To be clear, David Brat beating Eric Cantor will change absolutely nothing. The Republican Congress is the least productive Congress in American history. Replacing a majority leader who was instrumental in that lack of productivity with a very junior congressman who will likely play a minor role in governing the caucus is, at worst, an even swap.
The punditry and everyone else should stop hyperventilating about the Brat victory. It means absolutely nothing to an already failed party. That said, there is a very large positive that grassroots progressives should be hyperventilating about—more about that a bit later.
One of the big cause célèbre of progressives and others is the corrosive effect of money in politics. The U.S. Supreme Court has interpreted the Constitution in a manner that has codified that corporations are people, aka corporate personhood (Trustees of Dartmouth College v. Woodward, Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad and Pembina Consolidated Silver Mining Co. v. Pennsylvania).
As people, corporations get to partake of our inalienable rights codified in the Bill of Rights. They get free speech and much more. Further, the Supreme Court codified that money is a form of speech (Buckley v. Valeo). It isn’t hard to see how all this evolved into giving PACs and corporations virtually unlimited "speech" (Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission). It is then easy to understand giving the individual virtually unlimited "speech" (McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission).
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There are a multitude of organizations collecting millions of dollars from the grassroots to fight this battle, a battle that must be fought. It is a battle that must be won. That said, it was with awe that one watched the returns on Tuesday night with Brat’s victory over Cantor. Irrespective of the advantage given to corporate money, the underdog won.
The man who spent less than Eric Cantor spent on serving steaks to lobbyists won. The man no one took seriously won. The man who spoke to the hearts of his base won. The man who worked tirelessly won. The man who walked door to door won.
CNN.com had a piece titled 7 reasons Eric Cantor lost. The article did not highlight the most important reason Cantor lost as much as it should have: He was disconnected from his base. It is not only that he was at a Starbucks fundraising on Election Day, it's that he seemed to be working for everyone except his own constituents. Most believe that unlimited money, advertising and negative attacks can always mitigate these misdeeds, especially if one has a façade of being like you. David Brat disproved that.
So what can Eric Cantor’s loss to David Brat teach progressive activists and their candidates? Quite a bit, it turns out.
First, his win is very inspiring. One can disagree with everything this Libertarian bastion of inconsistent economic beliefs stands for and still respect his epic accomplishment. More importantly, one can learn from his method.
Second, the tea party, though a minority, is successful because of message homogeneity and actions of a particular sect of their movement. Even if they don’t win, they are feared because they might win. It is for this reason the Republican Party is now the tea party, in deeds if not in name.
The progressive wing of the Democratic Party is more in line with the values of America. If one enumerates these values item by item, there is American support. What is lacking is connecting to Americans’ hearts. What is lacking is the ability to meet Americans at their doorsteps instead of asking Americans to see why the progressive way supports their values and their economic interests.