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The following is the second installment of a series that will be exploring -- and creating- “The Way Forward” in the wake of the campaign for Congress that, with the help of many other people, I waged in Virginia’s 6th District.  Many of my supporters have encouraged me to run again, and this series is part of the conversation about that.

The first installment ( ) delineated what was and was not achieved in the campaign just ended:  we did manage to light a real fire in the like-minded, but there are two other parts of the body politic we did not succeed in getting to treat our message with the seriousness it calls for.

Here I talk about the people who habitually vote Republican. In the next installment I will address the problems with the press—in my campaign and, I think, more generally in America in our times.

I’m asking the question:  Is there any reason to expect that, in these two areas, my message would get through better in a second run than it did in the first?

While our returns on Election Night were “respectable,” one thing is clear:  we did not make any significant inroads into the conservative part of the electorate.  

In Virginia’s 6th District, that’s a requirement for victory.  But in the broader American context, even where there are seats that can be won with only Democratic/liberal voters, getting through to those who have been supporting this Republican Party is still important: America cannot be healthy so long as nearly half our citizens are in the grip of lies that separate them from reality and that feed their hatreds and fears.
In many ways, my failure to bring “the good, decent conservatives” of this District to my side is completely unsurprising.  People do not readily break their habits, nor switch their loyalties, nor admit error.  And in my eight years of studying this problem, I’ve yet to see any approach that has succeeded in moving people from alignment with this destructive and dishonest force.

But I did have some hopes that my approach might work. I’d never seen tried what I had in mind: telling forcefully and credibly a truth framed in terms of moral righteousness.  “The battle in American politics today is not between liberal and conservative. It’s between constructive and destructive. Honest vs. dishonest…” So I declared, and I meant it.

But one thing should be noted. The problem I faced was not so much that these “good, decent” people heard my message and would not buy it. The bigger problem was that, with some exceptions, I could not even get them to hear my message.

Part of my inability to reach them with my message is about money.  I didn’t have the money to buy TV ad time and put myself in front of that audience.  But there’s another part that’s more disturbing.  There was an intensity in the refusal of some of them even to expose themselves to a message from the likes of me, the Democratic candidate for Congress.

Some have spoken of the right-wing “bubble.”  But I’m seeing it as more of a nut.  The difference is in the impermeability of the shell.  We had some experiences in this campaign that reinforce the sense that we’re up against something here that’s gone beyond the usual American kind of political loyalty and belief system and morphed into something even harder to overcome.

One gentleman in Front Royal, a former Republican who supported my candidacy, ran into the hard wall of that nut when he sent out hundreds of invitations to Republicans in the area to attend an event he was creating for Republicans to meet me.  His invitations said “RSVP,” but the only responses he got were outright hostile.

Another couple who organized a Meet & Greet for me near the center of our District were shocked and disturbed by their experience in trying to include Republicans they knew in their event. Upon hearing that the candidate featured in the event was going to be a Democrat, one woman in their church declared, “Oh, my husband and I could not come to a party for a Democrat. My husband would never want to listen to him speak.” When she spoke with a doctor and his wife, a middle-aged couple, about attending the Meet & Greet, “[T] heir response was visceral and palpable. They both recoiled slightly, bending over a little as if hearing this offer brought them pain.”

These illustrate a widespread phenomenon on the right. The distrust and distaste for “the other side” has been cultivated for so long, and has become so deeply entrenched, that the right has become almost like a cult that’s hermetically sealed from any opposing point of view, or even from the correctives of fact-checking.

One reason for me to run again would be if there were good reason to believe that I’d be able to penetrate that wall to a meaningfully greater degree in that second run.
If you believe that I should run again, perhaps you can suggest reasons for thinking that I could crack the nut better next time, and ways in which I might be able to reach those “good, decent conservatives” better.

They pretty well ignored me the first time. Is there some way I can get them to engage with me in a second run?

Andy Schmookler recently ran for Congress in the 6th Congressional District of Virginia, as the Democrat challenging the incumbent Congressman, Bob Goodlatte, in the state’s most Republican district.   He is a summa cum laude graduate of Harvard University and earned his PhD from the University of California at Berkeley, writing his book The Parable of the Tribes:  The Problem of Power in Social Evolution.  An award-winning author, political commentator, radio talk-show host, and teacher, Andy moved with his family to Shenandoah County, Virginia in 1992.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Thank you for running. (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    a2nite, meralda

    I was involved in Sue Thorn's unsuccessful campaign for Congress here in WV-01. I saw first-hand what a candidate goes through. It is a tremendous amount of work and takes fortitude to put up with the attacks. Just remember that there were ten of thousands of people who trusted you and voted for you.

    If you run again you will have more name recognition and should do better. Whether that is going to be enough to make you competitive in a Republican district is another question.

