Democratic socialist Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s upset victory over 10-term incumbent Joe Crowley in New York’s 14th Congressional District has appropriately dominated the political media over the past six weeks.
But maybe our political and media elites should not have been so surprised when Ocasio-Cortez (pictured above) won.
After all, it was only three short years ago that Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) was famously unable or unwilling — she repeatedly would not address the question — to differentiate between her party and socialism.
The then-chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) was simply at a loss for words when pressured by MSNBC’s left-leaning, ostensibly friendly host Chris Matthews. Months later, former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton also demurred when asked the difference by Matthews; but, whatever it was, she insisted she was not a “socialist.”
The Schultz interview was widely covered with incredulity, and deservedly so. A once-unthinkable line had been crossed. Reaction on both sides of the aisle was swift. A number of leading Democrats immediately sought (per Washington parlance) to “walk it back.” (Wasserman Schultz was not among them).
The GOP quickly adopted a “we told you so” narrative. Conservative pundits on television and radio had a field day. Republican fundraisers said a quiet prayer in appreciation for their gift. But little attention was given to the millions of mostly working-class, suburban Democrats who were left wondering how hardcore leftist momentum had suddenly captured their party.
This last point is important. It was not so long ago that then-Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) adopted moderate campaign themes in his first presidential campaign in 2008; that Hillary Clinton opposed driver licenses for illegal aliens in New York state; and that Bill Clinton famously declared, “The era of big government is over.”
Yet, on that late July day in 2015, on the Left’s favorite cable news channel, the leader of the DNC unintentionally broke new ground.
Little more than a year later, Donald J. Trump captured the hearts and minds of millions of those same blue-collar Democrats with a not-so-subtle right-wing agenda aligned with small business, the NRA, and National Right to Life.
Many Americans (including many Republicans) were shocked at the result — but the Left was largely inconsolable. Still, the Democratic takeaways from Nov. 8, 2016, proved wildly divergent.
Bruised and battered moderates saw the result as a sign of things to come if their party was truly intent on jettisoning its New Deal coalition. The Left saw it as a rejection of a phony progressive, a too late-to-the-party Establishment candidate carrying serious ethical baggage, to boot.
Post-election, it was instructive to watch challengers to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi reassure their blue-collar base that the party had indeed learned its lesson, while continuing to support policies such as sanctuary cities.
Such was the lesson learned, and no doubt a disquieting one for those Democrats who had twice supported Obama but had just finished voting for Donald Trump.
Back to the emotional issue of socialism and what it truly means. The Left envisions Sweden; the Right, Venezuela. But the truth lies somewhere in between. To wit, very few Democrats (including Sen. Bernie Sanders, the Vermont socialist) call for the federal government to usurp private industry in America.
Rather, they support incremental (centralized) government control — including government-run health care and a gigantic welfare state, much more extensive than what we now have. It’s a Western European version of “socialism light,” not that this should raise a freedom lover’s comfort level.
More recent pronouncements from Sanders, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), and others have added to the Left’s platform, including:
- On immigration, expand sanctuary cities and protect them from attempted federal funding cutoffs by President Donald Trump and congressional Republicans; eliminate or downsize ICE; and expand the campaign to increase noncitizen voting rights in local (municipal) elections.
- Further on voting rights, continue to oppose mandatory photo identification at the ballot box.
- On health insurance, save what remains of Obamacare, while pursuing a “Medicare-for-all” program (thereby finally attaining the economically disastrous goal of single-payer — i.e., the taxpayers via government — health care).
- On the economy, repeal part or all of the Trump tax cuts (mere “crumbs” per Pelosi); continue the campaign for a $15 minimum wage; raise taxes on those small businesses that respond to the increased wage with job-eliminating automation.
- On education, continue opposition to school choice, including public charters and private vouchers; on higher education, make community college free; reinstate Obama-era Title IX guidance in alleged sexual assault cases.
- On culture, continue to normalize identity politics; create more self-identified victim groups.
The Establishment media are devoting plenty of time and effort to marketing a “blue wave” election in 2018. Accordingly, they have an obligation to analyze what a socialist-influenced, progressive agenda means for the country — and what could be in store to subvert a roaring economy should Democrats gain control of the House.
I, of course, harbor no illusions that this obligation will be taken seriously.
You see, the media fully understand that socialism of any iteration is a nonstarter in Peoria, let alone Pittsburgh …
Former Gov. Robert Ehrlich was Maryland’s chief executive from 2003 to 2007. He previously served four terms in the U.S. House of Representatives from Maryland’s 2nd Congressional District. He is the author of “Bet You Didn’t See That One Coming: Obama, Trump and the End of Washington’s Regular Order .”