Democrats in the Dead Zone

Photo by Jeanne Menjoulet | CC BY 2.0

This year the Dead Zone in the Gulf of Mexico is expected to grow larger than ever. Oceanologists predict the lifeless expanse of water below the Mississippi River Delta will swell to an area bigger than the state of Vermont, an aquatic ecosystem despoiled by industrial fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides, oil leaks and the lethal effects of a warming climate. But the desolate waters of the Gulf pale next to the electoral dead zone now confronting the Democratic Party, which seems to occupy about two-thirds of the geographical area of the Republic—a political landscape deadened by the Party’s remorseless commitment to neoliberal economics, imperial wars and open hostility toward the working class base which once served as its backbone.

The latest political zombie offered up as a vessel to freight the electoral asperations of the Democrats was a pious former congressional staffer called Jon Ossoff, whose name sounds like one of those creepy Svengali-like characters from a Tod Browning horror film of the 1930s. But the candidate wasn’t as scary as all that. In fact, Ossoff scared no one, which was both his campaign theme and his problem. One of his problems, anyway. Ossoff presented himself as an anodyne candidate, a nowhere man, a quiescent emissary for a return to civility in politics. He was the white Rodney King, who plaintively asked why we couldn’t all just get along. Of course, who really wants civility in politics, when you’re working two jobs, can’t pay the power bill, have a kid with asthma and just had your Ford Focus repossessed.

Ossoff proved much more popular outside the sixth congressional district of Georgia, than within it, which is only fitting for a candidate who didn’t even bother to reside in the district he was running to represent. Ossoff was an interloper, a carpetbagger, who refused to promote even the trickle-down benefits of a second Reconstruction for a South that has been ravaged by a 30-year-long exodus of good-paying jobs.

In an age crying out for a new kind of politics, Ossoff campaigned directly from the Clinton playbook (Hillary version), apparently hoodwinked into believing that absent Russian interventionism this stale platform was a winning strategy. His main opponent was Trump, not even Trumpism, which might offend some of the Republican voters he was targeting. In what became a kind of daily ritual on the campaign trail, Ossoff repeatedly scrubbed himself clean of any taint of populism or progressive inclinations. Ossoff denounced single-payer health care, kept himself at arm’s length from Bernie Sanders and never uttered even a minor critique of American imperialism. Think of him as a prettified Tim Kaine.

Ossoff dutifully punched one item after another on the checklist of neoliberalism. He wanted to end waste in government. He wanted to trim burdensome regulations stifling the old entrepreneurial spirit. He wanted to reduce the deficit and hectored struggling black families to demonstrate “personal responsibility” if they wanted to get their federal benefits. He pledged his loyalty to Israel, decried nasty dictators from Putin to Assad and vowed to eradicate the scourge of Islamic terrorism from the face of the earth. He sedulously avoided any mention of radioactive subjects such as hunger, homelessness, drone warfare, the death penalty or police shootings. The fate of entitlement programs from Social Security to Medicaid was much too thorny for Ossoff to deal with on the campaign trail. Prosecuting Wall Street criminals somehow escaped his attention. He remained opaque on the subject of raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour. Bernie Sanders himself questioned whether Ossoff could be considered a “progressive,” but that warning sign didn’t stop progressives across the country from flooding his campaign coffers with cash. By the end of the campaign, Ossoff had raised more than $24 million, six times the amount raised by his Republican opponent Karen Handel.

After Ossoff’s ignoble defeat, Margaret Kimberly, the fiery columnist for Black Agenda Report, quipped, “What did they expect? It was a reactionary district in Georgia.” Good point. But these are precisely the kinds of districts that the Clinton Democrats (who have yet to melt  into a steaming pile of ectoplasm like most vanquished zombies) see as fertile terrain. The Georgia Sixth occupies the northern suburbs of Atlanta. It’s been solidly in Republican hands since the late 1970s, when Georgia’s segregationist Democrats had largely completed their migration into the Republican Party. For many years, the Georgia Sixth was the domain of the white-haired gnome Newt Gingrich. Later it passed into the hands of Dr. Tom Price, the errand boy of Big Pharma who views his obligations under the Hippocratic Oath with the same animosity that his ancestors once reserved for the Emancipation Proclamation. Price was reelected last November by a 23 percent margin over his Democratic challenger.

Demographically, the Georgia Sixth is populated by voters who are predominately white, suburban, middle-class and educated. In other words, it qualifies as the Democrats’ new field of dreams: cul-de-sac after cul-de-sac of houses which once proudly sprouted Romney signs from their immaculately manicured lawns. And living inside those pastel-colored split-levels and golf course condo units are thousands of housewives, quietly bristling at the misogyny of Donald Trump and his Republican enablers. These are Chuck Schumer’s women, the soft-Republican matrons he predicted would flock to non-threatening, well-groomed Democrats in the age of Trump. These were the thoughtful, silent female majority who would have yielded Florida, Michigan and Pennsylvania to Hillary had not Putin monkey-wrenched the vote. In order to seal the deal, the DNC orchestrated conveys of UberBlack towncars to shuttle Hollywood celebrities around Dekalb and Fulton Counties proclaiming the virtues of Ossoff.

