Maryland Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ben Jealous is best known for his successful stewardship of the NAACP during a five-year tenure as president and CEO that ended in 2013. And he’s second-best known for his highly visible role in Bernie Sanders’s 2016 presidential campaign.
But by vocation, at least since he joined the firm Kapor Capital in 2014, Jealous is a venture capitalist, albeit one focused on creating opportunities for people normally left behind in the 21st-century economy, and particularly the tech sector. He’s grown accustomed to mentioning this affiliation whenever he is asked, as anyone close to Bernie Sanders often is, whether he is a “socialist.”
So he was hardly caught unawares when, at an event featuring some new endorsements for Jealous, Washington Post reporter Erin Cox asked him about claims by his Republican opponent, Governor Larry Hogan, and by the Republican Governors Association that he was a “far-left socialist.”
If you watch the full video, Jealous discusses the history of this sort of conservative attack line, pointedly observing that it was often used against Martin Luther King and Barack Obama; he goes after Hogan’s economic-development record; and he mentions some of the growth-enhancing projects he’s been involved in. You can’t much miss the fact that Jealous twice mentions that he is a “venture capitalist,” who “invests in growing businesses.”
Nonetheless, Cox persisted in forcing a direct answer to the question of whether Jealous identifies with the term “socialist,” and the candidate responded: “Are you fucking kidding me?” And in the hands of those who ignore Jealous’s patient and rather detailed answer to the original question, that’s the story.
I don’t know about you, but if I responded to a “Are you a socialist?” question by saying “I am a capitalist,” I would think that is a sufficient response, much like saying “I am a Christian” when asked if one is an atheist.
Cox’s Post colleague Dave Weigel certainly saw it that way: “The full video of Jealous getting the ‘socialist’ question is legit hilarious — you need the 90 seconds of well-put exegesis on why he’s not a socialist to set up the punch line.”
The incident ought not to keep other Democrats from studying and emulating Jealous’s original answer. But the F-bomb mini-furor is just another bump in a long road for Jealous, who is trying to shake up positive perceptions of Hogan in his very blue state. Linking the incumbent to the unsavory tradition of GOP smears against liberal and especially African-American leaders is one way to get Maryland Democrats to get their partisan dander up against Hogan. Engaging the governor when he or his supporters cross lines and sling mud could also help polarize the campaign, which is one thing the Baltimore Sun editorially advised Jealous to do after he won the Democratic nomination:
Governor Hogan has cultivated an image as someone above the partisan fray — a calm, steady leader who gladly works across the aisle in contrast to what goes on in Washington. He has not always been so disciplined. Particularly early in his term, Mr. Hogan took his share of swipes at Democrats, so the instinct is there, if at this point deeply buried. Reminding voters that Mr. Hogan is in fact a politician might be a more effective way to tarnish his brand than attempting to tie him to President Donald Trump, which has so far only worked to the Republican governor’s advantage by making him look reasonable by comparison.
If it requires obscenity to get people to notice Hogan’s similarities to things they don’t like about Republicans generally, maybe it’s worth it.