(I apologize for how long this took to get out. Under the circumstances, I thought that a personal note was best; also under the circumstances, it’s been hard to collect my thoughts. None of you should be surprised by now that this turned out kind of long.)
As you’ve (hopefully) already heard, the Illinois primary was last Tuesday. We lost.
It’s been hard to find a positive context in which to put that. I know that, thanks to you, our campaign was able to do a lot of things right. Some of the things that we did were extraordinary.
We built the first professional, organized, Democratic campaign that our district has seen since it was last re-drawn following the 2010 Census. We were able to raise more than $200,000 in campaign contributions – also a first for our district since 2010 – without taking a nickel of corporate PAC money.
Most critically of all, we did all of that without any support from the national party. I knew exactly what I was signing up for when I decided to run. I knew that anything we built would have to be built from scratch. That’s why this race was so important; I still believe that American politics looks the way it does right now in large part because our Democratic Party had, over the course of many years, given up on districts like the 16th. Things won’t get better until campaigns like ours, with good people working hard on issues that matter even in districts held by entrenched Republican incumbents, are the rule and not the exception.
Defeat is a bitter pill to swallow, but I hope all of that work will have done some good – not just for our party’s nominee in this race, but for the future of the Democratic Party in our state and in our country.
I also hope that all of the other first-time candidates, organizers, and volunteers that I’ve met over the course of the past year are able to stay engaged and active going forward. There’s so much talent, and commitment to progressive ideas, all across our district. Illinois needs you. The country needs you.
I’ll be making hundreds of phone calls over the next several weeks to thank as many of our volunteers, donors, and other supporters as I possibly can. So many people gave so much to make our campaign possible. There are some people who went so far above and beyond that I don’t know if I can ever adequately repay them. But I’ll try.
All that said, I unfortunately have to ask all of you for a few more things:
1) Please don’t make this about Trump: Donald Trump is not someone who’s capable of planning for the future. He is not someone with long-term goals. The political decisions that we’re going to be paying for over the course of the next few decades aren’t anything he came up with – they’re the things that are the basic building blocks of the Republican Party: shirking our responsibility to fight climate change, polluting our environment to make a quick buck, continuing to allow private health insurance companies to bleed us dry, and in general favoring the rich over the poor whenever (and to the greatest extent) possible.
Our problem isn’t Trump. Our problem is Republicans. When we fixate on Donald Trump, we’re giving a free pass to Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell, and Ted Cruz to do the kind of long-term damage that Trump simply does not have the ability to come up with.
2) Reject the “view from nowhere”: If you watch cable news, you’re familiar with the “view from nowhere” even if you’ve never heard the term before. It’s the idea that journalists should avoid bias by always presenting multiple points of view and treating them all with the same level of respect, even if some of them are completely absurd by any honest and reasonable standard. That’s how we end up giving precious air time to people who think that the solution to gun violence in our country is to arm teachers, or that our federal deficit is caused by people getting food stamps.
The “view from nowhere” is the kind of luxury that we simply can’t afford anymore. The stakes are too high. We can’t settle for leadership that tells us that the sensible thing to do must be whatever option is in the middle of the other options being offered. Given the choice between a single-payer health insurance program and our private, for-profit system, the right answer isn’t a compromise between the two. It’s Medicare for All.
If a policy is bad, then we should say so, and that policy should be rejected. And if a policy is good, we need to fight for it as hard as we can and not compromise on that vision.
3) Hold political leaders accountable, including Democrats. (OK, especially Democrats): I heard a certain Democratic leader in our district say on the trail, more than once, that “even the worst Democrat is better than the best Republican.” Maybe that’s true, even if it always sounded way too simplistic for me.
But right or wrong, there’s a real danger in that kind of thinking. If you buy the premise that every Democrat is a saint and every Republican is a sinner, then all an incumbent Democratic politician has to do to earn reelection is to remind everyone that they’re not a Republican. When we lower our expectations for what’s possible in political life, our leaders will act accordingly.
That’s why we have to have high standards, and when our elected leaders tell us that they worked hard but just couldn’t get something done, take that claim with a grain of salt. They may be telling the truth, but they also might be saying that in order to get out of fighting for something they don’t themselves believe. Our task as voters is to figure out which is which, and we can only do that when we hold our own side accountable.
To sum all that up, we need to reject the politics of failure. We can’t keep making excuses for why things can’t change. If entrenched interests mean that we can’t pass a Medicare-for-All bill or keep the financial safeguards in place to prevent another Great Recession, then we have to take on and defeat those entrenched interests. If there aren’t enough votes in Congress to ban assault weapons, then we need to change who’s in Congress. And if the millions of dollars in our political system mean that it’s too hard to change Congress, then we need to get money out of politics and refuse to support candidates who aren’t serious about making that happen.
I like to think that one thing my campaign brought to the table in this race, besides my expertise in issues like healthcare reform and the work my team and I did to raise the money to run a professional race, was that I always tried to be as clear as I could be about what my politics are. However much I sounded on the campaign trail like the college professor that at one time I still wanted to be, my worldview is actually pretty simple: I think that the fundamental task of government is to protect the weak from being bullied and exploited by the strong. Everything else I believe about all the many issues with which a member of Congress has to grapple stems from that one basic conviction.
If we support other politicians who think like that, we’ll find ourselves expanding the realm of what’s politically possible in a hurry. I urge you to go out and find those people, in every race you can – from your local school boards to the White House. That’s the only way any of this will change.
Thank you. For everything.