In my 32 years on this mortal coil, I have never seen someone take up as much real estate in other people’s brains as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. It’s remarkable. The vast majority of cognitive functions of both Republicans and longtime D.C. Democrats are spent focusing on oxygen, water, protein, sex and AOC. I mean, look at this 1,700 word campaign ad for Ocasio-Cortez in Politico:
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is already making enemies in the House Democratic Caucus — and some of its members are mounting an operation to bring the anti-establishment, democratic socialist with 2.2 million Twitter followers into the fold.
The effort, described by nearly 20 lawmakers and aides, is part carrot, part stick: Some lawmakers with ties to Ocasio-Cortez are hoping to coax her into using her star power to unite Democrats and turn her fire on Republicans. Others simultaneously warn Ocasio-Cortez is destined for a lonely, ineffectual career in Congress if she continues to treat her own party as the enemy.
First off, the notion that she is not turning her fire on Republicans enough is simply not true. The vast majority of her famed Twitter dunking is done on Republicans. The title photo of this story is her at a rally trying to whip up support to oppose Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court appointment before she was even in congress. Framing it as “she needs to hit Republicans” is just 100% D.C. false-equivalency BS.
What these Democrats really want is for her to stop hitting Democrats entirely. To quote another famed progressive agitator, that’s not me saying it, that’s the Democrats saying it.
“I’m sure Ms. Cortez means well, but there’s almost an outstanding rule: Don’t attack your own people,” said Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.). “We just don’t need sniping in our Democratic Caucus.”
“Do not speak ill of Democrats, for we are infallible” said the 33-year politician—the last 14 of which have come in our nation’s most valuable swampland—and who last year had over a million dollars in PAC contributions and large individual contributions comprise 96.8% of his campaign committee’s funds.
This report is incredible, and it is immensely valuable journalism for some of the rot that it exposes within the Democratic Party, and the terrified mindset some of these lawmakers willingly put on display. This isn’t entirely about establishment Dems trashing her while hinting at the “carrot and stick” strategy that definitely isn’t the product of millions of dollars sunk into some Democratic consultant who worked on the 2016 campaign—just like half of the report. Politico also details the nuances of AOC challenging the establishment, and how other friendlier lawmakers are helping her navigate the waters.
What the Waters Look Like
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez did not support the insurrection led against Nancy Pelosi’s speakership, and yet she is being painted as the boogeyman within the Democratic Party because she has the audacity to demand that a self-professed liberal party actually represent its liberal constituents.
Now, AOC’s threat to back primary challengers does not apply to all Democrats who don’t toe the progressive line, as this passage about less swampy Democrats counseling her demonstrates:
In private conversations with Ocasio-Cortez over the past few months, [NY Rep. Nydia] Velázquez counseled Ocasio-Cortez against targeting her Democratic colleagues in future elections. The two had a “long, long conversation” about the dynamics of Congress and Washington, and how there shouldn’t be a “litmus test” for every district, Velázquez said in a recent interview.
Not every district is progressive, and knocking out strong centrist Democrats in purple or red districts is a likely self-defeating process for the project of liberalism. That’s what Politico is surely referencing when they speak about the “litmus test for every district.” The progressive polling outlet, Data for Progress, agrees with this basic notion, although they have highlighted the fact that there are progressive policies which appeal to purple districts that Democrats refuse to back.
Here’s one example: it’s an unimpeachable fact that your average Republican voter is farther to the left on health care than your average Democratic Senator. A majority — 51% — of Republicans want socialized medicine. Data for Progress notes that just 33% of Senate Democrats support Medicare for All.
What is and is not considered a “centrist” policy is not what the D.C. establishment has been trained to think, and the “centrist” mindset that dominates our nation’s capital is inherently conservative. That mindset is the product of a successful Reaganite project to shift the Overton Window to the right right over the last four decades, but the fact is that progressive policies like Medicare for All, a higher minimum wage, a job guarantee and the Green New Deal can win in conservative districts. Data for Progress has the receipts to back those facts up, and this is why you are currently seeing so many 2020 contenders like Kamala Harris, Elizabeth Warren, Beto O’Rourke and Cory Booker throw their support behind so many of these progressive policies.
