When people look for a state that supposedly represents dyed-in-the-wool red state conservatives in the Midwest, Kansas is the top choice. When people push for more progressive policies for the Democratic party, the frequent response from the leadership is to grudgingly conceded that it might have some appeal in the urban coastal areas but will not play at all in the Midwest, the supposed heartland. This is false historically but that has not stopped the argument from being advanced.
Now progressives are challenging that idea. David Dayen writes that Bernie Sanders and those aligned with his views like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez are traveling to Kansas to campaign for progressive candidates and their policies and are headlining rallies in that state today.
Despite expectations that the Sunflower State is rigidly conservative, growing diversity and revulsion at the disastrous tenure of Gov. Sam Brownback has made Kansas a battleground in the fight for Democrats to win back the House. James Thompson, from the Koch brothers’ home district in Wichita, almost won a surprisingly close special election there last year. He’s running again, and Ocasio-Cortez and Sanders will promote him at one event on Friday.
But Ocasio-Cortez and Sanders have more expansive aims than turning the 3rd blue. They want to prove their theory of the progressive case.
On Friday, they will rally for Brent Welder, a former labor lawyer running on a platform of “Medicare for All,” a $15 an hour minimum wage, tuition-free public college, and reducing big money’s influence in politics. “Brent can win, he can win,” Ocasio-Cortez said on The Dig, a podcast from Jacobin magazine. “And he can not only win his primary, but he can win in a red-to-blue district on a progressive vision. And I think that’s so exciting.”
Indeed, a February poll of the district gave Welder a 7-point lead against Yoder, with broad support for many of Welder’s ideas. “People say, ‘How can you win in Kansas on progressive policies?’” Welder told The Intercept in an interview. “I’ve learned that the only way to win in Kansas is on progressive policies.”
It should be no surprise the Joe Lieberman, the right-wing ‘Democrat’ who could be depended upon to provide cover for Republicans and sabotage progressive policies while in the senate, is attacking Ocasio-Cortez and asking people to vote for her defeated primary opponent Joe Crowley in the general election. Lieberman represents everything that is wrong with the Democratic party. While John McCain is rightly condemned for giving Sarah Palin such a prominent role in American politics by making her his running mate, Al Gore does not get anywhere near the criticism he deserves for doing the same with Lieberman. Lieberman is a strong supporter of right-wing Israeli politics and of all the neoconservative policies and the wars in the Middle East that were spawned by that destructive agenda, and it is not a surprise that he is attacking Ocasio-Cortez and Sanders given their criticisms of Israel’s actions in Gaza.
To succeed in Kansas, progressive politics must face not only overt opposition from Republicans, but also subtle undermining by the Democratic party leadership and nominal Democrats like Lieberman. Progressives should not be too optimistic that they can win this first go-around and should not feel discouraged if they fail this time. It takes time to win people over and this should be seen as the beginning of a long process.