Hand-wringing is the order of the day among mainstream liberals after defeat in Tuesday’s Georgia special election. There was out-sized hope that the election would be a “referendum” on the first disastrous months of the Trump presidency; a victory for Democratic challenger Jon Ossoff in the red congressional district would point a clear path to more Democratic victories in 2018 and an end to the Trumpian abomination.
No such luck; Republicans retain the seat, and the president is reported to be “very proud.” But the analysis was flawed from the first. The election was no referendum, and Ossoff represented no break from a failed Democratic strategy of running cautiously from the “mainstream.” More than anything, Trump’s shocking victory in November meant that Americans want something radically different than mainstream politics-as-usual, especially as applied to the declining economic fortunes of the broad (so-called) middle class.
Some Dems are now calling for a shake-up in the party leadership (including Bernie Sanders, who has better reason than anyone, having been robbed of the presidential nomination by that same leadership), and the plotting of a new, distinctively progressive policy path. Can new leadership save the party and point a way to victory in future elections? Maybe, but I’m skeptical. Too much (polluted) water has flowed under that rickety bridge. Progressives – and yes, social workers are (or should be) progressives; they practically invented the word at the beginning of the last century – need a new party, with what’s left of labor and the myriad social movements (some of them new, some of them energized by Trump) at its core.
A new party with new blood offers the best hope to stifle America’s disastrous lurch to the right and get us back on a genuinely democratic (small “d”) track. Erstwhile Democrats are more than welcome to join up.