I woke up to news this morning that Jon Ossoff’s failure to flip Georgia’s Sixth Congressional District will “come as a crushing emotional blow to Democrats.” Well, not this Democrat. And not just because, as I wrote back in April, “an Ossoff victory would represent a repudiation of Trump, but not our broken politics.”
The 30-year-old political novice announced his campaign with the invitation to “make Trump furious”—an aim impossible to resist, if not exactly difficult to achieve, since “furious” and “smug” seem to be the Trumpster’s only working gears. And though Ossoff’s decision to run an issue-lite, centrist campaign aimed at wooing moderate Republicans and disaffected women might have been a questionable tactic, the army of fired-up Georgia women who answered his call—and who told my colleague Joan Walsh that they intend to stay involved in politics—should remind progressives that local knowledge matters. What works just fine in Manhattan might not fly in Montana, or in Cobb County, Georgia.
Even in local terms though, there were problems with Ossoff, whose failure to actually live in the district he wanted to represent made it easier for the Republicans to attack him as an “outsider.” Still, he would have been a huge improvement over Karen Handel, a perennial Republican candidate whose main previous claim to fame was her effort, as vice president of the Susan G. Komen cancer charity, to defund Planned Parenthood.
My own reservations about Ossoff were about strategy, not tactics. As we were reminded time and again by the media, an Ossoff win would have also been a victory over the left. It would have been trumpeted as vindication of “a decidedly un-Sanders-like vision of the future” and cited as proof that Democrats who “want to win” should follow his model and explicitly rule out raising taxes on the wealthy and firmly oppose “any move” towards single-payer health care. It’s tempting to argue that wasn’t Ossoff’s fault. After all, it was former Clinton aide Brian Fallon, not Ossoff, who came up with the “Panera Bread strategy”—essentially a rationale for appealing to suburban voters in swing districts rather than spending time or money trying to expand the Democratic party’s base among working-class voters, minorities, or millennials—which is really just a new name for the kind of triangulation that put Bill Clinton in the White House. As the career of its current master Rahm Emanuel suggests, that kind of politics can still be effective. But it was never progressive, and not even the backing of Daily Kos or the Working Families Party—who both worked hard, and effectively, on Ossoff’s behalf—can change that.