Unity and Healing for Everyone!…Except Progressive Democrats, BLM and Socialists

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Last week leaked audio of remarks made by Virginia Representative Abigail Spanberger, while on a House Democratic Caucus conference call caused something of a stir. The gist I got through the media-land ether was that she said calls to “defund the police” and the fact that some Democratic office holders refer to themselves as “democratic-socialists,” had ruined the Democrats’ chances to increase congressional majorities and had even cost several Democratic House members their seats. This charge was echoed by South Carolina Rep Jim Clyburn and others. But I decided to focus on the Spanberger audio clip, since it has been so widely discussed. I started by listening to exactly what she said.

Here’s it is verbatim:

Now there’s an awful lot to unpack here, including the irony, apparently lost on Rep Spanberger, about “after-actions” carried out by an organization that has interfered in dozens of elections, helped to outright overthrow legitimately elected governments or assassinate their leaders, since its founding in 1947. But I want to focus on the issue of attack ads because Spanberger specifically credits those with having damaged Democratic prospects in 2020. Before we get into this, let me also make it clear that I actually agree with some of what Spanberger said. Campaign messaging and the words used by candidates for elected office are important and candidates should mean what they say. However, the issue here is whether the phrase “defunding the police” and the words, “socialist” or “socialism” contributed in large part toward the Democrats’ somewhat lackluster performance. And here I think the evidence to support this contention is decidedly mixed.

Lets take a look at incumbent Oklahoma Democrat Kendra Horn’s loss to Republican Stephanie Brice. Did the language/messaging of “defunding” the police or “socialism” play a role in Horn’s defeat? Maybe but look what else I found out about this race. The Oklahoman the largest daily newspaper in Oklahoma, reported on October 11, 2020 that Horn was “battling Pelosi ads,” while her opponent was shifting her emphasis away from Trump support. The report goes on to say:

Earlier, in September, KOCO News 5, an ABC-affiliate in Oklahoma reported on another attack as against Horn for failing to support the state’s oil and gas industry. The ad refers to Horn as a “liberal” (not a socialist) and pictured her standing net to Nancy Pelosi. OK, we’re just beginning but so far, nothing about defunding the police or socialism.

Net up is the Texas’ 23rd District race where Republican Tony Gonzales beat Democrat Gina Ortiz Jones. This race was identified by a CNN report as a “top pick-up opportunity” for the Dems. Ortiz Jones is a Filipino-American, former U.S. Air Force intelligence officer, who is also gay. She first ran in 2018 but narrowly lost to incumbent Republican William Hurd. On October 14, 2020, LGBTQ Nation reported that the GOP was launching anti-LGBTQ attack ads against Ortiz Jones. The report continued:

OK, we finally got a mention for AOC! But, curiously, still nada about socialism or defunding the police, so my search continued. We heard a lot about Florida, the latinx vote down there etc., so let’s take a look at freshman Democratic Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell’s loss to Republican Carlos Giménez. Here’s what the Miami Herald had to say in an October 24 report:

And then there’s this:

So, look folks, at this point I’m starting to get tired from all of this and maybe you are too (but THANKS for hangin in there with me!) maybe attack ads about defunding the police and socialism did have an impact on some races. Former NYPD officer John Cummings, who ran as a Republican against Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, definitely used the word “socialist” in one of his ads and I heard from an in district friend that Cummings also ran one where he attacked AOC for calling to “defund the police.” But, of course, Cummings was the one who got shellacked in NY’s 14th Congressional District. One race where it may have made a difference was in NY’s 1st Congressional District, comprised of a large portion of Suffolk County, where Democrat Nancy Goroff mounted a first time challenge against incumbent Republican Lee Zeldin. But Goroff made the cardinal mistake of running an ad where she kept repeating, “I’m not for defunding the police” (see progressive political language/ messaging expert, George Lakoff’s book, Don’t Think of an Elephant, for more on why that’s a BIG no, no).

To conclude, once again, let me stress that I’m not necessarily saying defunding the police and socialism didn’t play a role in the Dems lukewarm showing in 2020. And if you can show me specifically where it did, aside from the Gofoff-Zeldin race, I’ll buy you a drink. But why is their so much focus on these two particular items, that by their very nature call progressives, socialists and independent movements outside the control of the Democratic Party like Black Lives Matter, into question, when there are CLEARLY a LOT of other explanations for Democratic losses?

Why are we not talking so much about them?

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Al Ronzoni

Al Ronzoni

Al Ronzoni is a writer, historian and political activist based in New York City