When 28-year-old, first-time, Latina candidate Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez pulled off a stunning primary upset against 10-term Democrat Joe Crowley in New York, it was cause for celebration. At least that’s how I saw it. But, apparently, I had a different reaction than that of Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi and Missouri Senator Claire McCaskill.
Pelosi downgraded Ocasio-Cortez’s surprise victory calling it a random outlier and saying, “It should not be viewed as something that stands for everything.” And McCaskill, asked what she had in common with Ocasio-Cortez, said, “Not much.”
I view these dismissals of Ocasio-Cortez as both offensive and counter-productive. I can’t understand why leaders of the Democratic party aren’t celebrating the success of a candidate who is doing precisely what the Democratic party should be encouraging: coming off the sidelines, getting engaged in politics, putting herself on the line for progressive ideas—and representing the exact demographic that the party needs to move forward and to regain its mojo.
Well, actually, I think I do understand why Pelosi and McCaskill are distancing themselves from Ocasio-Cortez, but the reasons aren’t pretty. It’s all about the internal politics of the Democratic establishment. Ocasio-Cortez knocked off a big name, a party insider who was on the short list to replace Pelosi as House Minority Leader [or possibly majority leader, if the blue wave actually hits in November]. The party elite had a succession plan—it was Crowley’s “turn”—and now Ocasio-Cortez has messed up the pre-determined order of things. That’s a no-no.
I’m afraid, too, that Ocasio-Cortez also carries with her—in the narrow view of the Democratic party apparatus—the “taint” of being an organizer in Bernie Sanders’ bid for the Democratic nomination in 2016. His candidacy was viewed by the party power elite as an insurgency, an assault on democratic centrist orthodoxy, and a threat to the prescribed order of things, in which the presidential nomination rightfully belonged to Hillary Clinton. They’re still mad about that, apparently, even though Sanders’ ideas remain popular–as demonstrated by Ocasio-Cortez, who describes herself as a Democratic Socialist, like Sanders. So, while America retreats into the 19th Century on social and economic issues under Donald Trump, the Democratic party seems to be re-litigating its 2016 internal battle between Bernie-ites and Clinton-ites—and taking it out on Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
As the party of Trump increasingly moves to the right, espousing radical, retrograde ideas that were once too extreme to talk about in public, it’s clear to me that the Democratic party must offer a choice as the party of the progressive ideas that have made life in America better for a wide range of people. They should be standing up for the New Deal ideas that Republicans, in their current orgy or power, are assiduously tearing down, day by day, one by one.
Instead of putting Ocasio-Cortez down, they should be asking her for advice.
Democrats are not going to win by pandering to the right—as McCaskill did in her dismissive comment delivered on a conservative, St. Louis-based talk show. [Question: Would she have said the same thing on MSNBC?] Hasn’t the Democratic party learned that we can’t out-Republican the Republicans? Democrats need to go left, as Ocasio-Cortez did—and won doing it. Instead of putting Ocasio-Cortez down and downgrading as a “fluke” a victory that should be seen as an energizing event, they should be asking her for advice.
Pelosi, McCaskill and other higher-ups in the party hierarchy are wishing for blue wave in November. They’re desperate to find strategies that will increase voter turnout, especially among younger voters. So, here’s a candidate who has the potential to do exactly that, who may be a role model for others, and whose improbable victory could offer an object lesson in the perils of complacency. Dissing her is just plain dumb.