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Editorial: Put energy into political acts that propel change
It is understandable that pent-up political frustration is leading many in the party now largely out of power nationwide — i.e., Democrats — to aim their protestations directly at the politicians and bureaucrats carrying out what they see as detestable policies.
President Donald Trump’s short-lived but highly controversial family-separation practice — which saw young children, toddlers and even infants taken from their parents — elicited particularly robust public outcry and, increasingly, personal pushback.
- Trump administration higher-ups such as Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen and White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders were heckled or refused service at restaurants.
- Immigration protesters rallied loudly and handed out “wanted” posters outside White House aide Stephen Miller’s apartment.
- A group of protesters confronted Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and his wife, Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, as they left a Georgetown University dinner event.
It can be argued that the administration has brought such wrath upon itself, but Democrats should remember that there are more productive ways to expend their political energies.
One need look no further than newly minted Democratic congressional candidate Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who unseated high-ranking, veteran House incumbent Joe Crowley in an unlikely upset in New York’s June 26 primary.
The 28-year-old community activist — who was outspent 10-1 — ran an inspiring campaign that spoke to the needs and desires of her Bronx and Queens neighbors. She ignored the incumbent administration in Washington — not the issues it raises or the policies it wrongly pursues, but the personalities — and offered voters a compelling, positive alternative.
Closer to home, Rep. Conor Lamb followed much the same playbook in capturing a western Pennsylvania House seat that had long been GOP terrain.
Lamb faced considerable odds in the March 13 special election for state’s 18th congressional district — from running in a dependably red district to facing a well-financed Republican state lawmaker who was joined on the stump by President Trump and two of his children.
But Lamb largely ignored the big guns and, like Ocasio-Cortez, refused to make the campaign a referendum on the Trump administration. He instead focused on his legitimate personal connection to the district and primarily moderate positions on a number of issues, such as calls for a bipartisan effort to improve the Affordable Care Act.
In winning a nail-biter, Lamb did something instructive: He showed that accentuating the positive can be a politically rewarding strategy. Ocasio-Cortez reinforced that lesson.
It’s a position that politically minded citizens of all stripes should consider whether they’re running for office or simply speaking out on issues.
There is much to complain about in today’s political landscape. There is much to protest. But that means there is much to improve.
And improvement is not likely to come about by shaming politicians in restaurants or taunting them in the streets — tempting though these tactics might be for some.
Improvement will come about when enough forward-looking political aspirants ride common-sense appeals for support into public office, as did Lamb and Ocasio-Cortez.
Improvement will come about when passion and idealism are bonded in the form of public pressure, as exemplified by students who survived February’s deadly mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. They didn’t just protest the nation’s gun laws, they campaigned for change, successfully convincing their state leaders to adopt new firearm restrictions.
Improvement will come when compassion and empathy eclipse outdated views that cause harm to others, as demonstrated by current U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley, who, as governor of South Carolina in 2015, made the necessary and belated but politically unpopular decision to remove the Confederate flag from the State House grounds.
Confrontation begets confrontation. The path to progress will be guided not by face-offs and fury, but by organization, optimism and political pragmatism.