Emergency physician Dr. Bob Solomon is one of seven Democrats seeking the Congressional seat vacated by the resignation of Republican Tim Murphy. Dr. Solomon sat down for an in-depth and candid conversation about the issues, the behind-the-scenes political maneuvering, and why he believes that he, as the only self-proclaimed progressive Democrat, can be the next member of Congress from PA’s 18th District.
Q: Bob, give us a quick overview of how you became a congressional candidate.
A: Over the course of my career practicing emergency medicine, one of the constant frustrations and challenges has been taking care of patients who are in the emergency department because they have nowhere else to go. I take care of them there, and I need to direct them to other resources, other sources of care, and the fact that they have no health insurance is a tremendous obstacle.
So over the past three decades, I have devoted a tremendous amount of time and effort to try to get people in government, especially on Capitol Hill, to understand what a nightmare this is for the 10 – 15% of Americans- it was 15% before the passage of the ACA, and now it’s about 10%, who have no insurance. They are left on the outside looking in, out in the cold, and this is a problem that we absolutely must solve.
We live in the wealthiest nation in the history of the world, yet we adamantly refuse to join the rest of the first world in providing access to basic health care to everybody in this nation. Last spring when the Republicans in Congress started to move their effort to repeal and replace the ACA and take us back from 10% of Americans without health insurance back up to 15% or even worse, it became pretty clear to me that something had to happen to change what was going on up on Capitol Hill. The way to make something happen is to get people elected to Congress who understand the healthcare system, who understand how it works and how it’s supposed to work because for many people it doesn’t work. We need someone in Congress who can go there with the experience of being at the hub of the health care system, and that’s what emergency medicine is; we’re right in the center of everything. We need someone who has three decades of expertise in healthcare who can go and persuade folks on Capitol Hill about how things should be and what kinds of changes are needed.
Right now there are seventeen physicians in Congress. Fifteen of them are Republicans, and I’m ashamed to say that the fact that they’re Republicans, by and large, means they don’t give a damn about the have-nots.
Two are Democrats, but only one of the seventeen, one the two Democrats, has expertise in health policy because he has a degree in public health from Harvard and that’s Raul Ruiz from California. We need more people on Capitol Hill who really understand the healthcare system to really shape the national debate and move us to where we should be.
Q: So you’ve obviously been watching the politics and the policy of healthcare policy, and now they’re trying to jam the Obamacare repeal into the tax bill. What’s the problem? Is it a lack of understanding? Is it just pure politics and the optics of it all? Or is it that they just don’t understand what they’re trying to do in terms of public policy?
A: Well I think there is an astonishing level of cluelessness among the Republicans in Congress, in both chambers. The House last spring sent a bill, the American Healthcare Act, to the Senate, and the Republicans in the House knew that the bill was seriously flawed and they said the Senate would fix it. It got to the Senate, and it was very clear from what happened in the Senate that everyone got together and said, “Not only are we not going to fix it, they didn’t even have any idea how they might go about that.”
And so they did nothing with it and it ground to a halt, it didn’t pass, and basically the leadership said, “We have no idea what we’re doing and this not going anywhere at least for the time being” because the only thing they had to offer was taking a law that was put into effect in 2010 that produced a lot of progress for a lot of Americans and saying “We don’t like this law because it was the signature accomplishment of the administration of somebody that we hate, and so we want to get rid of it. We have nothing to replace it with. We have no plan. We just want to get rid of it and take things back to the way they were before even though we really do know that was bad.”
It’s morally indefensible, and that’s simply the way it has gone.
We have a president who campaigned on repeal and replace and his motivation for repeal and replace was that same sort of bitter hatred towards Barack Obama. All you have to do is go back and look at the birther movement to know that Trump’s motivation is just tearing down the accomplishments of somebody that he despises.
Q: Donald Trump said we were going to have amazing healthcare, and now here we sit with no solutions-
A: ‘No one knew health care was so complicated,’ right?
Q: I’m guessing that you did. So how does that perspective play in a congressional district that voted 58% for Donald Trump and has clearly in recent election cycles bought into some of those talking points that Obamacare? I know that you’re a proponent of Medicare for All as a single-payer system. How do you explain that to a voter at a spaghetti dinner somewhere in 15 seconds?
