On the evening of February 13, 2018, I accompanied the candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives (Kentucky’s 6th Congressional District), Geoff Young, to a meeting of labor unions. I really don’t know what I expected.
What I saw was possibly the most intense thing I’ve ever seen happen in an office building.
The leaders of the Central Kentucky labor unions are large, gentle men and women who have worked hard in their particular trades and feel comfortable in their role as producers of value. They believe that they have specific things to offer, and expect specific concessions from politicians in return.
There’s a shared expectation that candidates will visit them, and these candidates will compete to deliver speeches that most closely resemble what the union leaders want to hear. They want to hear about the good things that a candidate will do for the union. They prefer specific things, or at least the mention of specific issues that have proper nouns attached. They like to hear stories about times that the candidate was useful to unions in the past. They like people who know what they are doing. They like people who know what they are doing because they have done it before.
That’s what they expected.
What they got was one of the strangest and least appropriate speeches I have ever seen. Mr. Young’s misreading of the audience was so tremendous as to approach brilliance. After devoting precisely one sentence, the first, to his belief that unions are the foundation of the middle class, he launched directly into a 15-minute indictment of America’s colonial empire since the Vietnam era. He went from Clinton to Bush to Obama to Trump, in great detail, clearly outlining their history of war crimes and violence.
The room was as silent as any room I have ever heard.
One of the shop stewards cleared his throat and said, “Can you tell us a few things that you will do for the 6th District of Kentucky?”
“I will prevent nuclear war,” said Mr. Young.
Then he began to describe the current situation between the Trump regime and North Korea, illustrating plainly the actions that he intended to take to prevent escalation of the conflict.
There are only eight foreign policy positions in the entire state of Kentucky. There are six delegates to the U.S. House of Representatives, and there are two Senators. That is it. Not even the governor gets a say in foreign policy. There are four million Kentuckians, and only eight of us have an opinion on foreign policy that matters.
That is what this race is about.
Rather than risk even the slightest dilution of his message, Mr. Young made it unmistakably clear that this race is about foreign policy, and his interests are in foreign policy. Although he made brief references to his experience as the assistant director of the Kentucky Division of Energy and how his governmental and economic experiences would translate into direct benefits, these references were so brief as to approach subliminality. They were barely footnotes to the speech.
Mr. Young’s contention is that American foreign policy follows a tradition of instinctual, almost mindless provocation and aggression, that the entirety of the current administration and Congress are asleep at the wheel, and that we are drifting dangerously close to a number of wars, any of which have the potential to exterminate a large portion of the world’s population. Including ours.
Mr. Young simply was not there to reassure these people. The union wanted to hear things that made them feel good about unions. Instead, Mr. Young pulled open the door and showed them a howling blizzard outside. It was one of the most memorable speeches in my life, and I have a hard time explaining the feelings I had while he was talking. I don’t think I have ever felt afraid during a speech before.
Nobody moved. Nobody spoke.
For his closing remarks, Mr. Young laid out in just a few sentences the essence of his legal dispute with the Democratic party, the status of his ongoing lawsuit against the Fayette County Democratic Party for their violation of their own bylaws, of his rights as a citizen, and of the right of every Kentuckian to a free and fair election. He ended the speech by saying that if his lawsuit wins, it would spell the end of Kentucky’s Democratic Party.
Then he sat down.
The next candidate stood up and told us about her lifelong love of unions, but at that point, it just wasn’t the same.
I am not certain how many of the people in that room intend to vote for Geoff Young. But I have never seen somebody go full Noam Chomsky on a bunch of construction workers before, and it was amazing. He did not use his time there to ask for volunteers, to beg for donations, to make the same noises about the value of the unions that everybody else makes. He stepped out from behind the curtain and delivered a terrifying truth. It wasn’t what they wanted to hear. But I know that a lot of them went home that night and started googling. A lot of Central Kentucky construction workers know a lot more about public policy and America’s international empire this week than they did last week, and that is undeniably a valuable thing in and of itself.
There is intrinsic value to the truth. As campaigning in a specific election goes, the truth is of a dubious value. However, for using the platform of politics to deliver the truth to anyone close enough to hear it, I have never seen a moment greater than that night. Geoff Young is not messing around. He is serious about the danger, he is serious about working against it. There was not a person in that room who left with anything less than a hundred percent conviction of Geoff Young’s sincerity.
Mr. Young did not treat the speech as another attempt to make friends. He delivered an indictment. He told these men and women that what they have suspected their whole lives is true, that terrible things have been done in their name, and that they haven’t stopped them or even slowed them down. Maybe it was not what the union activists wanted to hear, but it was what every American needs to hear. Geoff Young wants to go to Washington D.C., as our representative and our avatar, to grapple directly with these enormous, bloody, insoluble-seeming problems. No one else in the race even comes close.
The position of Representative from Kentucky’s 6th District is not a plum, it is not a prize, it is not a promotion. It is a job. It is a job of deep and transcendent importance. It is not being a mayor, it is not being a state legislator, it is not being a fighter pilot. It is a job for a person who understands foreign policy and intends to do something about it. Geoff Young is applying for that job, and I think Kentucky should hire him.