake up to the fact that they can and should expect more. “People reach out and grab my arm, big smiles on their faces,” says Geoghegan, “and they say: ‘I’m for that! I’m for you!”
The question, of course, is whether a late-starting candidate with big ideas and an uncommon penchant for taking the time to explain them, a relatively small bankroll and a name so generally unknown that his literature and campaign pins feature pronunciation cues (“/gae-gun/”) really make a dent in the most aggressively and edgily political city in the country?