A: I’m not sure it can be done in 15 seconds, but most people are most persuaded by stories, and you can divide the stories in this area into two kinds; stories about people who don’t have health insurance and what a calamity this is in their lives, and stories about people who do have health insurance and think that it’s good employer-based insurance until they go to use it and they find out it’s really not what they thought. They find out it isn’t really good coverage. They find out things about going out of network and all of a sudden having big bills that are not being paid.
A week or so ago, I saw a woman in the Emergency Department in the middle of the night, like 3:00 AM, and after I evaluated her, I told her she needed a particular specialist to solve her problem and treat her condition. And when I told her where she was going to have to go to get the right specialist, she got a look on her face like I had just told her she had ovarian cancer and had three months to live. The reason that she got that look on her face was because, at the hospital where we were having this conversation, her bill would be covered 90%, but the hospital she had to go to for the right care would only cover 60%. She was good enough at mental arithmetic and estimating the size of the bill that she knew that 30% difference would produce a crushing burden of debt that would take her family five-ten years to get out from, and this is someone with “good” employer-based insurance. It’s great until you have to use it and you find out that it doesn’t do what you thought it was going to do.
Q: But when you’re looking at an older electorate which is already on Medicare, you hear the same argument as people who say “Why should I have to pay property taxes because I don’t have any kids in school?” How do you break through that, especially since our political narrative has taken more of a selfish tone in the past year? How do you persuade those voters to do what you believe to be the right thing and the humane thing and the right thing even though it doesn’t impact their lives directly?
A: I think there are basically two ways to do that. The first way is to get them to understand that it matters for people they know, so if you’re 70 years old and you’re on Medicare, and going to Medicare for All, you think there’s nothing in that for you? You probably have children. You probably have grandchildren. And Medicare for All is overwhelmingly likely to be a positive influence in their lives if not today than some time in the future.
So if you are in your 70’s, and you have a son who is in his 40’s, and he has employer-based health insurance, you probably realize that there has been a point at which he had an opportunity to get a better job and he couldn’t because he didn’t know whether he would have health insurance coverage with the new employer. If they offered it, would it be more out of pocket money? Would he be covered for pre-existing conditions? And so he fell victim to what is sometimes called job lock- a great opportunity, but I can’t take it because I have health problems and I don’t know if I’ll be covered, so I’m stuck in the job that I have that I’m not really happy with. So even if there’s nothing in it for you, there’s probably something in it for people you care about.
The other approach is just to shame them. You’re probably not old enough to remember Bobby Kennedy, but when Bobby Kennedy was campaigning and he heard people say things that indicated that they were basically selfish, he would get angry, and he would tell them that they should be ashamed of themselves for looking at these issues in that way.
And they responded to that, because most of us do have a moral compass, and most of us when we hear someone say “you’re only thinking of yourself. Is that really who you are?”, They will step back, and they’ll think “My mother would not approve of this. My clergyman would say ‘shame on you'” and they will give it more thought, and they will realize that there is something called the social compact and their thinking should be somewhere else.
Q: That’s a very interesting answer. Are you willing to go out and shame people? Does that fit your personality and the way that you normally operate?
A: Well I think that there’s a lot to be gained by appealing to peoples’ economic self-interest, and even if it’s not having an impact on them, there will be people in their lives whose economic interests will be affected by this, and when it comes to shaming people, I think it actually goes across much better if you talk about it in social terms, if you talk about it in national terms rather than putting it in individual terms. You can tell by a facial expression how they’re reacting but most people, when you say, this is the wealthiest nation in the history of the world and every other first-world nation in the world does, and every other, other first-world developed nation, human beings have access to basic health care. That’s just the way it is.
And people like the idea of American Exceptionalism. They like Ronald Reagan’s vision of the shining city on a hill. They like the idea that America is different. This is not the difference Reagan was talking about when every other first-world nation looks after all the healthcare needs of their people, but we don’t. That’s not what Reagan was talking about when he spoke of the shining city on the hill.
Q: Could Ronald Reagan get elected President today?
A: (PAUSES) Yes, but because he really deserved his moniker “the great communicator” and maybe what he would communicate would be a little bit different now from what it was in 1980, but that talent would still be there.
