Jimmy McMillan of the Rent Is Too Damn High Party stole the show at last night’s New York gubernatorial debate.
Yesterday we wrote a piece about how ineffective Democrats were this year at fighting back against the conservative Tea Party candidates. Maureen Dowd’s “Mean Girls” article about the Mama Grizzlies only reinforced their perceived strength by calling them mean. If you don’t like the things your opponent is saying, we argued, you have to change the conversation.
Reinforcing the meanness of your successfully mean opponent is not a conversation changer. “The rent is too damn high”—now that’s a conversation changer.
Last night Jimmy McCmillan, head of The Rent Is Too Damn High party, and that party’s candidate for Governor of New York, showed mainstream Democrats how you effectively change a conversation. Gawker has a great report on McMillan, but it suffices to say he’s an eccentric Brooklyn candidate who wears gloves on his because he was exposed to agent orange in Vietnam (but, he says, “it could be psychological”) and who focuses his campaign on a singular issue with brilliant clarity: the rent is too damn high.
Jimmy McMillan will not win the governor’s race. Not by a long shot. But he does stand for progressive Democratic values (“the Rent Is 2 Damn High Party feels if you want to marry a shoe, I’ll marry you”) and he holds a valuable lesson for more mainstream Democratic candidates who actually stand a chance of winning: Political winners set the conversation, and political losers respond to the conversation.
Like them or hate them, the Tea Party has been highly effective in the last two years at setting the conversation. Democrats would do well to take a look at Jimmy McCmillan and learn from what he’s doing. Though they may not want to start the exact conversation he’s choosing to, they should take note of how many people are talking about him this morning. It’s not because he called Carl Paladino “mean.” It’s the oldest trick in the book: if you don’t like the argument on the table, change the conversation.
Below check out a clip of McMillan from last night’s debate. Below that, check out four glorious minutes of McMillan sitting on a stoop, ranting.