“Don’t Think Of A Republican – How I Won A Republican Primary As A Lefty Progressive And You Can Too”, written by Lonnie Ray Atkinson and serialised on ZNet, documents the ground-breaking campaign trail of H.F. Valentine, a Left progressive candidate running in a Republican primary. Valentine is fictional of course and the book is satirical, but my review comes from the perspective that it’s about a real candidate running a real campaign because I want to believe that someday it will be.
Each of the chapters in the book focuses on a single political issue and does the job of informing us, the reader, about Valentine’s policies on these issues through speeches, media interviews, campaign ads, etc. The range of issues discussed is contemporary or contentious or both, and includes US foreign policy, healthcare, climate change, mainstream media, immigration, homelessness, socialism, prisons and criminal justice, homophobia, transphobia, abortion, racism, sexism, gun control, poverty and inequality, policing, and more. At the end of each chapter, Atkinson inserts a personal note from Valentine where he comments on the issue discussed and expands on his position. A common thread that runs throughout the book and is often repeated, is Valentine’s over-arching policy: get the money out of politics. This is a priority policy because Valentine is well aware that this is the reason why so many voices are never heard or represented in today’s democratic system.
Valentine is insightful, straight-talking and candid, cutting through the niceties and rhetoric that the majority of politicians indulge in. This makes his voice a rare one in the political arena. He doesn’t preach or condescend to his audience, his would-be voters. He talks directly to voters in language they can get about issues that matter. Valentine can do this authentically very simply because he is one of these people, he’s on their level, he shares their lived experiences. And guess what? He’s also got a wicked sense of humour that will have you falling about laughing.
At various points in the book, Valentine is interviewed by hostile media. As you can imagine, he’s asked the usual contentious questions about the usual contentious topics such as abortion and healthcare. But he answers those questions head-on with truth, integrity and courage, and avoids being browbeaten or wrong-footed by interviewers. He takes no prisoners when it comes to the mainstream media and he deftly exposes their thinly veiled agendas.
Valentine’s novel approach to politics is certainly refreshing and inspiring. But that’s not the most interesting part of his campaign. The thing that is most notable is the fact that Valentine is such a far-out oddity in US politics. After all, what is so extraordinary about a Republican candidate standing on a ticket that speaks to the voter on the bread-and-butter issues that are important in their lives? The average Republican voter is hit as hard by poverty, inequality, lack of affordable healthcare or decent education as the next person. The average Republican voter cares about many of the matters that Valentine cares about, and he or she is impacted by these matters as much as the average Democrat voter or the average non-voter for that matter. A Republican candidate standing on a ticket that speaks to the voter on the things that are important in their lives shouldn’t be extraordinary at all. And yet the political system in the US (and probably anywhere in the West) is so broken that a candidate like Valentine is an aberration.
So, perhaps the most significant outcome of this book would be to bring about a shift in thinking that, inspired by Valentine, would cause hundreds of candidates to follow in his footsteps. That is certainly what Atkinson hopes will happen. And it would most certainly be a step in the right direction. Atkinson should feel proud that he’s tried to get us to think about taking that step at all.
Bridget Meehan is an activist and writer from Ireland who is a Parecon advocate and member of Real Utopia, the Foundation for a Participatory Society.