Q: I ask that because in some ways if you think about it, you could make the argument that Donald Trump is the Great Communicator of our time, and that’s necessarily a compliment. But his ability to communicate directly with the people has allowed him to bypass traditional means of communication. As a doctor, you’re a man of science and facts. There are things you know to be true, which is not necessarily compatible with today’s political climate, where we have fake news and alternative facts. Has it surprised you as you’ve stepped out of the medical world where you see patients all day into the political realm where you’re talking to voters, is there a disconnect there that you didn’t expect?
A: My observations of the political scene more broadly have made it very clear that there is skepticism about expertise and a lack of willingness to recognize scientific facts and a desire of the part of a lot of people to believe what is convenient rather than believing that which there is clear evidence. Anti-intellectualism is not a new phenomenon in American society; it has been with us for a long time. I don’t really get that on an individual level when I talk to voters because most people aren’t comfortable with the idea of denying the credibility or the ability to speak with authority or specialized knowledge of someone they have a face to face conversation with.
When I talk scientific issues and especially issues related to the way our health care system works or doesn’t work, I don’t get pushback there because people don’t really have the nerve to do that, but more broadly, there’s no question that there is a lot of behavior on the part of the general public that suggests that they think it’s perfectly fine to pick and choose your facts and that if the things you like really happen to be alternative facts, that’s still okay. Clearly, that’s something we have to work on. We did not have a successful mission to put a man on the moon by deciding that there were some laws of astrophysics we could dismiss and say “it’s not really like that. Let’s try something else.
Q: As you’ve jumped into the political realm, has the process itself surprised you? We have a unique situation here with a Special Election and a Primary Election taking place within two months of one another. Everyone who gets into politics has an idealized vision of what it would be like, then they experience the reality of being a candidate. Has that reality been what you expected or did it surprise you in some way?
A: Well, clearly there have been things that were unexpected when I declared my candidacy in early summer. I was expected to be going up against an entrenched eight-term Republican incumbent in Tim Murphy who at least in some circles was still quite popular; then he went from being entrenched to embattled to deciding not to run again in 2018 to resigning in disgrace, all over a fairly short period. And all because of the work of the Fourth Estate; what the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette did was undeniably not fake news.
Everything the press does that is in some way uncomplimentary to Republicans is declared to be fake news, but there it was. The evidence was clear. We had a Republican incumbent congressman who was guilty of stunning hypocrisy.
Q: Would you have rather run against Tim Murphy without the scandal or be running in this kind of wide open field with so many challengers?
A: The advantage of running against Murphy without the scandal is that for me, the focus would have been on his voting record and how he was voting the Republican Party line regardless of whether that was really best for the people of the district. In so many instances, it was not.
I could focus on the way he had distanced himself from his constituents since the beginning of this session of Congress, refusing to hold town hall meetings, not willing to be held accountable for what he was doing in Washington and we joked how he wouldn’t hold town hall meetings because he was afraid of people with pitchforks, but what he was really afraid of was facing constituents like me who would say, “Representative Murphy, you voted for a bill that would have kicked 37,000 people in your district off of their healthcare coverage. Tim, why did you think it was okay to do that?” He did not want to have to answer questions like that, so the approach of running against Murphy was very clear; it was a target-rich environment. The opposition research could focus purely on his voting record, and we didn’t need anything else.
Q: Challenges like the one you’re describing are almost always referendums on the incumbent, and now that’s off the table. So how do you adjust from what seemed like a pretty clear strategy of how you would have proceeded if Tim Murphy were still in office?
A: The approach to winning the nomination is to say that all these years, this district has been represented badly by someone who voted the Republican Party line and contrary to the interests of the people of his district. It’s time to send someone to Capitol Hill who is going to work to make the lives of the people of the 18th Congressional District better. That’s really what we need, so let’s look at what that means. What is it going to take for someone from this district to do when they go to Capitol Hill? What are the things we want that person to represent, that we want that person to work for, that we want that person to believe in at the core of his being so that we know when he gets there, he will be looking out for us? I have the answers to those questions.
The other people seeking the Democratic nomination are for the most part people who are not willing to take a position on much of anything. They have the sense that it’s risky to take positions.
