Foreword to Don’t Think Of A Republican


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The following is an excerpt from a campaign speech given at the Neely Schuster Cultural Center in January 2022. (Note: During this part of the speech, the candidate took the microphone, hopped down off the stage, and stood up on an empty seat, delivering the rest of his message smack dab in the middle of his audience.)

…You know the reason they say my candidacy is a novelty, why they say I can’t possibly be serious in my run for office? It’s because I’m not following the script. 

It’s like they’ve sat down to watch the same play, every two years, for their whole lives, but this time one of the characters is executing completely different lines. And they just don’t know what to do with that.

Now, my question to them is, “Do you even know what play it is you’re watching?”

That somehow a candidate who speaks like a regular person is not a serious candidate. That somehow a candidate who is willing to engage voters in honest and vulnerable conversations is not a serious candidate. That any candidate who would ignore the conventional wisdom of the Campaign Consultant Industrial Complex, who would ignore the tisk tisk tisk of the media gatekeepers and the punditocracy, anyone who would ignore the very narrow path laid out for candidates by the donor class. That somehow a candidate like that is the outlier, is the novelty, is the candidate who cannot possibly be serious.

If the part I’m playing doesn’t even make sense to you, then what does it say about the other characters in the play, what does it say about the script, what does it say about the theater they’ve expected voters to sit in and quietly follow along and applaud at the end their whole lives?

I can assure you. My candidacy is serious. It is the status quo that is not serious. And it is not serious because it is not sustainable.

So to hell with their script. I ain’t reciting it. To hell with their costume. I ain’t wearing it. And to hell with the tiny section of the stage allotted the spotlight. I’m not standing there. 

I’m standing right here. With you. Out in the audience. And I’m asking you. Do you think the show you’ve been watching your whole life is serious? This political theater where candidates tell you one thing on the campaign trail and then forget you even exist the morning after the election. This he-said/she-said bullshit in the media, like they don’t even care what the facts actually are, what the truth actually is. This system where politicians are legally allowed to take bribes from the same interests you need legislation to protect you from. Do you think that is serious? Do you think that is ok, that that should be the norm?

And if you don’t think that’s ok, if you don’t think that should be the norm, what kind of a campaign would you prefer? What kind of candidate would you actually take serious?

What show – would you like to see – in Washington DC? 

Tell me now!…

***

Imagine that. Imagine a candidate saying that. Better yet, imagine a lefty progressive saying that as a candidate in a Republican primary.

If you didn’t know any better, it might sound like satire. To hear those words being belted out, in an unabashed Southern drawl, by an orator commanding the crowd the way only a Hellfire and Brimstone preacher could. Except that wasn’t a sermon. It was a campaign speech, given by H.F. Valentine, in his 2022 run for the U.S. House of Representatives. A candidate who, despite championing policies as progressive as any of Bernie Sanders, or as he would say, because he was championing such policies, would go on to win that GOP primary. Upon which, due in no small part to the solidly red Republican predisposition of said district, candidate Valentine handily won the general election and set forth to turn shit completely upside down in the U.S. Congress.

I mean it when I say it’s something I really didn’t see coming, even though it was technically my idea. The only credit I can take is that I beat H.F. to the punch, yet not by much. He may dispute that’s where he was already headed, but I don’t buy it. He was ready for this in a way that I wasn’t. 

I wrote the piece for ZNet, not really thinking anyone would respond. My plan was to do a podcast called Don’t Think Of A Republican. A limited series that would serve as a kind of shadow primary, where I merely imagined what this kind of a run would look like.

About a month before I was to start recording, H.F. contacted me and turned my what if into a what now. I immediately joined the campaign and spent the primary season watching something unfold that made my initial podcast ideas look small.

This book will no doubt serve as a case study for those who watched H.F. win and are now thinking of giving it their own shot. I asked to write this foreword because I believe it can be so much more than that.

As you read these pages, I want you to imagine. What if this could happen, again? And again? What are the implications of this spreading? 

Certainly, progressive readers might be a tad interested and/or invested in the potential of such an experiment multiplying. If you support the reality of Justice Democrats, then why not the concept of Don’t-Think-Of-A-Republican Republicans (similar policies but with a much meaner streak)? To see districts that have already been gerrymandered to look like a Republican Rorschach Test produce politicians with the most progressive proposals in the Congress would be quite a hoot, to say the least.

Aside from progressives though, I believe this work should be quite appealing to mainstream Republican voters across the nation. Voters who are also disgusted with the corruption in both political parties, voters who would also love to have someone fighting a real fight for their wages, their healthcare, their children’s education, and all that encompasses a better future. But someone who is sincere, and not leashed to the highest campaign bidders.

Not only do I believe they would just as much enjoy imagining how such a primary might unfold in their own district, I think they would appreciate having a serious lefty speak about the interests of Republican voters in a delivery that doesn’t disparage them or condescend to them. To read the words of someone championing progressive issues and then measure the values espoused with their own. 

Mostly, though, I believe they would appreciate a place where they can feel it’s ok to wonder about things being different. To examine their own political identity and contrast what they would actually like to see on a ballot versus the identity laid out for them by the current iteration of the Republican Party. A place to wonder, if, outside of this manufactured identity, outside of donor money, could these policies be their policies? And could they imagine casting their vote for such a candidate?

The next group I believe this book serves to benefit are those who’ve committed to working for positive change outside of the ballot box. Activists who could use a real breakthrough in amplifying their message. Organizers who are at least curious about the potential Easter eggs that might be hidden in such a strategy.

And to those who believe this idea was complete lunacy from the start, and that H.F. should have never run, I would still urge you to stick around. If nothing else, you can appreciate the novelty of it all. Who knows? Maybe by the end you’ll have a change of heart. Or, at the very least, you will have gotten in some damn good rage reading.

For whatever reason you open these pages, one thing you need to know is that H.F. didn’t run for fun. He might have made it look fun, and he definitely made it look easy. But I was there. His decision to chart such an unconventional path, and to keep going when things got really scary, was not easy. It required a supremely stubborn optimism and hell of a lot of courage.

He took every punch that was thrown at him because he really believed he could win, and because he’s not fucking around when it comes to these issues. He truly wants each and every one of us, regardless of our political predilections, to get to a better place. My hope for this book is that his courage (and the conviction of his words) will inspire courage in others to begin envisioning what could have only been conjured, before the candidacy of H.F. Valentine, as a figment of aspirational satire.

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