The Missing Narrative on the Pennsylvania Special Election


American Flag. Photo by Callen Harty.


While watching the televised returns of the Pennsylvania special election pitting Democrat Conor Lamb, Republican Rick Saccone, and Libertarian Drew Miller against each other all the pundits from both sides before, during, and after it made the election about Donald Trump.

The Democrats argued that the election was a referendum on Trump and that he lost, that even though Republicans poured in millions of dollars and Trump and his associates showed up to plead and beg the electorate, the Republican still lost. Republican pundits pointed out that polls showed Saccone five or six points down until Trump came in and made it a close race. They talked about how Trump stumping for Saccone closed the gap and that it showed how strong he is and how much support he has. An objective person could see both sides of those arguments, but while Trump played into this election he probably did so by encouraging some voters to get out and vote Republican and some to get out and vote for the Democrat. And, of course, the national media is pretending the Libertarian candidate who got more votes than the difference between the two leading candidates wasn’t even in the race.

Another theme that the Republican pundits (and Don Lemon of CNN) kept pushing was that Lamb was less of a Democrat than all the lefties that scare them in Washington, without understanding that to those on the real left the number of really liberal politicians in the Democratic party is no more than a small handful. While not as liberal as some might like, Lamb came across as a true Democrat. He harkened back to Franklin Roosevelt in his speech. He appealed to union members who have drifted to the Republican party because the Democrats long ago abandoned the working class. He is personally pro-life due to his Catholic faith, but politically pro-choice. He also refused corporate money and still won the campaign. He raised a paltry amount through small donations and still beat the twelve million dollars the Republican party and others poured into the Saccone campaign. He is no more Republican-light than the corporate backed Clintons or others.

This election was about so much more than Donald Trump. It was about union power, money in politics, and the one thing that nobody talked about last night: The election was a referendum on the Republican party and its power grabs. While the pundits brought up the idea that soon the district may change its shape due to the court ruling on gerrymandering in Pennsylvania, none of the pundits delved into the fact that Lamb won the election in a district that had been heavily gerrymandered specifically to maintain Republican control. Despite the district boundaries that were drawn to make sure the Republicans stayed in power the Democrat won. That is astounding, and it causes one to question why.

One of the things the Republicans have done since taking power in states and the country is to gerrymander districts, change laws to limit voting, damage or destroy the unions to take away support for Democrats, and in other ways do a better job than the Russians of undermining our democracy. What the pundits missed is that regular Americans have seen this and are reacting against it. Americans don’t like it when politicians bend or break the rules simply to stay in power and to push an agenda with which most of us disagree. Voters will react by getting energized and voting, protesting, and in other ways doing what they can to stop that from happening.

Voters across the country are mobilized, but many, many of them are not mobilized against Trump specifically, but the Republicans in general. Many, many of them are not mobilized because they are excited by the milquetoast corporate Republican-light Democrats. It is a grass roots mobilization against power grabs, policies, and laws that work against the working class, poor, and Americans in general. This wave of upset elections will continue not because the electorate sees the Democrats as saviors but because voters themselves are mobilized to save the country. The pundits may miss it, but the people are empowered and energized and will vote for whichever candidate or party is more likely to fight for their interests and the interests of democracy.

About Callen Harty

Originally from Shullsburg, Wisconsin Callen Harty is the author of four books and numerous published essays, poems, and articles. His most recent book is The Stronger Pull, a memoir about coming out in a small town in Wisconsin. His first book was My Queer Life, a compilation of over 30 years worth of writing on living life as a queer man. It includes essays, poems, speeches, monologues, and more. Empty Playground: A Survivor's Story, is a memoir about surviving childhood sex abuse. His play, Invisible Boy, is a narrative with poetic elements and is also an autobiographical look as surviving child sex abuse. All are available on (and three of them on Kindle) or can be ordered through local bookstores, He has written almost two dozen plays and 50 monologues that have been produced. Most of them have been produced at Broom Street Theater in Madison, Wisconsin where he started as an actor, writer, and director in 1983. He served as the Artistic Director of the theater from 2005-2010. Monologues he wrote for the Wisconsin Veterans’ Museum won him awards from the Wisconsin Historical Society and the American Association of State and Local History. He has also had essays, poems, and articles published in newspapers and magazines around the country and has taken the top prize in several photo contests. His writing has appeared in Out!, James White Review, Scott Stamp Monthly, Wisconsin State Journal, and elsewhere. He has had several essays published online for Forward Seeking, Life After Hate, and The Progressive. Callen has also been a community activist for many years. He was the co-founder of Young People Caring, UW-Madison’s 10% Society, and Proud Theater. He served as the first President of Young People Caring and as the Artistic Director for Proud Theater for its first five years. He is still an adult mentor for the group. In 2003 he won OutReach’s Man of the Year award for his queer community activism. OutReach is Madison, Wisconsin’s lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender community center. He also won a Community Shares of Wisconsin Backyard Hero award for his sex abuse survivor activism work. He has been invited to speak before many community groups, at a roundtable on queer community theater in New York City, and has emceed several events. In 2016, Wisconsin Coalition Against Sexual Assault named him their annual Courage Award winner for his activism, writing, and speaking on sexual assault.
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