It’s edgy to have well-defined stances on the major issues of the day. They are afraid that if they take positions on issues, then that means there are things they would have to defend. If you have core beliefs, if you have positions on issues that you know are right, and you’re willing to say these are the things that I stand for, then okay, if you disagree with me, let’s hear what you have to say. Let’s have an exchange of ideas. Let’s have an intellectual debate, and I believe that I can show the public the way I look at things is right and how what I want to do when I get to Capitol Hill will make a difference and make their lives better. Other candidates in the race are not taking positions on issues. They don’t have written position papers on anything. There’s only one other candidate, and that’s Mike Crossey, one of the guys who was in it from the start, who has any positions on anything.
The other candidates are basically blank slates, and it may be that some voters like that idea, but I think political leaders like that idea far more than voters do.
I think voters want to know that the person that they’re voting for has certain beliefs, because if you send someone to Capitol Hill and you don’t know what that person stands for, what’s going to happen? He’s going to get to Capitol Hill and his views, his attitudes, his values are going to be molded by the leadership, the lobbyists, and the special interests. When you send somebody to Capitol Hill without knowing anything about what they stand for, then this is what you get. It’s not going to be somebody who is there serving the interests of the people of the district.
Q: You raise an interesting point; your approach, which I’d describe as substance over style, may not play well with political leaders. The problem you have is that you’re facing a nomination process for a Special Election where the only people voting are political leaders and committee members who are influenced by elected officials. I mean, this is inside baseball, more than the public would ever believe. What has your response been when speaking the approximately 600 members of the Democratic Committee who will be voting in just a few days to nominate a candidate for the Special Election on March 13? How have you reached out to them and what has your response been?
A: A lot of conversations. I’ve been on the phone a lot as well as meeting in person, and the sense I’ve gotten from most of them is that they’re receptive, open-minded, and willing to listen and read about those of us seeking the nomination. Now that we know who the Republican nominee is, I believe is an opportunity to impart to them a sense of urgency.
I think it’s very important for them to understand that in the Special Election, we cannot count on people to go to the polls and think, “Rick Saccone? Oh my God, no! We have to vote for anyone who is running against him!” Voters are not going to vote for someone just because he’s not Rick Saccone just because he’s not a conservative extremist. They want to know who is this person running against and what does this person stand for? I need something more than he’s not Rick Saccone. I need to know that if we vote for him and we send him to Washington, what is he going to do? Why is he the better choice?
Q: In contrast, what would you say to people who won that Trump won the 18th District by 20 points on the backs of people who voted for him because he wasn’t Hillary Clinton? The rationale many people gave for voting for Trump was because they didn’t like Hillary, so do you think that translates into a race like this?
A: I think people recognize Rick Saccone as a right wing nut job and the possibility of having this district represented by someone with that political and philosophical orientation as an absolute catastrophe. Sending someone there who is going to support everything that Donald Trump wants to do and every little thing that flitters through his brain in a tweet as the worst thing this district could do. Those people are likely to vote for anybody who has a “D” after his or her name, but I don’t think that’s enough to win the election.
You have to tell people why the Democratic alternative is better in a district where they haven’t voted for the Democratic alternative since Frank Mascara.
Q: If you are the nominee in either the Special or the Primary Election, do you want Donald Trump to endorse Rick Saccone?
A: That would be a wonderful gift because it would make it possible for me to say the Trump Administration has been a serial calamity. Every morning we wake up wondering if we’re about to go to nuclear war, and this is Trump’s guy. So if you’re tired of waking up every morning wonder if Trump has pushed the button, then please do not vote for someone who was with him no matter what he does.
Q: That’s a really interesting response, because if you look at the numbers, Trump won the 18th District by 20 points – 58% to 38% – over Clinton, and at first you think it was just the Trump surge or whatever, but then when you see Romney carried it by almost the same margin (17 points) over Obama in 2012. Do you think the mood has changed that much since Trump took office? Normally in a district where you’ve got a President who won it by 20 points, it would be bad for you if that President endorsed your opponent, but you think it would be good for you. I understand your logic, but do you think the mood of the district has changed that much in such a short period?
A: I don’t know, but I would say that is the wrong question to ask. The right question is what should the mood of the district be and how do we get it there?
