David Cameron misread Brexit and his base, placed himself on the wrong side of a contentious political debate, and soon bowed out for new faces to guide the UK through the difficult days ahead. Theresa May came out on top of a brief power struggle and set out to guide her country through Brexit. Although she said she would not hold elections, she decided to backtrack on that promise and attempted to consolidate her party in order to better manage the Brexit process.What happened was a great political upset that left the conservatives looking for answers and the far left surging.
In the United States the Democrats were looking for an upset victory in a special election for Georgia’s 6th congressional district. Although not nearly as significant as the UK’s election, the house seat Jon Ossoff and Karen Handel were fighting for could have been an important talking point and signs of what was to come. Unfortunately it didn’t work out and despite record spending Jon Ossoff’s campaign didn’t energize the right voters. The Democrats made a miscalculation, not quite as big as Theresa May, but they pumped money and energy into a candidate who didn’t bring the right message at the right time.
Jon Ossoff’s loss wasn’t as surprising as May’s, but it is just as disappointing for those counting on a win. Theresa May and the rest of the world were shocked when socialist Jeremy Corbyn and the Labor Party surged. Which left the Tories scrambling to build a coalition capable of claiming a majority, an effort which had them turning to fringe Irish nationalists in order to keep the votes. Corbyn forced a hung parliament and it was all on the backs of increased voter turnout among young voters. Something the Ossoff campaign and Democrats in general have long taken for granted, but Georgia 6th should prove those votes need to be earned. Something Corbyn and company managed to do with the right message.
It’s a message that millions of people are literally begging someone to transplant to American politics. A focus on the massive inequities experienced by those on the losing end of globalization and an ever changing world. An emphasis on the massive income and wealth inequality that has slowly grown over the last 3 decades and is now fueling discontent on both sides of the aisle and both sides of the pond. Unrelenting discussion on social and economic justice worked for the Labor Party because young people in the UK wanted that message and it found them. It’s a lesson that the Democratic Party would be wise to take to heart.
It’s not a message Jon Ossoff took to heart and he paid for it on election day. Much was made of Ossoff’s potential to upset Trump in a heavily red district and true to the Democratic Party’s playbook Ossoff did anything put attempt to turn the applecart. He stuck to tame centrist talking points, no medicare for all, no new taxes on upper income Americans, $15 dollar minimum wage is too fast too soon, basically any talking point adopted by the progressive left found Ossoff and just as soon was batted down.
To be fair, Ossoff was running in a very conservative district and conventional wisdom would tell any politician to shy away from embracing the Democratic Party. Which is fine, but what isn’t fine is to create distance from liberal policy positions and then also buy into their hollow method of demographically driven ad buys and bought and sold campaign staff connected to various third party groups. It’s a poor replacement for genuine excitement, the kind of excitement that the Labor Party channeled into one of the biggest political upsets in modern UK politics.
The Democratic Party depends on grassroots energy. Pandering to young people and voters of color isn’t enough. Fear mongering against Donald Trump isn’t enough. There needs to be a comprehensive message that will respond to some of the fundamental problems in society that young people so desperately want to fix. The Democrats think young people automatically associate their party with those solutions at their own peril. Young people know what they want from their politics and Ossoff style campaigns are not it. They want passion, change, and the potential to transform a global system in decline, into something more equitable.
Unfortunately until they realize how deeply seated that drive for change really is, Democrats will probably continue to lose to the darker agents of change.The unrestrained change agents who will usher in their agenda no matter the negative cost. Brexit and the mandate Theresa May asked for was not defeated by calls for a soft Brexit, or even reversing Brexit, but calls for a fundamentally different approach to politics as usual. Democrats aren’t going to win with a $12 minimum wage proposal, or legitimate criticisms of how far to the right the modern Republican Party has shifted.
Those things did not work for Hillary Clinton and they did not work for Jon Ossoff. However what has worked is a message of fundamental overhaul to American politics. A message of left wing populism built on an economic agenda that will actually uplift the legitimately disgruntled in society. Until Democrats tap into that message like the Labor Party did across the pond, they will continue to lose.