Several months ago, we were having dinner with a friend and discussing Oberlin’s politics when they said, “You’re never going to vote out Jim Jordan. It’s a lost cause.” This isn’t an uncommon sentiment among Oberlin students who are familiar with the political circumstances of Oberlin and the surrounding area. To a certain extent, we agree. It can be hard to feel even a little bit optimistic about changing policies and representatives when you live in a small blue dot in a sea of red.
The congressional district that Oberlin is located in, Ohio’s 4th district, is so gerrymandered that it has been named the “duck district” for its shape resembling the silhouette of a duck. Jim Jordan has been the district’s representative in Congress for nearly fifteen years, which by many standards is not very long — especially when compared to the tenures of some other members of Congress — yet feels like a very long time nonetheless. In 2020, Jim Jordan won 67.9 percent of the popular vote in this district. Lorain County makes up a part of Jordan’s district and was the only county to have a majority of the votes cast be for the Democratic candidate, but even that majority was very slim, with Jordan still receiving 47.4 percent of the ballots cast. Realistically, Oberlin will not be able to vote out Jordan, and unless the congressional districts are drastically changed, Oberlin will likely remain drawn into solid red districts.
Jordan’s incumbency depends on gerrymandering intentionally designed to keep Republicans in power. But casting this district and the many others like it across the country as “lost causes” glosses over the political realities faced by many Americans. We need to dedicate our time and effort to listening to voters in these areas and their concerns. If we don’t, these voters will resent the left and the ideas that it stands for.
Aside from ignoring the ideas and needs of these voters, thinking of the places they live as “lost causes” shows a clear lack of respect that these individuals can easily pick up on. Calling something or somewhere a lost cause implies that it is not worth spending time, effort, or resources on. People also tend to associate where they are from closely with their personal identities, so by calling places lost causes, we are also calling people lost causes. We are telling them that they don’t matter and that any time spent in such an area would be a waste of time. This alienates these individuals, leaving the door wide open for deceptive right-wing rhetoric to distract them from issues Democratic politicians are focused on, like rising health care costs, increasing economic inequality, climate change, and failing infrastructure.
Right-wing rhetoric and media thrives off of the frustration the left causes when they overlook voters. The right especially thrives off of fear and anger. One of the most pressing issues in contemporary American politics is economic inequality. When the right-wing media talks about income inequality, they paint it as “the left” trying to steal from you. They talk about student loan forgiveness, tax increases brought on by strengthening social services, etc. But they fail to mention how their tax breaks allow the very rich to steal millions from American taxpayers. Instead, they blame the problems on immigrants, young people, and people of color. These lies are so much easier to believe than the harsh reality that stark inequality is woven into the current system of American capitalism. When these pundits rail against the liberal elites that don’t care about “the folks,” they say it with a hint of truth. For example, you’ve probably been bombarded with at least one “Taxing Tim Ryan” attack advertisement. Dramatic strings start playing, angry-looking pictures of Tim Ryan appear on the screen, and a smoldering voice tells you that Tim Ryan helped Biden pass millions in new taxes that will harm Ohio manufacturing. Of course, these ads don’t mention that these taxes will increase funding for social programs that almost all voters will benefit from. Ryan is responding to these ads, but he could be doing more to address the positives of his policies. In one of his response ads, he throws a football at a TV displaying an attack ad and says, “That’s from the people who push bad trade deals with China.” Voters are capable of understanding why tax increases can be positive, but it’s on us to reach out to them and make these connections. So why aren’t we trying harder in Ohio? It’s because we’ve already given up.
While thinking of areas as lost causes is ignorant and misguided at best — and we feel that even this may be a somewhat generous description — what it really comes across as is classist. Those of us who have grown up in liberal bubbles such as cities our whole lives often fail to understand why people with liberal ideas would want to live in rural, mostly Republican areas. However, urban areas are significantly more expensive to live in, and there are plenty of other reasons why people don’t want to live in cities that have nothing to do with cost of living, like more privacy and space and less air pollution.
We frequently say that people live “way out” in the country, when in reality they simply live far away from a city. Saying “way out” centers urban areas as places to live, implying that the closer to one, the better. But many people choose to live in more rural areas in part because they are far away from cities or urban areas. When urban liberals or leftists think and speak like this, they communicate the opinion that they are better than people who live in more rural areas, where people are more likely to vote Republican. The reality is that neither place is truly better than the other. Where someone lives is dependent on a whole host of factors. A person’s location does not determine if they are a good person. All people, regardless of where they live, are worthy of respect and kindness. No one is a lost cause.