When Bill Clinton was President, there were a lot of things I didn’t like about him, but the thing that I disliked about him the most is that we had eight years of government by public opinion poll. Every decision was based on the moistened finger in the wind, and that is not political leadership.
If you want to be a political leader, the question is not whether the mood of the district has changed, but what do we need the mood of the district to be in order for people to wake up and smell the coffee and understand what the district needs and how they should be voting in March, in May, and in November. When we focus on that question, that’s political leadership.
Now, you have to have a sense of what people are receptive to; are they ready for a change in the way they’re thinking? If they’re not, you’re really up against it. As the saying goes, “If you think you’re leading and you look over your shoulder and there’s nobody behind you, you’re just out taking a walk.” Part of political leadership is sensing when people are receptive and when they’re willing to follow, and when you ask that question, whether people have a sense that we may have made a mistake by voting for Trump in 2016 and we may be making a mistake if we vote for people to represent us in Congress who are in lock-step with Trump.
If you have a sense that people are open to that sort of way of looking at what has happened in the political environment, then you say ‘Okay, this is an opportunity for political leadership and they’re willing to entertain this idea, we can take that willingness and get them where we need them to go in order to understand what changes we need to make in order to get the country on the right track, because we are on the wrong track in so many ways. We’re on the wrong track with a President who thinks we need more nuclear warheads, not fewer.
When Trump appointed Rex Tillerson to be his Secretary of State, I thought “are you kidding me?” The CEO of a multi-national corporation? Yeah, he has met people all over the world, he knows political leaders, but how does that qualify him to be Secretary of State? Well, when Trump said after being shown the decline in our nuclear arsenal as a result of agreements we made with other nuclear powers and said we didn’t need fewer nuclear warheads but instead need more, Tillerson called Trump a “fucking moron.” When I heard that I thought, ‘maybe Rex was a good choice after all!’
So we know that concerning international relations, Trump is a calamity and a catastrophe waiting to happen and we know from the reaction of governors across the country and leaders of the other nations of the world that his decision on the Paris Accords was wildly idiotic. People are getting this message. They see the way responsible political leaders are reacting to what the Trump Administration is doing. They are getting the message that everybody thinks that Trump is out there.
What I tell people who voted for him in November 2016 is when I asked why they were voting for Trump they said we need to get somebody in there who is going to shake things up.
So, now that you’ve voted for that, now that you’ve got someone in there shaking things up, can I bring your mind back to San Francisco in 1906? That really shook things up. That didn’t turn out very well, did it?
And Trump’s approach to shaking things up is that kind of approach. He’s shaking things up but with a lot of dire consequences looming on the horizon that are flatly terrifying and I think a lot of people are beginning to have this realization dawn on them.
Q: As the only candidate who has identified as a progressive Democrat, that would tend to fly in the face of the conventional wisdom that we need to elect a moderate Democrat because only a moderate can win this seat. You seem to think that’s obviously not true.
A: Absolutely not true.
Q: So what is the 30-second argument as to why the progressive would be a better choice to nominate as the Democratic nominee rather than someone who plans to vote as a Republican if elected?
A: The root of the word is progress, and I think when you make an argument to voters that progress is what we need, and that if you vote for Rick Saccone, you’re voting for someone who is going to turn the clock back about a half-century in just about every way you can imagine, and that’s just the wrong thing to do, you have an opportunity here to vote for progress.
You have an opportunity to vote for someone who is forward-looking, someone who understands where this country should be going, and how, and why, then I think that the idea that voting for a progressive is risky and we should look for moderates, I think people can begin to understand that voting for a moderate, although it’s somehow appealing, is really the wrong decision. Everyone who pays any attention to politics remembers the quotation Barry Goldwater in 1964? When he said, “Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice.” Well, I have a variation on that.
“Moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue.”
Q: What do perceive to be the biggest challenge you face? The Cook Political Report has this district as a Republican +11, and you’re seeing national articles where many people in southwestern Pennsylvania are standing behind Trump and think he’s doing a great job. What needs to happen for your campaign to click?
A: Well it’s a little bit difficult to tell what has to happen between now and Sunday’s nominating convention for this to work, but I intend to be on the ballot in the Primary Election in May, so what has to happen is for me to have the opportunity for me to get out and talk to voters. I think people are open-minded. I think people are receptive. I think they can be reached with a direct, clear, message.
