Last week, Democrat Jon Ossoff lost his bid to become a congressman in a race for the seat that was once occupied by Republican Newt Gingrich during his rise to the speakership of the House of Representatives. In the 1990s, Gingrich’s attention-grabbing tactics, political disruptions and personal peccadillos were viewed as edgy. By today’s standards, however, those tactics seem fairly common. So it wasn’t unreasonable to expect the worst in the Georgia race, which garnered extraordinary national attention and eye-popping infusions of money by both political parties.
Fortunately, however, Ossoff, who is Jewish, and his opponent — the ultimate victor, Karen Handel — ended up doing things a little differently. Ossoff, a 30-year-old former congressional staffer and documentary filmmaker, avoided the left edge of the Democratic Party and ran a centrist campaign. That effort, even in defeat, offers a way forward for both parties.
“He presented himself as a centrist, speaking boldly against government waste and federal deficits and talking, as his opponent put it, ‘like a Republican,’” Robert L. Borosage wrote in The Nation. “He championed civility and decried partisan division.” He ignored the Sanders wing of his party and opposed single-payer health insurance and tax hikes on the rich.
Ossoff’s effort wasn’t enough to win, but his surprising level of success in an overwhelmingly Republican district — it has been represented in Washington by that party since 1979 — tells an important story. Indeed, his candidacy brought to mind the recent election in France of Emmanuel Macron, whose campaign featured presentations that were refreshingly civil and centrist.
Unfortunately, those currently in office don’t seem to have paid attention to much more than the final result in Georgia’s 6th District and see it as a mandate. And so it was that the draft health care bill unveiled by the Senate on June 22 — which threatens to deprive health coverage to the least well off — did nothing to address the heart-wrenching needs of those who need help the most. At its core, the Senate’s health-care approach appears to follow the bizarre theory that a mass redistribution of wealth from the poor to the rich is the solution to Obamacare.
According to some initial analyses, the Senate bill cuts even more from Medicaid than the House version and draws the Republican Party even further to the heartless right. Fortunately, at the time this piece was written, an increasing number of GOP senators have expressed concerns about the bill and its likely draconian impact.
We understand the concerns about the sustainability of Obamacare. And we agree that something needs to be done. But in doing “something,” Congress should take guidance from the thoughtful, nuanced approach of Jon Ossoff and strive for the center. By doing so, Congress may yet chase away the ghost of Newt Gingrich.