As the results of the most expensive campaign in the history of the House of Representatives trickled in this past June, this observer was sadly not surprised to see Karen Handel defeat Jon Ossoff. But why? How is it that despite having a wildly unpopular Republican President (per Gallup, Trump was at a 38% approval while I wrote this) and a wildly unpopular Republican-led Congress (20% approval rating from Gallup), the GOP continues to win in head to head battles with Democrats?
My hypothesis is simple; the Republican Party has a brand that people recognize. The Democratic party does not.
First my disclaimer: I am neither a registered Republican nor a registered Democrat. I regularly cross the aisle and vote for the candidate who most closely aligns with my position on the issues that are important to me. But I’ve found lately this crossover is nearly impossible. The GOP “brand” in its current form is unsupportable. Prepare for broad brushstrokes here, but the GOP is essentially now the anti-truth party. They are the party of anger at the establishment, of fear of the outsider, and of distrust of the media. They are the party who denies basic science yet calls real scientists, science deniers. They are the party who calls real journalism “fake news” yet promulgates fake news as being real. They are the party of anti-intellectualism in all its forms. They have embraced ignorance, paranoia, and irrational fear and what’s more, they yell this from the rooftops as if these are things for which to be proud! They are loud, bombastic, quick, unreasonable, easily duped, politically incorrect, in your face, and they are winning elections.
If that is the current Republican party, then what is the current Democratic party and how on earth – if there are any reasonable people left at all – is the Democratic party not winning elections? As far as I can tell, it’s because the Democratic party has become the party of rudderless factions. A patchwork quilt with no stitching. The modern Democratic party seems to me to be simultaneously tepid and shrill, afraid of confrontation yet quick to condemn from some “safe” space, preferring to wait for an outside institution to silence opposing speech rather than offering its own full-throated, fact-based refutations. They understand the importance of facts, yet subdue certain facts for fear of hurting feelings. They are a party allowing themselves to be defined by their opposition, rather than defining themselves. They stand in relief to the Republican party; content to be a spineless gelatinous ooze taking the shape of the gaps and crannies left over after Republicans have carved their positions in stone. They are weak, ineffective, hand-wringing, snobbish, disruptive, apologetic, and ultimately guilty of perpetuating the discrimination of low expectations. This is why they are losing.
If the party system of representative democracy is to be viable in America, the Democratic party must change its brand and in this effort, the Republican party is giving it a gift. How? If the Republican party is the party of scientific illiteracy, paranoia, xenophobia, wall-building, regress, and retreat, then the Democratic party should embrace the invitation to be the party of classical liberal values. They need to champion equality under the law, freedom for all religions and freedom from a single religion’s overreach. They should embrace scientific literacy, and fact-based decision making. It must become the party of reason, truth, progress, compassion, empathy, and yes, accountability.
To that end, here is a call to action. Every single partisan political race at every single level of government, deserves to be a contest. That means there should be a Democrat who embraces the aforementioned ideals, running against every Republican in the state of Georgia, indeed, in every state in the nation. For the health of the democracy, this needs to happen immediately. Every uncontested school board seat, city council position, and commissioner post, is an affront to democracy. Every unchallenged House and Senate race, whether it’s for a voice under the Gold Dome in Atlanta, or the Capital in Washington D.C., is unforgivable. The system requires, indeed demands, that brave men and women who value reason, evidence, and progress, step up, throw their names in the hat, raise their required filing fees, submit their paperwork, and plant their feet firmly in to this process.
So what must this New Democrat do? How does this party change its image. There is a model in place for the person who should run for political office as a Democrat. Not to sound too over the top here, but it’s the model of the philosopher-warrior first characterized by Socrates himself and embodied by the likes of Plato and Thucydides. Intellectual yet powerful, open to ideas yet unrelenting on promoting the truth, skeptical yet fact-based, courteous yet courageous, firm yet compassionate. The philosopher-warrior stands with squared shoulders, unafraid of confrontation, unafraid of the noise and insult, unafraid of the bully, ready to eviscerate his or her opponents intellectually, as any who have the truth on their side should be.
She is not afraid of other opinions and in fact, she welcomes the chance to hear challenging ideas so that she can adjust her own rationale and arguments in favor of the truth. She’s the embodiment of intellectual honesty. She does not hide behind censorship. She is unapologetically confrontational toward all bad ideas. She is a street epistemologist, engaging in conversations and challenging all specious or dishonest claims whenever and wherever she hears them.
This is the individual who must take up the mantel and represent the voice of reason. As the Republican party has abdicated that role (hopefully temporarily), it is then left, for now, to the Democratic party to be the home for those who value reason and evidence and who promote well-being for the many.
The Democratic party can no longer be a patchwork quilt, but rather it must be a single strong fabric woven by the many threads of all those who value equality, reason, and progress.