The special election in Georgia’s 6th congressional district has turned heads for months. Partially because it is the only election to watch, but also because Democrat Jon Ossof was poised to upset a solidly Republican seat and usher in a Democratic wave in the age of Trump. Unfortunately despite record spending and attention for such a insignificant house race, Jon Ossof was not the victorious bringer of tides he was made out to be. In fact, he simply proved that doubling down on dead Clintonesque centrism is a recipe for disaster, not upset.
Early in Ossoff’s campaign, Bernie Sanders took some flak for his claim that Ossof “was not a true progressive.” While Bernie Sanders retracted his statement and released one in support of Ossof, that was more a gesture to save face and power within the Democratic Party. Any clearheaded assessment of Ossoff or his campaign does not yield a progressive firebrand meant for politics in the Trump era. Ossoff is boring, he’s bland, and he used an old playbook popularized by beltway consultants, one which the media tried to overhype for the ratings bump that comes with a potential upset under Donald Trump.
Unfortunately that wasn’t in the cards and it’s because big money big ad buy politics, bolstered by outside groups on the ground, will never beat genuine grassroots support.
It’s probably not a coincidence that the highly publicized race which was met with big corporate money and super pac involvement went poorly for an overhyped Democrat. Months and months of artificial energy rarely energizes new voters or brings them to the voting booth. Genuine concern and effort from community members, who come out, knock on doors, and get their friends and family involved in the campaign is what wins upset elections. Nothing will create that energy except organic enthusiasm. No amount of ad buys, no matter how many times your opponent says they do not support a living wage, unless you match their rhetoric with a genuine vision to grab hold of, it won’t matter.
If Ossoff proved anything it’s that the Clinton model of big money politics and triangulation are not enough. Even when Ossoff was able to hang the ACHA, the most unpopular piece of legislation in modern American political history, around his opponent Karen Handel’s neck, it wasn’t enough. Even with a incredibly prominent and equally unpopular president to link Handel to, Ossoff held back. There was no meaningful concession to the progressive wing of the party that has long provided the energy for Democratic politics.
A mistake both Ossoff and Clinton made much to their detriment and ultimate demise.
Ossoff backed off a $15 dollar minimum wage, there was no support for universal healthcare or universal higher education. None of the policy proposals that have proven effective at mobilizing progressive activists in an organic and genuine movement sort of politics were used by Ossoff. Instead he took millions of dollars from the DCCC and other outside groups. Which was somewhat matched by equal amounts of big money on the other side, but the Democrats put all their eggs in this basket and dropped it. The result was above average turnout, election fatigue that matched the level of November 3rd 2016, and clogged airways that do everything but inspire.
It was an old style politics that proved effective for many a politician in 1992. Ossoff had an opportunity to match the style of politics Donald Trump has popularized, there was an opportunity to build a white hot core of support bent on sending a message. People who are motivated to bring their friends and family to the ballot box, not because they are trying to win a symbolic victory for the Democratic Party, but because they are trying to improve their lives and make their communities a better place.
Instead Ossoff triangulated and his opponent Karen Handel is heading to congress.