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 (http://www.dailykos.com/... ) 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.