Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is a living Rorschach test for leftists. Her primary win over incumbent Joseph Crowley in a New York City congressional district is impressive on many levels. But the reaction to her victory demonstrates the sad state of affairs of left-wing politics in this country.
The contradictory responses from people who are otherwise in agreement is the result of defeat after defeat and the lack of consensus on how to change the paradigm. The Democrats are the putative party of progressives but over the years they have morphed into a center-right formation that differs all too little from the far-right Republicans.
Regardless of motive, Crowley was, as the saying goes, “phoning it in.” He had a lackluster debate performance and then didn’t show up for another. Instead he sent a former City Council Member to represent him. That level of disrespect was punished when voters went to the polls. It is true that turnout was low but such is the always the case in primary races. A win is a win and Ocasio-Cortez deserves credit for beating a corrupt but powerful system.
Now the Democrats can’t even muster a “lesser evilism” argument after having lost state houses, Congress and, finally, the presidency. Left wing disdain for them is well deserved but there is still no agreed upon mechanism for ending their rule. In addition, the fear of being labeled a spoiler is still quite strong. The unbridled racism of the Donald Trump administration doesn’t make the debate any easier. The Democratic Party gas lighting which blames Jill Stein or Bernie Sanders or Vladimir Putin has been all too successful. The protection racket for failure has worked quite well.
Ocasio-Cortez is in the unenviable position of being dismissed by some leftists because she is a Democrat at all or lionized by others when she ought to be called to account. The Democratic Party bosses have already dismissed the significance of her win over a man who had a 10:1 fund raising advantage. That in itself is reason to give her credit. A large war chest is used not just to defeat but to scare off challengers before they can even mount a campaign. It isn’t surprising that Democratic Party leadership seek to minimize her achievement. If others follow in her footsteps the house of cards may begin to wobble.
Even Latino political leadership didn’t back her. Crowley’s debate stand-in was Latina and even Bronx borough president Ruben Diaz, Jr. lamented Crowley’s loss. “It’s unfortunate he had a primary,” said Diaz. “We need him in Washington D.C. Washington is about consistency and seniority.” It seems that black people aren’t the only group with a misleadership class.
But Ocasio-Cortez can’t be let off the hook either. Astute observers noticed that her Peace Economy platform disappeared from her campaign website. She blamed a volunteer-run web team and promised to “look into it.” A few days later the statement reemerged but doubters such as this columnist believe that it would never have reappeared if she hadn’t been questioned about its absence.
Ocasio-Cortez is expected to be all things to a desperate group of people. She both benefits from her connection to Bernie Sanders and is tainted by his sheep dogging for the Democrats. Yet she is rightly held up as a hopeful sign by people eager to see even a small chance of progressive politics taking hold. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is actually not the only issue for debate. The discredited Democratic Party and the inability of leftists to mount a successful attack against it should also be a focal point of discussion.
The Democrats have purged any semblance of progressive politics from their ranks. Democratic party attacks and Republican chicanery were used to end Cynthia McKinney’s congressional career. When Ohio lost a congressional seat after the last census it was no surprise that Dennis Kucinich ended up with the short straw. There isn’t one Democratic member of Congress who consistently advances an anti-war platform. Even Ocasio-Cortez falls prey to using liberal gibberish about America being a “force for good” and demanding congressional approval for wars that should never be waged at all. But if she wins her general election in November she will be the lone member who says anything at all about the issues of war and peace.
Yet it is proper, indeed it is necessary, to call her to account when she follows Bernie Sanders and others in repeating unproven assertions that the Russian government helped Trump to victory. She can’t be held up as a progressive icon if she sounds like the imperialist Democrats eager to deflect blame for their failures.
In the final analysis progressives should keep Ocasio-Cortez under scrutiny lest she fall prey to big money and the pull of a party which wants to stamp out any and all divergence from their losing but powerful apparatus. The Democrats are openly backing former intelligence operatives and ex-military candidates to win in November. Ocasio-Cortez should be supported if only to fight against the Democrats and their ever more rightward moves.
The fight isn’t hers alone. The difficult discussions, debates and struggles must be waged by everyone. If not the leftist perpetual beat down will go on without resolution. We will be left with endless and useless argument rather than finding a way to make successful progressive politics a reality.
Margaret Kimberley’s Freedom Rider column appears weekly in BAR, and is widely reprinted elsewhere. She maintains a frequently updated blog as well as at freedomrider.blogspot.com. Ms. Kimberley lives in New York City, and can be reached via e-Mail at Margaret.Kimberley(at)BlackAgendaReport.com.