EssaysFeatureLiberal Democracy in QuestionThe Left

Why Liz Watson’s Progressive Endorsements Matter

A look into Indiana’s 9th district

Fighting for democratic ideals and for social justice must include principled thought and careful strategic calculation. In this post, Jeff Isaac demonstrates how this is done, as he links his political thought to political action in the race to unseat a particularly bad Republican Congressman, Trey Hollingsworth.  -Jeff Goldfarb

For well over a year I have been writing about the challenges that Trumpism presents to American democracy, and about the importance of resisting Trumpism in the name of liberal values.

This involves a wide range of concerns at the global, national, and local levels.

It involves broad reflections, but also very local political commitments.

I believe that it is imperative that liberals and progressives work together to retake the House of Representatives, in order to fight the Republican agenda and to advance a progressive Democratic alternative.

In Indiana’s 9th Congressional District, this means working together in November to defeat Trey Hollingsworth.

Hollingsworth is vulnerable, because he is closely tied to a President, and to Republican policies, that are both bad and unpopular, but also because he is a uniquely bad Congressman who utterly disregards his constituents.

Here in Indiana’s 9th district we are fortunate to have two fine candidates, Liz Watson and Dan Canon, competing for the Democratic nomination to run against Hollingsworth.

I declared my support for Liz Watson long ago, and have explained my reasons for thinking that her background, her legislative experience, and her knowledge of public policy make her an exceptionally strong candidate.

To say this is not to disparage Dan Canon, who is a fine and honorable man who has long been a legal advocate for civil rights.

One important question that each citizen should ask themselves in an election, always, is simple: which of the candidates do I consider best able to be an effective public official, based on their experience, their knowledge, and their record of public accomplishment? For me, the answer is clear: Liz Watson. Other fine people think differently. And that is fine.

But there is a second question that progressives also ought to be asking themselves: which candidate is better able, in a political sense, to join with others to build a progressive movement and to advance a progressive agenda? Here, the question is less what you think of the individual candidate, than what you think of those who are lining up to support the candidate, who are willing to place their credibility and their resources behind the candidate, for the sake of the election and for the sake of their own movement building.

Liz Watson and Dan Canon both have progressive credentials.

But only Liz Watson already has the endorsement and the support of the core progressive groups.

–Does your progressivism involve a commitment to a living wage, and worker rights, and a working families agenda?

Liz Watson has been endorsed by 23 Indiana labor union locals. She regularly attends union events. She is often accompanied by Indianapolis labor leader Chuck Jones, who is a strong and very vocal supporter. Liz has these endorsements because she has a long record of having worked to support a working families agenda, including having drafted the Sanders-supported “Fight for $15” legislation. But the fact that she has these endorsements means that the core organizations of the labor movement in Southern Indiana support her, are willing to work for her, and believe that she is their best hope for real representation in Congress.

If you are a progressive who supports a working families agenda, how can you dismiss this and support her opponent, who does not have this support from organized labor?

–Does your progressivism involve a commitment to women’s rights and gender justice? Are you an enthusiastic supporter of the Women’s March, and the #MeToo movement? Are you buoyed by the fact that a record number of progressive women will run in 2018 against the Trump agenda?

Liz Watson has been endorsed by the national office of National Organization of Women.

She no doubt has this endorsement because she is a very accomplished, capable, and strong woman who has long supported women’s rights and especially the rights of women in the workplace. But the fact that she has this endorsement means that at this moment of the political mobilization of women, the main national organization of women supports her, and believes she is the best hope for the representation of women’s interests in Congress.

If you are a progressive who supports women’s rights, how can you dismiss this endorsement, and support her opponent, who does not have such an endorsement from the most important national women’s organization?

–Does your progressivism involve a desire to elect a progressive who can hit the ground running to work with other progressive Democrats in Congress to advance a progressive agenda?

The Progressive Caucus is the most liberal caucus in Congress. It consists of 76 progressive House members, including Keith Ellison, Pramila Jayapal, Elijah Cummings, Sheila Jackson Lee, Jamie Raskin, John Lewis, Maxine Waters, and Luis Guittierez, and one US Senator: Bernie Sanders.

Last week these progressive legislators voted for their Caucus to endorse the five Congressional challengers who they consider the strongest candidates to flip their districts and who best represent progressive values.

Liz Watson​ was one of the five endorsed by the Progressive Caucus.

Progressive friends: please think hard about what this means.

If you are a progressive, and you take seriously the movement that the above-mentioned progressive Democrats are leading, and you want to send to Congress a candidate who can work with these progressives who are already there, then you ought to take seriously what they are saying through their Caucus: that Liz Watson deserves our support now.

To reiterate: there are two very able candidates competing for the Democratic nomination. Each of us, as an individual, will judge for themselves which of these candidates seems most worthy of support. And hopefully, after the primary is over in May, we will all join together to support the winner in the effort to flip the 9th.

I am not writing to suggest that anyone who does not support Liz Watson is “wrong” — an absurd proposition — nor to imply that self-respecting progressives should simply look at which organizations endorse which candidates, and then pick a candidate based on endorsements alone. That would be foolish and insulting.

I am simply saying this: progressives are fighting an uphill battle in every “red state” Congressional district where we are challenging a Republican incumbent. In order to defeat Hollingsworth, and in order for this victory to matter in Congress, we need to get behind a candidate who has the support and credibility that comes from being endorsed by the most important progressive constituent organizations. We need candidates whose election can help to build a progressive coalition. This is necessary to retake the House in 2018, and to retake the White House in 2020. And it is necessary if these electoral victories are to help us not simply to defeat the Republican agenda, but to advance a liberal, progressive agenda.

These are trying times. Sometimes they present easy choices — like opposing Trump. Sometimes they require challenging judgments — like how to choose between two admirable progressive candidates. As I’ve explained, I strongly believe that Liz Watson is the stronger and more capable candidate. I also strongly believe that liberals and Democrats, in Southern Indiana and throughout the U.S., in every Congressional district across the country, should think hard about both the individuals and the broader political agenda.

And this is why Liz Watson’s endorsements matter: because they signal to voters in Southern Indiana, and throughout the U.S., that Liz Watson is a strong progressive who has the trust of major progressive organizations and leaders. She has this trust because she is the candidate who can best advance their values and interests, and help them to move forward a broad progressive coalition.

That is why I support Liz Watson for Congress, and why I respectfully invite other progressives who do not yet support her to think hard about supporting her now, so that we can build the momentum, now, that is necessary to retake the 9th Congressional district.

Also for you:

Jeffrey C. Isaac

Previous post

Radical Objects – A Response

Next post

Translating Non-Western Philosophy