Friday, August 27, 2010

NJ-3 and Progressive Challenges

New Jersey’s Third Congressional District can be viewed as a microcosm of the American political landscape. We have (and I know personally) Tea Party extremists, moderates, and left-leaning Progressives in areas as diverse as suburban Cherry Hill, the Shamong Pine Barrens, and the shore towns of Ocean County.

First term incumbent Congressman John Adler is in a tight race with Republican ex-footballer Jon Runyan. Runyan echoes the Tea Party mantra on most issues, although there are a few exceptions such as his opposition to transferring Social Security investments to for-profit organizations. When he was in the New Jersey State Senate, Adler was regarded as one of its most liberal members. But in his current role, Adler kowtows to the right-leaning population in Burlington and Ocean counties by touting his “centrist” approach to legislating. In this day and age, “centrist” is a code word for “moderate Republican.”

It would be beneficial to the district and the nation if NJ-3 were represented by a more progressive congressman, but given the demographics of the area, big changes will be needed before this can happen. Adler’s primary opponent, Barry Bendar, would have promoted better policies, but Mr. Bendar only received 25% of the vote in a low-turnout Democratic primary.

So the $64,000 question is, “why do voters in NJ-3, and the nation overall, seem to embrace the policies of the failed Bush administration and the Tea Party extremists?” The answer is “messaging.” Tea Partiers have a great advantage in that they control the messaging infrastructure. Rupert Murdoch’s Fox News (with help from their Saudi investors), right-wing hate radio, and corporate ownership of most mainstream media tend to get the message out, both overtly by sheer force of numbers , and covertly by controlling the language of the debate. The counterpoints to these behemoths are loved by their Progressive base, but how many people do you know who listen to Rachel Maddow or belong to

To transform NJ-3 and the nation will require Progressives to become more adept at explaining to the general public why our approach is best for the country as a whole. With the demise of the Fairness Doctrine, the harebrained Supreme Court decision in Citizens United, and the corporate lock on media production and distribution, this will be a daunting task.

I was thrilled at John Adler’s victory two years ago. While his win was clearly on Barack Obama’s coattails, it was the first time this area had elected a Democratic representative in over a century. And despite his centrist moderate Republican voting record, I’ll vote for him again. Not because I’m enamored by his performance; not because I want to vote against a tax-evading donkey-farming ex-football player; but because I think the makeup of the 112th Congress will be close. And it scares the heck out of me to think that John Boehner will be Speaker of the House and second in line to the presidency. Big change requires small steps, so I’ll hold my nose, vote for Adler, and continue to advocate for a better America for all her citizens through Progressive ideas.

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