By Kent R. Kroeger (June 29, 2018)
I tried to jump out of my insanely comfortable TV-viewing recliner at hearing that Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a 28-year-old progressive and political newcomer, had defeated 10-term incumbent Rep. Joe Crowley for the Democratic nomination in New York’s 14th U.S. House district.
Crowley, chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, was considered the fourth most powerful Democrat in the House chamber. To lose to a political novice was, to put it mildly, unexpected.
And how did Crowley react to this sudden defeat? With one of the most gracious concession speeches I’ve ever heard. And, as he launched into a rendition of Bruce Springteen’s “Born to Run,” he dedicated it to Ocasio-Cortez in his thick Queens-accent.
Imagine if Hillary Clinton could have mustered a fraction of Crowley’s class the night of her unexpected election defeat. Her next-day concession speech, while saying the right things, was 12 hours too late to be considered classy.
Crowley could be forgiven if, in private, he felt entitled to New York’s 14th District U.S. House seat. He was going for his 11-term as their congressman. But, given his concession speech, I suspect he knew well before election night that he was facing a candidate in Ocasio-Cortez with a message for which he didn’t have a winning reply.
Ocasio-Cortez’ attack on the monied interests supporting Crowley resonated with voters.
“For over 20 years the interests of working families have been sold off to luxury real estate developers, Wall Street banks, and for-profit health care corporations,” Ocasio-Cortez said during her June 15th debate with Crowley. “And for 20 years our rents have been going up, health care has been getting more expensive, and our incomes are staying the same.”
An anti-corporatist Democrat and an organizer for Bernie Sanders’ 2016 campaign, Ocasio-Cortez will likely win her general election contest and arrive in Washington, D.C. with an uncompromising agenda: Medicare for all, the abolition of US Immigration and Customs Enforcement and working to take corporate and wealthy-donor money out of U.S. politics.
The political importance of this upset cannot be exaggerated, though the news media is doing its best to try:
Slate’s Jim Newell summarizes that hyperbole fairly well when he declares about the Ocasio-Cortez victory: “This is already being seen as the Democratic version of then–House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s primary defeat by Dave Brat in 2014. But it’s arguably bigger. This is new territory for Democrats.”
National Democrats aren’t used to this? New territory for Democrats? Wuh!
Have we forgotten Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders’ near take-down of Hillary Clinton in 2016? Did that whole kerfuffle between Clinton, the corporate-funded establishment candidate, and that socialist ‘who wasn’t even a Democrat’ just slip by the national Democrats unnoticed?
Of course, not.
Democrats, it is OK to have a political memory that goes back before Donald Trump’s election. There is wisdom to be gleaned from understanding Sanders’ appeal to nearly half of all 2016 Democratic primary voters. Having that conversation now does not ensure the Republicans keep control of the House after the midterms or that Trump gets reelected in 2020.
But that is what the entitled establishment-wing of the Democratic Party wants its voters to believe.
Responding to Bernie Sanders supporters calling for Democrats to nominate more Berniecrats, The Anti-Thump (@realJohnThompso) responded on Twitter: “If he (Sanders) ran as a Republican, then he couldn’t raid the Democratic base and hurt the Democratic party’s chance of electing people. Democrats are not socialist either and will not vote for a socialist.”
Establishment Democrats must feel entitled to the general election support of Ocasio-Cortez’ 15,897 primary voters. They must believe the Democrats lose nothing by nominating corporate-cash stuffed candidates like Joe Crowley over young progressives like Ocasio-Cortez. They also believe those millions of Trump voters angry at the arrogance and duplicity of the political establishment (from both parties) will not be attracted to ‘socialists’ advocating a national health care system, the abolition of ICE, and the return of the our electoral system to the 99 percent.
The Berniecrats are a authentic political force, even though they have yet to gain control of the Democratic Party itself. And may never.
But with feeble DNC leaders like Tom Perez, the Berniecrats should feel confident right now.
Even as he tries to co-opt the Berniecrats’ message, DNC chairman Tom Perez invariably sounds lame and insincere.
When MSNBC’s Hallie Jackson asked Perez if the Ocasio-Cortez victory was an indication that its time for congressional Democrats to find new leaders, Perez didn’t flinch. “Time will tell,” he replied.
It sure will, Tom.
In her June 15th debate with Crowley, Ocasio-Cortez declared: “Not all Democrats are the same and I am proud to be the only Democrat in this race that rejects all corporate money and champions and advances improved and expanded Medicare for all, a federal jobs guarantee, tuition-free public college, and the abolition of ICE.”
But Perez and other Obama/Clinton acolytes, as they attack candidates like Ocasio-Cortez from the right, offer no compelling vision beyond ‘defeat Trump and protect abortion rights.’
The establishment Democrats are intellectually dead right now. They reflexively dismiss Medicare for all and a federal jobs guarantee as fiscally impossible — and they may be right — but by doing so they demonstrate their utter lack of understanding about how elections are fought and won in this country.
Donald Trump is not the first presidential candidate to make promises he can’t keep (though he’s fulfilled more than most presidents). People respond to inspirational leadership and candidates like Ocasio-Cortez with big plans and even bigger ideas.
Can this country finance Medicare for all? By Sanders’ own estimates, it would cost this country $1.4 trillion-a-year to implement such a health care system.
With our current national budgetary priorities (and not even considering the future costs of climate change), where would the money come from to finance Medicare for all?
Even if this country had decided not to spend $5.6 trillion on wars in the Middle East and Asia after 9/11, that still would have saved only $330 billion-a-year to put towards universal health care.
It’s a tough budgetary problem and until this country starts winding down the multiple wars its has started or maintained under the George W. Bush and Barack Obama administrations, Medicare for all is a conversation for another day.
We can’t threaten war with Iran, continue wars against Assad’s forces in Syria and the Taliban in Afghanistan, fight a proxy war with Iran against the Houthis in Yemen, and attempt to contain the growth of radicalized Islamists on the Africa and Asia continents, and still think we can fund anything close to universal health care.
There is a reason the Republican-influenced Obamacare was such a lame attempt at universal health care coverage. The Democratic establishment knew they would have to give up too much up (e.g., regime change wars, the diversion of federal monies to Big Pharma, Wall Street and the never-to-be-ignored military-industrial complex) to do something serious about health care.
Ocasio-Cortez is a direct product of the Democratic Party’s intellectual dishonesty with the American people over the past thirty years.
Joe Crowley is one establishment Democrat that I believe is no longer in denial about how the Democratic Party fails the majority of Americans. He gets it because its reality slapped him in the face. And he stood up and took it with class.
As to Ocasio-Cortez’ future in the Democratic Party, we will see how far intelligence, good-looks and charisma will can overcome the titanic forces in the party already arrayed against her.