Taking on Goodlatte

During my tenure at The Roanoke Times, I saw several novice candidates step up to take on long-time congressional incumbents. All were enthusiastic. Most weren’t deluded about their real chances against the power and advantages of incumbency. Some were better prepared or better educated than others. Some, frankly, were a few cards short of a full deck. But there was almost always something inspiring about the energy and passion they brought to what most would see as a hopeless cause.

I had the chance last week to meet with Andy Schmookler, who is seeking the Democratic nomination to run against Rep. Bob Goodlatte in 2012. I spent a good hour with Schmookler at Mill Mountain Coffee in Roanoke. I don’t know what his chances are against Goodlatte, but Schmookler has put his fingers on a number of disparate threads and pulled them together in a way that people really ought to be listening to.

As he puts it, currents that have flowed throughout American history have come together in a confluence to form a unified, destructive force on the American right. These currents include corporate greed, an imperialist impulse and a “certain kind of religiosity” that highlights divisiveness and is plagued by stunning hypocrisy.

That force depends on lies to sustain it, Schmookler says, lies that defeat the truth and prevent democracy from functioning the way it should. It depends on sewing a divisiveness that prevents Americans from coming together to find solutions to common problems. It directs people’s antagonism toward society’s most vulnerable and is dedicated to concentrating wealth and power in as few hands as possible, with absolutely no interest in doing anything for the common good.

If you think about what Schmookler says and apply it to current events – the dishonest debates over global warming and health care reform, for instance, or the demonization of Muslims and undocumented immigrants – it’s easy to fit the current state of the Republican Party into the narrative he builds. Whether that complex message will connect to or resonate with voters remains to be seen, of course, but Schmookler is dedicated to trying.

“I want to call attention to the ideals of American society and the disparity between those ideals and the politicians they support,” he said.

Take the looming crisis on the debt ceiling. Schmookler condenses the Republican’s grossly irresponsible position down to a powerful statement: ” ‘Meet our demands or we’ll hurt America.’ That’s what they’re saying, and it says something about people who are willing to take that position.”

Schmookler hopes that he can open some eyes by speaking with honesty and integrity. “I’m counting on the electorate to be as decent as I think they are and as decent as they see themselves.”

I don’t know how successful Schmookler’s campaign will be, but I wish him luck in getting his message out.

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