I think that when voters hear a candidate that speaks the truth in a way that resonates with them, in a way that they can recognize is “Yes, what this person is saying with the truth,” they will get it. They may not respond the same way they would at a town hall meeting as they would in the congregation at an AME church, and when I speak my lines that have the ring, they may not leap out of their seats and shake their fists to the sky and scream, “Yes, just tell the truth!” But that’s what they’ll be thinking inside. I think people can be reached with a message that they recognize as coming from the heart and having a ring of truth.
Q: Let’s talk about Sunday’s nominating convention for the Special Election on March 13, 2018. To get the nomination, you need fifty percent of the committee members’ votes plus one, so we can likely expect multiple rounds of balloting. You also need more than ten percent to stay on the ballot each time to stay around. Let’s assume you have a solid block of votes from progressive committee members locked up, and they’re not going to abandon you as long as you’re still on the ballot. As a result, you may have a real impact as to who gets the nomination, because if you don’t make the cut, your voters may look to you for guidance. Have you been approached by any candidate soliciting the votes of your supporters on a subsequent ballot if you don’t make the cut?
A: I have not. I’ve heard rumors that there might be interest in such a thing, but nothing official.
Q: Every candidate develops some pretty strong ideas about their opponents through the course of a campaign. You have a ranking in your mind, with you first and everyone else in some order after that. Would you instruct your voters to support a particular candidate if you failed to make it past a certain point in the nominating process this weekend, or would you just release them to vote however they want?
A: If I had the sense on Sunday that the people who supported me, once they got over their disappointment at the fact that I was not going to be the winner in this process, if they wanted to know, “You’ve been to all these meetings and you’ve heard what these candidates have to say.” If they ask me if there is one of them that you would support over the other, then I would tell them “Yes, there is.”
Q: Obviously you talked about health care policy. Are you worried about being perceived as a one-issue candidate because health care is the primary issue you talk about?
A: The people who think I’m a one-issue candidate think that because they haven’t heard me speak in public, where I speak about a range of issues, and they sure as heck haven’t visited my website (www.solomon4pa18.com) where I have position papers on nine separate issues.
Q: There are two issues that socially define politicians in this area. One is abortion. Are you pro-choice?
Q: The other issue is guns, which is a far more complicated topic. In light of the recent mass shootings, it’s very difficult to come up with a political position on guns, because you’ve got a large number of pro-second Amendment voters, who are one-issue voters, even the Democrats. How do you reconcile that with the shootings and the things we’ve seen?
A: It’s really very straight-forward. The Second Amendment means that there is an individual right. I have read everything that the Framers wrote about the political philosophy underlying the Second Amendment, and it’s very clear that the Second Amendment means that there is a guarantee of an individual right. It’s very clear why the Second Amendment was written and included in the Bill of Rights, and the Supreme Court has recently issued rulings that state unequivocally that the Second Amendment guarantees an individual right. They have also said it can be subjected to “reasonable regulation,” so the question is what is reasonable regulation?
The answer to that question is going to come from State Legislatures and Capitol Hill, and whatever reasonable regulation legislators put forward, there may be Court challenges, and ultimately the Federal Courts will rule on what is reasonable and what is not. What we should be doing is pursuing a “national conversation” about what reasonable regulation, and not only what is reasonable, but what is going to help? What is going to be effective?
What are the things we can do to keep guns out of the wrong hands and to see to it that people who have deep-seeded mental health problems or are religious extremists don’t have access to firearms where they can kill large numbers of people in short amounts of time?
There are things that we know may be useful, and there are things upon which there is general agreement. In order to have that conversation, you need to have folks on Capitol Hill who understand the thinking on both sides on the issue, and even more important understand how people on both sides of the issue feel about each other, who understand the deep mistrust, who understand that the pro-gun rights group looks at the other side and sees everyone as a gun banner or a gun grabber, someone whose vision of American society is a vision of a gun-free society, and once they think that’s your position on the issue, they’re done. They’re not gonna talk to you. They’re not gonna engage you in conversation. They’re not even gonna get in the same room with you.
And the people on the pro-gun control side look at everybody on the pro-gun rights side and think, “those people over there, they don’t care whether crazies and criminals can get guns, how many, what kind, as long as you don’t inconvenience them when they want to acquire firearms.
