Too many progressives are complaining that Conor Lamb, who just scored a major upset by winning a congressional seat in Pennsylvania Trump country, is not a real progressive—and they are correct. However, he is progressive enough.
My advice here in Texas has been consistent: vote for the most progressive candidate that can win. Then fight like hell when they are elected to ensure they vote according to our progressive tenets as defined in the Democratic Party platform.
Conor Lamb won his district because he intelligently balanced his values against his party’s values and his potential constituents’ values. He successfully navigated his beliefs vs. the public interest, as best he could (e.g., he is personally anti-choice, but supports pro-choice policies).
Lamb’s form of campaigning is instructive. A caller to my show said she had nothing against immigrants, but was concerned that having another pool of workers would materially affect her family’s life. She said her husband who worked in construction was always undercut by the immigrant worker, because they worked for less. She also assumed that they could work for less because immigrants might not be accountable for paying taxes and other things citizens are responsible for. In effect, she feared the immigrant not out of racial animus, but because she felt it affected her family’s bottom line.
I am not naive, and it’s clear there are some who are just racist. That said, the right wing has understood that selectively personalizing issues specific to regions around the country is successful, because that is how humans are wired. They also understand that in our fast-paced world where the working/middle class does not have the time to spend doing a lot of research, getting their message out (however untrue) and repeating it ad nauseam makes it true to a large segment of the country.
The right wing has an echo chamber in Fox News and talk radio to hammer that message. What is even worse is that they have enlisted evangelical leaders to promote fallacies by giving them the social carrot of being completely against same-sex marriage, abortion, and much more. This is doing much harm to our country, but Lamb’s form of campaigning was so effective that he prevailed in a district that Trump won by 20 points.
The right, under the auspices of corporations, does not want the government or “we the people” to invest in ourselves to rebuild our decaying infrastructure, educational system, and public services. There are at least three specific reasons. If Americans believe the government has failed in education, then privatization becomes an option in their minds. If our government-funded infrastructure crumbles, then extensive privatization of our roads (tolls, etc.) becomes a viable option. And if public services like the DMV and the Post Office provide poor services, then privatizing becomes an alternative.
In other words: starve the government from collecting the fair share of taxes from those who have benefitted the most. This then starves the government of the ability to keep up with our infrastructure (roads, bridges, airports, ports, etc.), our educational system, and our public services. Sabotage our public sector then claim government does not work and privatization is essential.
To break that cycle we must first regain a majority in Congress by all means necessary. As many have said, this means electing candidates with a message that fits their district. Their message may not necessarily be as progressive as it needs to be, but it may be as progressive as it can be—for now. It is incumbent on the grassroots to educate the constituency going forward so they can ably deflect the lies coming from the right.
Remember, when asked specifically about their wants, most Americans are progressive—and Conor Lamb is the template to win many districts that lean Republican.