America is a liberal country, as I wrote in my piece earlier this week about how Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has done more to shift the Overton Window to the left than any Democratic politician in my lifetime:
Despite our partisan squabbles, Americans are largely united on a broadly liberal policy front. Four out of five Americans think wealthy people have too much power and influence in Washington. A nice 69% of us think large businesses have too much power and influence in our nation’s capital, while 65% think our economic system “unfairly favors powerful interests,” and 59% (43% of Republicans) believe that corporations make “too much profit.” Americans largely identify with the economics of the mid-20th century, while our ruling class wants us to believe that the only economic system that we have ever known is the one we have experienced over the last 40 years.
Congressional newcomers like Representatives Ocasio-Cortez, Rashida Tlaib, Ayanna Pressley and Ilhan Omar understand the current political climate far better than the insulated Democratic establishment of the last 40 years does, and the establishment’s fear shows in these quotes—like this from a 22-year congressman who took $1.46 million from PACs in this last cycle, versus just $59,305 small dollar donations.
“She’s new here, feeling her way around,” added Rep. Kurt Schrader (D-Ore.). “She doesn’t understand how the place works yet.”
This place doesn’t work, Kurt. That’s the problem. She wasn’t sent to Washington to keep the machinery moving, but to point it in a diametrically opposite direction from where it’s currently aimed at. While there is a pragmatic truth to his quote—anyone needs time to figure the ins and outs of a new job—the theme of every single critique in here is that AOC is stepping out of line by criticizing the Democratic Party. If the Democratic establishment’s position truly is that criticizing any Democratic lawmaker is an unforgivable sin, then the Democratic Party is by definition, a kind of fascist party. Dissent and insurrection are not the same thing, and politicians do not have a divine right to serve in office. If representatives do not represent the people, they should not have the job of representing the people. That’s the nearly unanimously popular reality that AOC is bringing to everyone’s doorstep in the Democratic Party.
This quote, from a courageously anonymous senior Democratic House lawmaker whining about Ocasio-Cortez’s attempt to get a seat on the powerful Ways and Means committee, rips the mask off and reveals the true disdainful nature of so much of the Democratic Party establishment:
“It totally pissed off everyone,” said one senior House Democratic lawmaker of the campaign. “You don’t get picked for committees by who your grass-roots [supporters] are.”
“Grassroots support should not translate to power” is the extremely short story of how the Democratic Party establishment lost an election to a shrieking carnival barker who can’t stop telling everyone how much he’s attracted to his own daughter. These people proved in 2016 that they couldn’t be trusted to win a straw poll at their family reunion, yet they’re rushing to D.C.’s preeminent political gossip magazine to complain about a young woman challenging them to do what they were sent to Washington to do.
Forty three percent of the Democratic Party did not vote for the Democratic establishment’s hand-picked nominee in 2016, and now the Democratic establishment is expressing shock at that figure being more democratically represented in a more democratic body than the presidency. That a wildly popular freshman lawmaker calling out her colleagues for restricting liberal priorities supported by the populace is what gets a rise out of the Democratic establishment, while a full-on mess of an insurrection led by the corporatist wing of the party to unseat the longtime Democratic House leader goes basically unnoticed, is quite telling of where the Democratic establishment’s true priorities lie (as well as the donor class’s disdain for Kirsten Gillibrand over speaking out against Al Franken’s sins).
I would end this piece with a kicker saying something a little more eloquent than “keep going AOC, you’ve got all this popular support for a reason,” but I don’t need to tell her that—and besides, I can’t write a better kicker than she can anyway.
Jacob Weindling is a staff writer for Paste politics. Follow him on Twitter at @Jakeweindling.