What I say to the people on the pro-gun rights side is we know that’s not true. We know you want to keep guns out of the wrong hands just as much as we do.
We can show that by getting into a discussion and figuring out what kinds of solutions might actually work. And when I talk to the people on the pro-gun control side, I say to them, “If you have a vision of gun-free society, that’s a beautiful thing, but keep it to yourself. If the folks we have to talk to in order to get anything done think that’s where your mind is, there will be no conversation. They won’t even get in the same room with you. There will be no discussion. There will be no possibility of compromise, and we will never accomplish anything.
Right now, we don’t seem to have people on Capitol Hill who understand the deep mistrust and can talk to folks on both sides of the issue and bring them together. Instead we have people who are afraid of the power of the NRA to mobilize the single-issue pro-gun rights voter and therefore don’t want to do anything to cross the NRA, and on the other side we have people who want to do nothing but demonize the NRA failing to recognize that by doing so, they are alienating the people that they need to have the conversation with.
The thinking on both sides of this issue that we see on both sides from Capitol Hill is thinking that guarantees failure, and we have to have people working on this who understand how to get past that and how to bring two sides together and get them to talk to one another. So when I talk to people in the district, I tell them that the Supreme Court said in Heller that gun ownership is an individual right, and that’s where we are. Now let’s talk about what it means when the Supreme Court says there can be reasonable regulation. Let’s talk about not only what might be reasonable, but what might actually help.
Q: Do you think the voters of PA’s 18th District are ready or willing to have that conversation?
A: In individual conversations, when I sense that maybe they’re not, I say to the ones on the pro-gun rights side, “Listen, I’m not gonna just sit here and tell you that I will not go to Washington with the idea that I’m going to take your guns away. I’m not gonna tell you just that.
I will tell you that I understand how you feel about this, and I respect the way you feel about this, and if you want to see it, I’ll show you the card that shows you I’ve been a life member of the NRA since 1989.
And we have far more in common than we have creating a difference between us, and what we have in common is we realize that gun violence is a serious social problem in America and we realize there are things we may be able to do to address that problem, and we have to get to work.
Q: To clarify, you are currently a gun owner?
Q: And you are currently a member of the National Rifle Association?
Q: Have you gotten any flak from people who say your position on guns doesn’t check the traditional box for a self-identified progressive Democrat?
A: Absolutely. I have friends and colleagues who say that anybody who is running for public office who is a progressive should get an “F” rating from the NRA, and I say “sorry, that’s not gonna happen with me.” If I fill out the NRA Questionnaire in a way that is consistent with my political and philosophical views are, the NRA would probably give me a rating that my Republican opponent would not be happy about. But the way to start working on the problem of gun violence in America is not to say we’re just going to get rid of them all and confiscate them like they did in Australia because if that’s you’re starting point, you’re not going anywhere from there.
Q: Do you have anything else you’d like to say to any of the voters or Democratic Committee members before the nominating convention on Sunday?
A: It’s really a very simple and direct message. We have the voter registration edge in this district. The way to win is to get the Democratic base enthused, energized, fired up, and to get moderates to understand that when they have voted Republican, they have been voting against their economic self-interests unless they are wealthy or big businessmen. We can get that message out to them. We can enlighten them. We can tell them if you voted for Donald Trump, you were conned. It’s easier to fool people than it is to get people to admit that they’ve been fooled, but when you talk to people in a way that is sympathetic and supportive and you say, “I know it seemed like a good idea at the time, but look where we are now. We need to stop moving in the direction we’ve been moving.
Q: Last question, and it’s one we’re asking everyone. Have you or your campaign been in contact with or in any way involved with the Russian government?
A: Not at all, but my ancestry is all Russian. (Laughing)
Q: Uh oh.
A: My mother’s parents moved to the United States right before the Russian Revolution…
Q: So you’re an anchor baby. Got it. Thank you for your time Dr. Solomon.
A: Thank you.
Editor’s Note: Goose in the Gallows has extended invitations to all candidates to be interviewed, and at least one other candidate has accepted. Our mission is to inform the voters of the 18th Congressional District, not to promote any specific political party, candidate, or ideology. Any of the campaigns/candidates can contact us at [email protected].