  •  Thanks for running (0+ / 0-)

    (R's) take those tired memes and shove 'em, Denise Velez Oliver, 11/7/2012.

    by a2nite on Tue Dec 04, 2012 at 11:23:31 PM PST

  •  Thank you for running (0+ / 0-)

    and for considering running again.  The increased name recognition of a second campaign can help, but I have lived in a strongly Republican state and have watched one well-qualified candidate after another lose elections to less capable, less honest candidates from the Republican side.  It's hard.

    I have seen Democrats "hide" campaign materials before visitors come because of the prevailing social assumption that many people would not even visit a home if they knew it was a Democrat's.  People don't put up signs in their yards for Democrats because they are immediately vandalized.  Democrats who are so repressed by the prevailing Republican majority makes it even harder for candidates to come forward, to raise money or to raise awareness of their candidacy.  What you describe in your failed "meet and greet" events is certainly, sadly, real.

    And yet. sometimes Democrats do succeed.  Watching the local Republicans argue about who is repugnantly conservative enough to be a "real" Republican and who is just a RINO, creates an opening to reach more reasonable Republican voters (who do exist) and who will hear your message and may contribute to your campaign.  It takes a lot of personal effort, but personally meeting with any Republicans you do know may also open some doors. Or having friends who know them meet with you in small groups of 2-6 to talk about potential support may be less threatening for them than showing up at a larger "social event" where they are not sure who else may show up and "see them" attending an event for a Democrat.  If you can find any independent-thinking persons able to give their name as a supporter, it can make other nominal Republicans, especially those not enamored with the current choices their party is fielding, at least take notice of your candidacy.

    Incremental change happens.  Thank you and good luck.  I'm glad you wrote this diary about your experience.

    Never separate the life you live from the words you speak - Paul Wellstone

    by meralda on Wed Dec 05, 2012 at 03:36:45 AM PST

  •  You characterize all Republicans as (0+ / 0-)
    in the grip of lies that separate them from reality and that feed their hatreds and fears. [Why not call them bitter clingers, while you're at it?]
    Put “the good, decent conservatives” in scare quotes.

    Call their political preference "destructive and dishonest".

    You are then surprised by the "intensity in the refusal of some of them even to expose themselves to a message from the likes of me..."  

    The answer seems self-evident.

  •  The uncracked nut (0+ / 0-)

    I join other commenters in thanking you, Andy, for running in 2012. Some thoughts about dealing with the uncracked nut:
    1. "Oh, my husband and I could not come to a party for a Democrat." Labels can help and they can hurt. Maybe there's an alternative to using the label "Democrat." As a volunteer at the Lexington-Rockbridge Co Democratic Headquarters this fall, I was pained to see that the Schmookler campaign was getting bupkus in the way of visible support from the Democratic Party at the state and national levels. I don't see that you owe the Democratic Party anything at this point. You had grass roots support, plain and simple. I realize I'm far from the first person asking the question, Is it time for another party to emerge?
    2. Doug Harwood, the publisher of The Rockbridge Advocate, has done some historical research which showed that a significant portion of Rockbridge Co. residents prior to the War Between the States were of the abolitionist persuasion but many of not most of them were not vocal about it, for the obvious reason. I think a lot of folks living here now feel kind of the same way about being of the Democratic persuasion. Our local culture in this essentially rural county tends to develop in folks a pretty keen sense of protective coloration. That means Dem or Dem-leaning folks tend to keep their political opinions to themselves but it also means some, perhaps many, people who are known or assumed to be GOP-leaning are staying mum about their receptivity to certain "liberal" positions. Maybe we'd all learn to be more vocal if we organized some gatherings that allowed us to stand in unity with like-minded folks up and down the Valley, which is to say, up and down the 6th District.
    3. Politeness in these parts trumps truth pretty consistently. Calling someone a liar is deemed impolite, and people are not prone to let any amount of nuancing alter that judgment. It's an aspect of the local culture that poses challenges for the rhetoric of a Schmookler campaign. The only solution I can offer at the moment is to flood the district with fact-based positions and thereby change pubic perception and deny further advantage to those who would play fast and loose with the truth.
    4. More positive national exposure for Andy Schmookler's positions might be a great help.

  •  "Denial is not just a river in Egypt" (0+ / 0-)

    Andy, and others, I wish I could offer some constructive ideas and new approaches to reaching or even just reaching out to conservatives (and even  far-right radicals).  My sense of frustration after working the last couple of national campaigns is monumental.

    My frustration has gotten to the point where I try to avoid persuasion calls and stick to GOTV work.  That people refuse to accept what are commonly agreed upon facts, official statistics, the lessons of history, the testimony of people who know whereof they speak -- is
     frightening.  Some of these folks are friends and family members (by marriage) but even they dismiss facts in favor of Fox Fiction.

    Shucks, if I had the answer I'd run myself!  (Not likely, just kidding.)  I think we just keep whittling away and trying to make The Valley safe for our grandchildren.

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