Democrats are a disappointing 0 for 4 in special elections to replace House representatives who were appointed to Donald Trump’s cabinet. The bitterest pill was Jon Ossoff’s failure to defeat Republican Karen Handel in Georgia’s 6th Congressional District, despite a campaign supported by $30 million.
Ossoff ran as a left-centrist, playing to the middle. His campaign slogan was “Humble. Kind. Ready to Fight.” He rarely mentioned Donald Trump’s chaotic presidency. The Atlantic’s Molly Ball called him a “positionless vessel.” And he lost 52-48 percent.
Certainly, political calculation is essential to success, and every candidate has to sort out competing interests, catering to some, carefully avoiding offense to others.
But as the right has moved further right, centrism doesn’t appear to be working in the age of Trump.
Maybe the Democrats should roll the dice toward the left. On many issues our nation’s citizens are surprisingly left-leaning, despite the great balance of political power that rests with the right.
Gun policy is a good example: The National Rifle Association and the gun industry have practically paralyzed federal and state legislatures, leaving us with a level of gun violence without parallel in the industrialized West.
Yet, a 2015 poll by the Pew Research Center finds that 85 percent of Americans support background checks for all gun sales, including those at gun shows. Seventy percent of Americans favor a federal database for tracking gun sales, and 57 percent support banning assault-style firearms.
On other issues, many Americans have attitudes ordinarily associated with the left. While many in Republican leadership have trouble admitting the threat of climate change, a recent Yale poll reveals that 6 in 10 Americans are “somewhat worried” or “very worried” about it. And at a time when President Trump has withdrawn from the Paris climate agreement, 70 percent of Americans favor staying in, displaying more wisdom than their leadership.
Then there’s health care: While Republicans have mounted an unrelenting, 7-year campaign to repeal Obamacare and recent, ill-considered efforts to replace it, Obamacare, whatever its faults, has reinforced the notion that a decent, humane society will make sure that every citizen is able to live as healthy a life as possible.
Thus, in March, a USA Today poll revealed that 58 percent of Americans want to keep Obamacare or to keep it with improvements.
So what’s the future for the Democratic Party? Maybe it lies in candidates such as Mai-Khanh Tran and Christine Mann.
Tran is an Orange County pediatrician who has entered the 2018 race for California’s 39th Congressional District, hoping to unseat a 24-year Republican incumbent. She is largely motivated by her opponent’s party-line support for the repeal of Obamacare, asserting to the Los Angeles Times that “… he did not vote for the needs of his constituents.”
Christine Mann is a physician, as well, and she’s running in Texas’ 31st Congressional District against another long-time incumbent and supporter of the Republicans’ heartless efforts — at one point Trump called them “mean” — to replace Obamacare.
Both of these doctors are political novices, but their careers have been built around service. In her spare time, Tran has participated in more than a hundred medical missions to impoverished areas. Mann has an impressive history of community service in local health and education programs.
The fact that both of these candidates are women should be irrelevant, but it’s not. The mean-spirited Senate health care proposal was conjured in private by 13 men, with little regard for women’s health, much less the well-being of anyone who isn’t wealthy.
Tran and Mann appear to be willing to advocate for positions normally associated with the political left, including humane, affordable health care for everyone. But as it happens, this is precisely what most Americans, more compassionate than their leadership, want for themselves and for their fellow citizens.
Candidates such as Tran and Mann may help Democrats shrug off Republicans’ unwarranted demonization of the term “left.” In fact, it’s only a label. And, in any case, sometimes you just have to do what’s right.
John M. Crisp, an op-ed columnist for Tribune News Service, teaches in the English Department at Del Mar College in Corpus Christi, Texas. Readers may send him email at [email protected]
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