Leaders who challenge conventional thinking aren’t always recognized in their time (“I endorse Ilhan Omar’s challenger on merit,” April 20). But history usually honors their value. I see U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar as a leader who is disrupting conventional wisdom and challenging 50 years of thinking that has brought us stunning inequality, weakened public institutions and an utter lack of preparedness for a global pandemic.
Washington doesn’t usually embrace bold thinkers. Entrenched special interests like things the way they are: moneyed interests, a priority; working people of all colors, an afterthought. But in the Fifth Congressional District, we do embrace bold thinkers — and we should re-elect Rep. Omar.
Many Minnesotans are drowning in student loan debt: Rep. Omar says “Cancel it.” Minnesotans suffer from a housing affordability crisis: She says, “Homes for all,” a Marshall Plan-scale investment in low-income housing to get a roof over everyone’s head. Minnesota families wonder how they’re going to pay for the health care they need in this pandemic: She says, “Medicaid for all.” Minnesotans have seen stagnant paychecks for decades: She says, “$15 minimum wage and a union.”
Critics wag fingers: “And how are you going pay for that?” She says, “The same way we paid for Iraq, Afghanistan and the latest trillion-dollar tax cut.”
Rep. Omar consistently proposes big solutions to big problems. It’s what Minnesotans expect their members of Congress to do, and I’m confident that one day some version of her ideas — like national health insurance, affordable college and paid family leave, which most of the industrialized world already has — will prevail. But we’re up against insider, “politically savvy” thinking that calls all of this “unthinkable, impossible.” We won’t get there without bold leadership, and maybe that’s why she draws the ire of people like President Donald Trump and the radical right.
And in the time of COVID-19, we need Rep. Omar’s kind of bold leadership now more than ever, because this pandemic has fully exposed what has been there all along: the fabric of our society is terribly torn and our safety net has huge holes. People are falling through those holes as America leads the world in COVID-19 cases and deaths. Rep. Omar didn’t need a pandemic to see that too many Minnesotans can’t afford good homes or get affordable health care or take home a decent paycheck.
There’s another reason that in the time of COVID-19 we need Omar representing us in Congress. Trump showed up at the Target Center to target her personally. His story is that immigrants, foreigners from “shithole countries,” the Chinese and international institutions like the World Health Organization are to blame for his failures.
But Minnesotans know that standing for a fair economy, new Americans and religious diversity isn’t what’s wrong with America, it’s the solution — and Omar carries all of these values with her when she wakes up in the morning. In the time of COVID-19, we need a member of Congress who, by virtue of who she is, will expose the lie that refugees and the WHO and people in other lands should be the scapegoat.
We need a member of Congress who knows our problems are much closer to home: too many people living paycheck to paycheck in a deeply unequal economy, and a president who is a threat to American democracy and American lives every day.
Twelve years in Congress taught me that America needs a richer, more diverse set of voices in Congress who can speak with a new kind of credibility about liberty and justice for all — with no exceptions. That’s where the Fifth District comes in. We get to send Omar back to Congress where she can raise her voice as a former refugee, a minimum-wage worker, a small-business owner and, yes, a hijab-wearing Muslim woman born in Africa. We get to send someone back to Congress who has already raised her voice for big ideas that this pandemic has shown us we need more than ever.
So we have a choice. We can reward the status quo and entrenched special interests that say those big ideas are “unthinkable” and “impossible.” We can stick with the gaping inequalities and disparities that have led to the worst depression in our lifetimes. Or we can send Rep. Ilhan Omar back to Congress to keep thinking big and fighting hard for a more just, equal America that the special interests don’t want, but that the rest of us actually, truly need.
I know what I choose.
Keith Ellison is attorney general of Minnesota.