Democratic leaders are outraged at Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s actions in Congress and are trying to reel her in. It’s a clear sign she’s antagonizing all the right forces in the party.
Even more elected Democrats would speak up against AOC, but they are petrified by the awesome power of her Twitter account: “So far, most [House Democrats] have kept their criticism of Ocasio-Cortez private, fearful she’ll sic her massive following on them by firing off a tweet.”
As unbecoming as this whining by some of the world’s most powerful elected officials is, the party’s disciplinary power is on full display in the piece. Elected leaders warn she will be isolated in the House if she doesn’t tone it down and back off what Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-MO) calls “sniping [with]in our Democratic Caucus.”
“The chances that the Democratic caucus will stand by and watch its chair [Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D–NY)] get attack[ed] and people piling on him — by Democrats! — is so obscene that I think you’ll find one of the strongest reactions that could possibly be anticipated,” Rep. Cleaver said. (Politico previously reported Ocasio-Cortez supports primarying Jeffries; in today’s story, she denies it.)
Many of the quoted officials seems to be channeling the Rock, demanding that AOC know her role and shut her mouth, or else.
The article paints a portrait of a fairly pathetic party, led by officials who style themselves as #Resistance leaders but shit their pants when a twenty-nine-year-old with a Twitter following joins them and actually takes pro-working class, stop-the-world-from-burning-to-a-crisp policies seriously. “People are afraid of her,” one jittery, anonymous Democratic aide says, perhaps while wearing a fake mustache and trench coat, calling from a payphone on the outskirts of the capital.
But the fact that Ocasio-Cortez has drawn this kind of ire so quickly means she — and the broader movement she is a part of — is antagonizing all the right forces within the Democratic Party.
Her rhetoric thus far has zeroed in on the contradictions between the kinds of social-democratic policies growing numbers of Americans want — Medicare for All, free college, a Green New Deal, taxing the rich — and the complete unwillingness of the party’s leadership to do anything to achieve those policies. The Politico article focuses on issues of congressional decorum, but fundamentally, the Democratic gnashing of teeth comes down to their opposition to those policies.
No one should be shocked that party leaders are reacting to AOC this way. The Democrats are hopelessly pro-corporate, America’s “second-most-enthusiastic capitalist party” and all that. This is who they are. But just in the past few weeks, by helping make issues like a Green New Deal or a 70 percent tax on all income over $10 million part of the mainstream discussion, Ocasio-Cortez shows that it is possible to open up new, leftist political possibilities while operating within that party — and, whether she means to or not, highlight the reality that progressive forces will have to break with the Democrats at some point if they really want to achieve their goals.
The Democratic leadership isn’t afraid of AOC herself. They’re afraid of the movement coalescing around her and Bernie Sanders, and groups like the Democratic Socialists of America and Justice Democrats; they’re terrified of multiple Ocasio-Cortezes running in elections around the country, backed by more socialists and climate change activists and angry rank-and-file workers demanding much more from the party and taking to the streets to do so.
So, the pressure on Ocasio-Cortez from Democratic power brokers isn’t going to let up. If she sticks to her agenda and rhetoric, Democrats will only cook up more ways to fight her. The threats from House members that she will end up isolated on the Hill aren’t empty. Whatever the quoted representatives say about primarying “fellow Democrats,” in four years, donors and party leaders would surely be happy to go all in on a challenger who’s willing to stick to the party’s script.
And the story itself suggests some waffling from Ocasio-Cortez in the face of party pushback:
But there are signs that she’s getting the message, at least when it comes to backing primary challenges against her colleagues.
In a brief exchange off the House floor recently, she said she wasn’t interested in backing progressive candidates against incumbent Democrats — contradicting her own words after the midterms. …
“I’m focused on my job,” Ocasio-Cortez said.
Her spokesman, Corbin Trent, added: “There has been a change in focus — though not a change in ideology.”
AOC and her staff shouldn’t kid themselves about the value of an unchanged ideology on its own — it means little if her actions no longer reflect that ideology or water it down. Buying into the idea that she should focus on “getting things done,” maintaining a narrow focus on her role as legislator representing the Bronx and Queens rather than transforming the political narrative of the entire country, would be a major defeat and a path AOC shouldn’t go down.
Ocasio-Cortez surely knew these attacks would come, though maybe she didn’t anticipate them so soon. As they escalate, she should stick to her guns. The House leaders scolding her aren’t her friends or friends of working people. They don’t hold the same values, they don’t back the same kinds of policies, and they want to see her fail.
Ocasio-Cortez won’t win these Democratic leaders over. She should welcome their hatred.
Democrats Are Afraid Of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Too. And That’s A Good Thing.
by Norm Solomon
In the last few days, both Politico and the New York Times reported freshman Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez ruffled the feathers of fellow congressional Democrats. Chief among the reasons for the tension? Ocasio-Cortez’s apparent support for progressive primary challenges against centrist Democrats.
