The following is the first installment of a series that will be exploring -- and creating- “The Way Forward” in the wake of the campaign for Congress that, with the help of many other people, I waged in Virginia’s 6th District and that, while not victorious, many feel achieved a great deal.In the aftermath of the election on November 6th, many dozens of people have written or phoned me to encourage me to run for Congress again (against Bob Goodlatte in Virginia’s 6th District) in 2014. I am honored and fortified by that encouragement, and by all the laudatory words that accompanied it.
Your participation in this discussion is strongly encouraged, as this series --including selected comments-- may become part of a permanent and published work that in itself may have a political impact.
I’m also open to the possibility. But I’m not yet prepared to make a decision one way or the other. To my mind, the more useful question is not, at this point, “Should I run again in 2014?” but rather a question that’s prior, and more fundamental: “What is the best way for me – and all of us together — to build upon what we’ve already accomplished in order to have the greatest possible positive impact on the political crisis that besets our country?”
So let’s look at how that crisis should be perceived, and what our campaign did and did not achieve related to it.
The most obvious part of the crisis is that “a sick and broken” spirit has taken over one of our two major political parties and has been wielding great power in ways that are “more dishonest and more destructive than anything ever seen before at center stage of American politics.”
But its ability to gain such power is testimony to the fact that the pathology is not confined to the political right (and the Republican Party). This dangerous force could only succeed as much as it has because the “immune system” of the American body politic has become compromised. An immune system is supposed first to recognize the pathological when it enters the body and second to combat it to make sure that the pathology does not take over the body.
Our founders gave us a system in which 1) the competing factions (i.e. the Democratic Party), 2) the press, and 3) the American people would recognize and suppress such a dishonest and destructive force. As I demonstrated in several of my “Rounds” talks (e.g. on the “torture memo” f legal fraud, and on the climate change issue), all three of those components of the American body politic failed to respond as our founders would have wished.
I ran for Congress as the best way I could find of trying to activate the immune system and fight the disease.
In our campaign, the pathology was well-represented by Bob Goodlatte, who plays the role of rubber stamp for the destructive force the Republican Party has become, and who consistently communicates dishonestly with the people.
I played the role of the competing faction by dealing with that pathology in the way that I thought the Democratic Party should have been doing for some years: denouncing the Republican Party for what it is, and calling out their lies.
I hoped to light a fire – the fire of “Truth. For a change.” — and for that fire to spread with such energy that it would alter the political landscape.
In one domain, I feel I succeeded. Among the like-minded – those who already sided against the force we must fight — a fire did get kindled. People would say to me that “You’re preaching to the choir,” and I would reply that I wasn’t preaching to the choir, I was “trying to raise an army.”
In the last two or three months before the election, the evidence of the growing fire among us was evident at almost every campaign event. April and I were met and buoyed up by a bright passion in our supporters like nothing I ever experienced. The army I sought had been raised, and it put up an outstanding fight.
That’s what we’ve built now. And what we can hope now to build upon.
But that leaves two other elements of the body politic where there remained important barriers we didn’t manage to get past to any significant degree: that portion of the people who did not begin like-minded, but rather who have been successfully manipulated by the lies, and who showed an unwillingness even to check me out; and the press on whose coverage of my message our campaign necessarily relied.
Part of coming to an answer to the question “Should Andy Schmookler run once again for Congress against Bob Goodlatte in 2014?” involves looking at these two parts of the picture where the “immune system” did not get activated.
Is there a way that a second effort can succeed in those areas – reaching the “good, decent conservatives of this district,” getting the press to treat our message with a deeper level of seriousness—where the first effort failed?
It’s not clear to me that, without greater success in those areas, my making a second run for Congress would achieve much that we haven’t already achieved.
So let’s turn now to look at each of those two areas –“cracking the nut” of the right-wing alternate reality so many of our neighbors dwell in, and enlisting the press in a genuine inquiry into what’s true and what’s a lie in American politics today—and assess what we’re up against.
Andy Schmookler is an award-winning author, political commentator, radio talk-show host, and teacher, Andy moved with his family to Shenandoah County in 1992. He is a graduate of Harvard University and holds a PhD from the University of California at Berkeley.