I observed after the first debate between Karen Handel and Jon Ossoff than the Democrat surely didn’t want to participate in a nationally televised debate because his paeans to moderation and independence would sound jarring in the ears of the California and New York liberals who have largely funded his campaign. But it turns out there may be another explanation: What passes for “moderate” talk from a Democrat is a lot more liberal than it used to be.
That’s the premise of this piece at Vox, in which Matthew Yglesias argues Ossoff isn’t a “moderate” in the mold of past Georgia Blue Dog Democrats like John Barrow and Jim Marshall. What comparison does he make instead?
“Ossoff’s campaign doesn’t look like Bernie Sanders’s, but it doesn’t look like those Blue Dog Southern Democrats’ campaigns either. What Ossoff’s message mostly reminds me of is Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign, during which he would frequently talk about his desire to go ‘line by line through the federal budget’ to cut wasteful spending — in order to reinvest the money in more useful things, of course.
“Ossoff’s message is more moderate than what you hear in more liberal parts of the country, but it’s a lot more liberal than what you heard recently in Georgia. Taking an Obama-style campaign to the Atlanta suburbs is a sign of the same leftward shift of the Democratic Party’s message that’s making free college and a $15-an-hour minimum wage a baseline for Democrats in California and the Northeast.”
Did you catch that, 6th District voters? From the perspective of a national liberal writer, Ossoff’s “moderate” talk is mostly reminiscent of Barack Obama. Who, you might recall, lost to Mitt Romney by 23 points and to John McCain by 19 points in the area now covered by the 6th District.
This just happens to coincide with what conservatives have been saying: that Ossoff is not a “moderate” in the usual sense of the word, but a standard-issue Democrat who will fit seamlessly into a caucus led by Nancy Pelosi and can’t even be bothered to explain why voters should believe otherwise.
But let’s say you still believe Ossoff is more akin to those Blue Dog ex-congressmen — who, as Yglesias documents, were very different from Ossoff in that they ran on (in Barrow’s case) opposing cap and trade and Obamacare, voting for actual spending cuts and “not just generic aspirations for less waste,” and being endorsed by the National Rifle Association, and (in Marshall’s case) “an immigration ad that looks like something Donald Trump could have cut.” What did their stances accomplish in the face of a Democratic majority in the House? What sort of “moderating” influence did they have on Pelosi and Obama?
That’s easy: none whatsoever. Congressional Democrats still passed a health law 6th District voters didn’t like, ran up budget deficits 6th District voters didn’t like, and so on. What’s more, since Marshall and then Barrow were voted out of office — along with hundreds of other Democrats at the federal and state levels during the Obama era — it’s not as if their party has become more moderate. On the contrary, the whole point of the Vox article is that a “moderate” Democrat today is a lot more liberal than just a few short years ago.
Maybe that’s reassuring to those out-of-state liberals who made more than 97 percent of the contributions to Ossoff’s campaign between March 30 and May 30 (which, astonishingly, was an even higher proportion than the 95 percent from his earlier reports). But it’s the exact opposite of the narrative Ossoff is using to woo 6th District voters.