I’m Really Starting to Doubt Progressives’ Intentions
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I’m Really Starting to Doubt Progressives’ Intentions
Progressives’ insistence on trashing members of the Democratic Party makes me wonder whether they truly want to govern or if they just want attention.
Anyone who’s spent any amount of time on this publication knows that I harp on the failings of Republicans quite a lot. There are some good reasons for that, especially since, as of this writing, they continue to embarrass themselves with their flagrant disregard for the sanctity of our elections and are still carrying water for Trump’s (doomed to fail) attempts to stage a coup.
However, lest you think that the “Moderation” part of this publication’s title is misleading, I want to talk a bit about my growing frustration with progressives, particularly in the aftermath of the election. For, as soon as it became clear that the Democrats hadn’t fared terribly well in numerous down-ballot races, the blame-game began, with both progressives and moderates pointing fingers at one another. The now-infamous caucus call, in which Abigail Spanberger called out her leftist colleagues for almost costing her re-election, exposed the very real differences that exist between the left and middle wings of the Democratic coalition.
What’s more, it hasn’t been a great year for the progressive wing of the Democratic Party, as Politico detailed in a recent report. The most progressive presidential candidates in the Democratic primary, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, fell short of winning the big prize, and progressives have also struggled to make in-roads in non-blue districts. And, to add insult to injury, Nancy Pelosi is poised to serve another term as Speaker.
Cue the outrage from the left.
A recent interview that Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez did with The Intercept is but the latest salvo in progressive Democrats’ efforts to undermine their more moderate colleagues (though I would resist calling Pelosi moderate, considering her strong progressive voting record throughout her years in Congress). In the interview, Ocasio-Cortez says that Pelosi and Schumer need to both go, though she also says that there aren’t any young leaders poised to take their place (that must be news to Hakeem Jeffries, widely regarded as a potential successor to Pelosi. He’s 50).
First of all, let’s get one thing out of the way. The Intercept is, to put it bluntly, a rag, the kind of publication that is far more interested in bomb-throwing than in any sort of responsible or nuanced progressive commentary. They are a cousin to Jacobin, and so while I generally find them irritating and sometimes unreadable, I nevertheless have to acknowledge that they have a certain amount of influence among the left.
Second, we need to talk about what I think is Ocasio-Cortez’s key problem as a politician: she’s far more interested in pursuing (or accepting) press attention and in the attendant bashing of other members of her caucus than she is in actual governing or crafting legislation that stands any chance of passing. To me, her actual politics aren’t the issue, for all that the media made much of Abigail Spanberger’s leaked audio. The real issue is that Ocasio-Cortez’s continual broadsides against her fellow Democrats feed the narrative that the Democratic Party is either in chaos or lacks purpose (or both). Furthermore, her repeated use of the terms “moderate” and “centrist” as some sort of pejorative is both misleading (since the majority of the country is, in fact, centrist) but also deeply disingenuous, since the people she attempts to tar with that brush often espouse progressive philosophy, even though they might have to temper it given the feelings of their constituents. And, of course, it goes without saying that it’s very difficult to forge coalitions with those necessary people when you’ve built your entire political career out of trashing them.
Now, not all of this is her fault. The media loves to feast on stories of intramural strife in the Democratic Party. It’s what drives headlines, after all and, since most major news organizations are owned, in one form or other, by conservatives, it makes sense that they would want to continue pushing the line that the Democrats are disarray or that they can’t agree to focus on a particular message. And it’s worth pointing out that it is the media that continues to give Ocasio-Cortez and the other progressive bomb-throwers ample space to air their grievances, because it helps their bottom line.
At the same time, I can’t help but begin to doubt her motivations, and those of progressives like her who spend every available bit of energy they have either appearing in glossy spreads in magazines; taking potshots at fellow Democrats; primarying those deemed to be not progressive enough; or staging ridiculous political stunts, such as cornering Diane Feinstein or protesting outside of Nancy Pelosi’s office rather than, I don’t know, doing the same to Mitch McConnell or any of his cronies (in other words, the real barriers to progressive legislation) or, heaven forbid, writing legislation (the job that they’ve been hired to do). Instead, it seems to me that they’re far more interested in building their own political brand than they are in governing, so it’s small wonder that Pelosi, Spanberger, and others have voiced their frustration on more than one occasion.
There’s been quite a lot of chatter about progressives becoming to the Democrats what the Tea Party was to the Republicans at the beginning of the last decade. While some might hail this as a good thing — including Ocasio-Cortez herself — I think it’s worth pointing out that the Tea Party was motivated (at least in part) by racism against Barack Obama and that, in turn, it destroyed the government and hobbled whatever progress he might have been able to achieve. Contrary to what Ocasio-Cortez and others like her might think, the Tea Party — and the Freedom Caucus that it morphed into — did not get things done. Their entire reason for existing was to sabotage the government, and they succeed splendidly (Tim Alberta’s book, American Carnage: On the Front Lines of the Republican Civil War and the Rise of President Trump provides an excellent overview of this phenomenon). This is most definitely not a model that progressives should emulate, and the fact that they want to do so says a great deal about both their motivations and their skewed understanding of political history.
Like many people, I’m truly looking forward to the Biden Era, if only because I will finally be able to stop feeling like the world is going to come crashing down around us at any moment. Unlike a lot of other progressive people, I haven’t been terribly up in arms or outraged about Biden’s Cabinet picks — though I do have some thoughts on the subject — and while I love being plugged into politics, it’ll be nice to be not have to wake up wondering what fresh hell Trump or his acolytes have unleashed while I was asleep.
Likewise, I hope that we can, at some point in the future, return to an era when I, a resident of the Eastern Shore of Maryland, don’t know who is representing some district in New York (unless they happen to be a part of leadership). Frankly, the fact that we all know of Ocasio-Ortez’s every thought and political opinion is part of the problem. The nationalization of all local elections means that certain figures, particularly divisive ones, come to have an outsize influence on both the direction of the party and on the way that people perceive it. It’s far past time that we pay more attention to the politics of the local and, just as importantly, urge our elected officials to spend less time grandstanding and more time governing.
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