So how did it all go so terribly wrong? How did the new wonder boy of Democratic politics crash-and-burn, when he had the looks, the money and the analytics all working in his favor? The answer is pretty simple. Most of the voters in the Georgia Sixth saw Ossoff as a manufactured candidate, a fraud, in a time when people are craving at least a hint of authenticity. Ossoff may have come by his timid neoliberalism honestly, but he struck many as a political cross-dresser. If you’re going to vote for a conservative, why not vote for the real thing?

The attack ad that really doomed Ossoff wasn’t the grotesque smear that ludicrously tried to link him to the shooting of Rep. Steve Scalise, but a relatively routine spot that predicted he’d become the political automaton of Nancy Pelosi. In a region that understands the relationship between master and slave, this ad rang true. Throughout the entire campaign, Ossoff had shown not the slightest impulse toward independence of thought or character. He was a creature of a party establishment which had long since auctioned off  its soul to the same Wall Street predators that had looted the textile factories, fields and ports of the Southland as ruthlessly as General Sherman during his incendiary march to the sea.

There are Pyrrhic victories, where the cost of winning a battle is so great that you lose the war. The Ossoff campaign might be considered a Pyrrhic loss, where so many financial and psychic resources are invested into a relatively minor skirmish that the defeat dooms the course of the larger war, when ultimate victory was well within their grasp. The loss is compounded by the lessons the Democratic elites have drawn from the post-mortem. That Ossof’s campaign was too progressive for the region. That the Democrats need to turn away from populism and return to the corporate-friendly conservativism of the Bill Clinton years, with a little of the old Lester Maddox race-baiting thrown in where needed. Thinking like this all but ensures that the next made-for MSDNC centrist cipher will be even more feeble than Ossoff.

The real engineers of this debacle, Nancy Pelosi, Chuck Schumer and Tom Perez, shield themselves from any culpability. They did their part. They raised truckloads of money off of Ossoff–$24 million, a record for any congressional campaign. The long-held view from the DNC suites is that it’s fine to lose as long as you lose profitably. Those floods of cash keep the electoral-industrial complex fueled, regardless of its win-loss record. The four consecutive defeats in the special elections this spring had their programmatic upside. The tragic stories of those failed campaigns will help generate even more desperately worded fund-raising appeals from the DNC in the weeks and months to come, warning of the fascist schemes of the Trump Monster and his puppet master Vladimir Putin. Even Bernie Sanders has fallen for the scam, investing $100,000 last month from his Our Revolution account into the repositories of a party which views his political agenda (and its adherents) as an anathema. And thus the Democrats—left, right and center–sink deeper and deeper into a hypoxic doldrums of their own design.


Roaming Charges

+ The GOP has just unveiled its Unplanned Parenthood Bill, but don’t expect any food stamps to help feed your surprise baby…

+ Amid the endless ironies of the heath care saga, let us never forget that ObamaCare originated out the rightwing Heritage Foundation and the savage caps on Medicaid slated in the GOP version of its TrumpCare bill were originally proposed in 1997 by Bill Clinton and greeted with wild acclaim on the editorial pages of the New York Times.

+ Since neither ObamaCare nor TrumpCare are really about HealthCare, the fate of the bill will be determined by how its true target, the insurance lobby, feels about it. Not so great it appears

+ You know the Democratic elites are running scared when the Washington Post runs this kind of three column headline for an editorial blasting Single-Payer…

+ The first sensible thing Emmanuel Macron has said: “Assad is no enemy of France.”

Pr0-Assad observers correctly point out that Macron also said that he believes Assad is the “enemy of the Syrian” people and therefore has left the door open for toppling the Baathist regime. Perhaps. Yet, it’s clear that Assad is the enemy of a great many Syrian people, as Macron is an enemy of many French people and Trump an enemy of the majority of the American people. The question is whether Assad’s relationship to the Syria people is any business of the French people and it’s refreshing rhetoric, at the very least, to hear Macron recalibrate the long-held French position on regime change in Syria.

+ Bernie Sanders said that he “couldn’t remember an American president with more authoritarian tendencies than Trump.” Really, Bernie? It’s hard to get more authoritarian than Obama killing American citizens by drone without an indictment, trial or declaration of war. Trump’s authoritarianism comes with the office.

+ The cop in the Philando Castile case did nothing right, from the traffic stop itself to the shooting of an innocent man, even so the victim is being blamed for his own homicide.

+ So you’re black and you want to be a cop? In St. Louis this week, a black off-duty cop tried to help victims in car crash, is ordered to the ground by arriving police, is eventually recognized and allowed to stand, then is shot by police in what the department called a case of “friendly fire“….

