I am reaching out from the 6th Congressional District of Georgia with a warning for all Democratic voters in America. About a week ago I attended a Town Hall meeting with Congresswoman Lucy McBath. I discovered that the Georgia 6th is Ground Zero for the 2020 election and what goes on here is likely a bell-weather for the nation. Republicans will pull out all the stops here because there is no congressional district in the nation that they are more desperate to win back than this one. Orange County California turning blue in 2018 got a lot of media attention because it was a symbolic prize for Republicans- more of that sickening Reagan-worship they revel in. But in reality it was little more than a Republican haven in the middle of a state they have no chance of winning in the foreseeable future. But losing this seat representing the predominantly white suburbs of Atlanta in the ruby-red state of Georgia stung the GOP like a hive of mad yellow-jackets and they are dying to undo that shocking humiliation.
Losing in a once safe district with this education and income level and demographic profile spells immediate trouble in Pennsylvania and impending doom in Texas with the right candidate topping the ticket (Beto, the Senate is calling. Please answer the call).
Recall that the Georgia 6th is the home of Newt Gingrich, Tom Price and Karen Handle- three conservative culture warriors who represent everything that is wrong and soulless in American politics. They are cravenness, racism, misogyny and graft incarnate. This district had not been represented by a Democrat since before Beyonce was born; since before smart phones were seen anywhere other than Inspector Gadget cartoons; and since the closest thing to Facebook was the family photo album collecting dust on the coffee table. Personal computers were barely two years old back in 1979 when Gingrich flipped the 6th from blue to red.
So after 40 years of comfy control of this jewel of Georgia politics the Republicans are in deep distress over Congresswoman McBath’s victory. Getting her out of this seat is their top priority. It is not a coincidence that the National Rifle Association just happened to elect a woman president early this year that hails from THIS very congressional district. Carolyn D. Meadows is an old, rich white lady and Ms. McBath performed better than expected in that demographic. Anyone who cannot see a connection there is so blind they need a service dog to cross the street.
So the GOP effort to oust Ms. McBath is in “all hands on deck” mode. And with the most corrupt governor in the country, Brian Kemp, exercising de facto control over this election, Republicans are inclined and empowered to resort to any means necessary- fair and unfair, legal and illegal- to reverse the results of 2018 in 2020. Surely they see it as a blip on the screen that Brian Kemp can erase for them with another round of voter-roll purging and perhaps another batch of defective voting machines. After what I saw at Ms. McBath’s Town Hall it may not come to all that. She was pitch-perfect: warm, authentic, professional and committed.
But she could wind up losing despite all of that because Democratic leadership In D.C. Is the problem, not the solution.
The second question asked of the congresswoman exposed this reality in stark terms. An earnest young woman stood up and after expressing her strong support for Ms. McBath expressed her even stronger concern about the Democrats’ limp and shaky strategy for holding Donald Trump fully accountable for his long list of impeachable offenses. The answer was a nothing-burger about slowly “following the process.” It demonstrated the inexplicable and undeniable weakness of the Democrat’s position heading into 2020. That weakness is inexcusable and is a function of poor leadership. The generals in the party are holding back the soldiers because they don’t really understand how strong the soldiers are.
After watching Ms. McBath interact with her constituents for an hour it occurred to me that she has done something that NOBODY in Democratic Party leadership has done: she won her seat in an upset victory in a district where Democrats weren’t supposed to have a chance to win. Nancy Pelosi has never faced that in San Francisco. Neither Jerry Nadler nor Chuck Schumer has ever faced that in New York City. Neither Steny Hoyer nor Elijah Cummings has ever faced that in Maryland. James Clyburn has never faced that in Columbia, South Carolina. Richie Neal has never faced that in Boston. And Adam Schiff has certainly never faced that in West Hollywood, California. That does not make them inherently incapable of leading the caucus but it does call attention to the fact that fighting and winning difficult political battles is not an experience that this leadership can readily relate to. None of them has blazed a political trail and opened up new opportunities for the party and the country like Lucy McBath has.
Consequently, the are unfamiliar with the energy and the resolve of the upstart pugilists in their ranks. These old establishment Democrats may know how to ride the waves when they come but they have no idea how to make the waves themselves. And this is a time for wave-makers to lead the way, not wave-riders.
These same party leaders were in place when they lost the House in 2010 after the hard won passage of the Affordable Care Act. They rode the wave of President Obama’s historic election and his enormous political capital to take the house in 2008 but they could not make the waves necessary to maintain their majorities when it was time to face the voters without him driving turn-out. Candidates ran away from him and the work that they did and Republicans smelled their fear. And they got pounded.
A great many of the newly elected Democrats in 2018 beat pollsters projections and then won at the polls on election day. So for them, getting into a political fight does not mean watching what the pollsters report and then tailoring a message to fit those results. For them, it means pushing a message you believe in and letting the chips fall.
Nancy Pelosi is calling plays designed to avoid losing rather than running an offense designed to win. She has her caucus playing scared and there is no worse way to play. These new congressional representatives are dutifully falling in line- giving up the strength of their momentum and mandate and preaching patience and process. As directed by Nancy Pelosi and the party leaders they are pushing the fearful strategy of the status-quo. They desperately want to hold on to the House so they can do what? Pass a bunch of bills that will be ignored by the Senate? So they can wait around for the perfect polling data that says it is okay to do their job and hold the Executive Branch accountable to the citizenry? That is not inspiring. In fact it is a major turn-off. And voters that are turned-off rarely turn-out.
It takes more than a talented politician to upend a four-decades long entrenched power and Ms. McBath is a talented politician. It takes a certainty of purpose from the top that everybody below can tap into. Right now, that certainty is sorely lacking. And that could tragically end the careers of promising political leaders and leave us with the same old politicians of the past. If she were to ask me, I would advise Ms. McBath to just be her and ignore the Pelosi line about patience and process. She is a winner, but that message is a loser.