It’s one of the most significant ideas the young New York congresswoman brought with her to Washington.
That’s because turning the Democratic Party into a truly progressive force will require turning “primary” into a verb. The corporate Democrats who dominate the party’s power structure in Congress should fear losing their seats because they’re out of step with constituents. And Democratic voters should understand that if they want to change the party, the only path to do so is to change the people who represent them. Otherwise, the leverage of Wall Street and the military-industrial complex will continue to hold sway.
These days, with fingers to the wind, incumbents often give lip service to proposals that have wide public support nationwide, such as Medicare for All (70 percent) and higher taxes on the wealthy (76 percent). But big gaps remain between what most congressional Democrats are willing to fight for and what their constituents actually want.
Credible primary challenges ― or even just the threat of them ― can work wonders. Instead of merely asking a member of Congress to do the right thing, activists can convey a much more persuasive message:
Do the right thing or we’ll replace you with someone who will.
Alexandra Rojas, executive director of Justice Democrats (this group played a major role in Ocasio-Cortez’s election victory), emphasizes that “safe” Democratic districts shouldn’t stay safe for just any Democrat. The goal is to “hold representatives who throw diverse working-class voters under the bus accountable.”
Justice Democrats communications director Waleed Shahid wrote in a Jan. 6 mass email that “real on-the-ground organizing work” can bring “a new generation of progressive leaders like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez into the Democratic Party.” He added: “We believe there are leaders just like Alexandria in every district ― who just need a little bit of encouragement and support.”
While largely ideological, the battle lines are also attitudinal and behavioral. Democrats need to replace passive liberals with real progressive boat-rockers. That’s how Northern California Rep. Ro Khanna distinguished himself from the longtime incumbent he defeated in 2016, Mike Honda. And attitude is a big reason, in Boston last year, Ayanna Pressley was able to win a primary victory over senior Rep. Mike Capuano.
Both Honda and Capuano hardly legislated as centrists ― both leaned left and earned antiwar credentials ― but they lost to challengers who insisted just checking progressive boxes wasn’t enough. There’s a crying need for highly assertive leaders who think and act outside the box. During his first two years in office, Khanna repeatedly put forward wise alternatives to Democratic leadership on domestic issues as well as foreign-policy matters ranging from Syria, Yemen and Korea to U.S. relations with Russia.
Yet Ocasio-Cortez and Pressley were the only two candidates to oust Democrats from Congress in primaries last year, a fact that underscores how difficult it is to win a primary against an entrenched incumbent. It also reflects the routinely unmet need to devote sufficient advance planning, time and resources to the mission.
What’s needed is rigorous long-term organizing to make “primarying” an effective weapon ― identifying which incumbent Democrats to confront and then implementing visionary yet realistic campaigns to beat them. That’s what Ocasio-Cortez did to defeat the fourth-ranking Democrat in the House, Joe Crowley, last summer.
There are numerous other signs traction awaits such efforts. Earlier this month, for instance, HuffPost reported ― despite the popularity of third-term House Democrat Kathleen Rice among her constituents ― “new polling suggests white, suburban women in Rice’s own southwestern Long Island district could turn on the Democrat if she refuses to back a Green New Deal, the umbrella term for the sweeping policy to combat climate change and overhaul the economy.”
In December, Politico reported Ocasio-Cortez assisted plans for a progressive to run against Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, an African American who just ascended to the fifth-highest leadership post among House Democrats. Jeffries is more attentive to serving corporate power than the interests of voters in his Brooklyn district.
Even more important than the fractures in the mutual-protection racket among congressional Democrats is the momentum toward wider challenges among grassroots progressive activists. Their willingness to challenge incumbents in the 2020 primaries will likely extend to new arrivals on Capitol Hill, especially Democratic “Blue Dogs” such as Harley Rouda in California and Abigail Spanberger in Virginia.
Meanwhile, some Democrats who’ve been in office for a long time are now conspicuously vulnerable to primary challenges from the left. Soon after the midterm election, the Washington Post’s David Weigel flagged several incumbents in Democratic districts whose centrism and insulation make them prime targets in 2020: Jim Cooper from Nashville, Stephen Lynch from Boston, and Illinois Reps. Dan Lipinski and Danny Davis. He also mentioned south Texas Rep. Henry Cuellar, who actually supported Republican Rep. John Carter against progressive challenger MJ Hegar in 2018. Last week, Hegar came out in support of the Justice Democrats’ efforts to primary Cuellar.
In every region of the nation, progressive activists aim to normalize what was once a rarity ― credible primary campaigns by genuine progressives against corporate Democrats in Congress. There are certainly plenty to choose from.
On the primary-as-a-verb wish list of many activists is the hawkish new chairman of the House foreign affairs committee, Eliot Engel, whose New York district includes portions of the Bronx and Westchester County. After 30 years in Congress, he might seem nearly impossible to defeat.
Conventional wisdom assumed the same about Joe Crowley.