+ In the span of a week, Team Trump shot down a Syrian fighter jet, buzzed a Russian passenger jet occupied by Russia’s defense minister Sergey Shoiju and shot down an Iranian drone over Syrian airspace. I guess we can be grateful it wasn’t a passenger jet filled with Iranian civilians ala Bush I (prompting Poppy to declare “I’ll never apologize for America!”), but it sure seems like Team Trump is attacking anyone but ISIS in Syria.

+ The New York Times has catalogued a “definitive list” of Trump’s lies since taking office. It’s an impressive resumé of whoppers, libels, calumnies and falsifications. Yet it remains impossible to evaluate just how GREAT this record of fabulation is unless we are able to compare it to a similar concordance of lies by Obama, Bush, Clinton, Reagan, Nixon, LBJ, JFK, Truman, FDR, Hoover, Harding, Wilson, Taft, TR, Andrew Johnson, Jackson, Monroe, Jefferson, Adams and some of the other All Star presidential prevaricators….

+ The US used the weapon to end all wars twice and has been at war ever since…

+ Fukushima: it’s what’s for dinner (and breakfast and brunch and power lunch and those Ivanka-endorsed champagne popsicles)…

+ Apparently, Putin’s moles at Langley are all sweet tooths

+ Thanks to Democratic Party incompetence and Trump, George W. Bush now has a 59% favorability rating (he’s even viewed approvingly by 41% of Democrats!).

+ What’s worse than Russian hacking?  How about the GOP releasing on the internet personal data on nearly 200 million American voters?

+ This week Trump appointed DC-fixer Richard Hohlt to the President’s Commission on White House Fellowships. For the past few years, Hohlt has toiled as Saudi Arabia’s top lobbyist on Capitol Hill. Hohlt, a registered foreign agent, was paid $430,000 to provide his sage advice to the Saudi’s on “legislative and public affairs strategies.” Trump has drained the swamp and refilled it with oil sands…

+ Truckers are America’s newest debt slaves, working 16-hour days, sleeping in their cabs, paying for their own gas, truck repairs and health care, earning pennies on the hour, totally at the mercy of their vicious creditors…

+ While they are investigating the alleged terrorist incident in the Bishop Airport, the Joint Terrorism Task Force might also look into the terrorist acts of Gov. Rick Snyder toward the good people of Flint…

+ In the latest bit of self-dealing at the expense of the poor from President Slumlord, Trump is proposing to slash billions in funding from federal housing programs for the destitute and homeless, except for those subsidies that are paid directly to private landlords, including properties owned by Trump and his son-in-law Jared Kushner…

+ Trump could have saved himself a lot of grief by making Flynn his Secretary of Commerce, then all of the goofy general’s nefarious deals could have been written off to the ravenous demands of global capital.

+ The racist scumbag (XXL) Newt Gingrich compared the FBI investigation into Trump to “an Indian hunting party out looking for scalps.” Of course, it was the government who put out bounties for Indian scalps (25 cents a piece)

+ By the year 2100, more than 75% of the world’s population could face killer heat waves. Don’t despair. Just call 1-800-Rick-Perry Heating and Cooling.

+ It feels good to wake up in the morning and find yourself at the top of someone’s list

+ What Nigerians think of Trump….

+ From Barry Seal to Navy Seals, the CIA’s history of drug running endures…

+ White Brain Rot Syndrome is now an epidemic and has leaped the border infecting Canada

+ 25 children are killed by guns in America every week. If only their parents had armed them, surely most would still be living today…

+ The decline of rock music started with the death of the cowbell, now this

+ Be vigilant against the Revolution from Within, dear parents, and report all Suspicious Texting to Jefferson B. Sessions.

+ At 83-years old, the maestro of minimalism, Ahmad Jamal, remains as sharply concise as ever…

Sound Grammar

What I’m listening to this week…

Marseille by Ahmad Jamal

Cub(an)ism by Aruan Ortiz

Southside Blues by Big Joe Williams

Recorded Live in Lafayette by Sonny Landreth

Sweet Kind of Blue by Emily Barker

Booked Up

What I’m reading this week…

The Ends of the World: Volcanic Apocalypses, Lethal Oceans, and Our Quest to Understand Earth’s Past Mass Extinctions by Peter Brand

Sellout: How Washington Gave Away America’s Technological Soul, and One Man’s Fight to Bring It Home by Victoria Bruce

Walkaway: a Novel by Cory Doctorow

Choosing to Forget

Jim Harrison: “The Statue of Liberty, that frequently malevolent bitch, has an enormous tumor in her gut that has spread to her brain and eyes. With regard to the Native Americans she has Alzheimer’s or mad cow disease and can’t remember her past, and her blind eyes can’t see the terrifying plight of most of the Indian tribes. Meanwhile she blows China and stomps Cuba to death, choosing to forget the Native cultures she has already destroyed.”

Jeffrey St. Clair is editor of CounterPunch. His most recent book is An Orgy of Thieves: Neoliberalism and Its Discontents (with Alexander Cockburn). He can be reached at: or on Twitter @JeffreyStClair3