Steve Schmidt – ex-Dick Cheney aide, new liberal hero and not at all the guy who helped unleash the modern far right by inviting Sarah Palin onto a presidential ticket – had a few things to say in the wake of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s shocking win over long-serving Democrat Joe Crowley.
“What Trump is doing is radicalizing American politics,” the conservative strategist continued. “And he is a beneficiary the more radical politics becomes.”
Schmidt pooh-poohed the Ocasio-Cortez platform of a government jobs program, free day care and free college education, among other things. These things can’t be paid for, he insisted. Therefore, the Ocasio-Cortez brand of politics is inherently dishonest.
“When we have dishonest progressivism and we have dishonest Trumpism,” the former Karl Rove devotee went on, “an alienated middle… surrenders.”
Many others agreed.
“Oh, please, she just promised everyone a bunch of free stuff,” noted Ben Ritz, director of the Progressive Policy Institute, an offshoot of the old Democratic Leadership Council.
“Democrats need to choose: Are they the party of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, or the party of Michael Bloomberg?” asked Business Insider columnist Daniella Greenbaum.
Bloomberg is best known as a Republican mayor, although he’s apparently thinking of running for president as a Democrat – hence Greenbaum’s fork-in-the-road thesis. The columnist argued we should, of course, take the billionaire-plutocrat turn.
Greenbaum went on:
“That kind of rich-oppressor versus poor-oppressed framework might work in New York’s 14th Congressional district, but it is sure to fail on a national level.”
First of all, so what? If that kind of message works for the 14th congressional district, isn’t that why you’d want a person bearing that message representing the 14th congressional district? This is exactly the purpose of representative democracy, allowing local populations to have an idiosyncratic voice in a larger debate.
Secondly, why is poor-vs-rich messaging “sure to fail” on a national level?
Despite extensive efforts to rehabilitate their reputations, Wall Street billionaires are unpopular more or less everywhere in the United States outside maybe Nobu Downtown. (If you ever want a laugh, check out the Will Arnett-narrated ad “Portraits,” which attempts to reverse mountains of bad press for Bank of America using goofy Seventies family imagery).
The concept of a financial-transactions tax in particular has polled well in at least four different surveys since the 2008 crash. And both Republicans and Democrats tell pollsters they believe Wall Street has too much power.
There have been lots of other swipes, both subtle and not, at Ocasio-Cortez in recent days. Headlines often left out her name or used dismissive descriptors like “young challenger” or “Democratic Socialist.”
The Washington Times, representing the loony-right section of the media, chimed in with Reefer Madness-level hysteria: “Ocasio-Cortez, New York’s Socialist Congressional Contender, An Enemy of America.”
Then there was Nancy Pelosi, who last year famously said that voters “don’t want a new direction.” Pelosi made sure to point out that the results in the 14th mean only that voters “made a choice in one district,” so “let’s not get carried away.” Pelosi is often a trenchant inside-baseball observer of the political scene, but her continual inability to sense or understand the dramatic shifts going on in the electorate are beginning to sound like the famous “Stay calm, this is not happening” routine by Monty Python great Terry Jones, who played an aristocrat smiling as his kingdom disappeared underwater.
A common theme in most of the backlash against Ocasio-Cortez is this idea that allowing the “fringe” inside the tent will lead to total chaos and alienate the great “middle” that supposedly decides elections. It’s incredible that leaders in both parties still seem to believe in this concept.
They don’t seem to realize that the vast changes ushered in by decades of economic catastrophes – the disappearance of the manufacturing economy and the busting of two giant speculative bubbles, among other things – has left America, and most western democracies for that matter, as top-heavy nations run by increasingly small groups of wealthy political and business leaders, surrounded by massive disenfranchised populations with little or negative net worth.
A common media trick in the last two years has been to describe any political movement that purports to represent that growing second group as emotional, irrational populism – dumb energy that needs to be subdued by the enlightened “middle” for the sake of order, peace, happiness, etc.
With Ocasio-Cortez, outlets like New York magazine (“Ocasio-Cortez Won By Fusing Identity Politics With Populism“) and The New Republic (“Tuesday’s Primaries Were a Good Night For the Populist Left“) tagged her with the “p-word.”
The Atlantic went a step further, identifying the movement behind similarly progressive Maryland gubernatorial candidate Ben Jealous as a “photo-negative” of Trump’s “superficial economic populism.” The gist, again, was that the Jealous campaign was a hustle: vague promises designed to lure disaffected voters away from more “accomplished” politicians.
What all of this ignores is that voters are making different choices because they’ve concluded that the “accomplished” politicians were the ones hustling them. What else are people supposed to think, when they hear long-serving elected officials somberly insisting that we can’t afford health care or higher education just days after a bill boosting our already unnecessarily massive defense budget by $82 billion passed 85-10 in the Senate?
If we can afford to spend more than the next 10 countries combined on defense, why can’t we afford higher education? Really? Who’s hustling whom?
Attempts to paint victories by people like Ocasio-Cortez and Jealous as being anything like the rise of Donald Trump are nuts, of course. A xenophobic, reactionary, science-denying white-power movement has nothing in common with a campaign to give people health care and clean energy. If anything, they’re complete opposites. It’s asinine.
The only thing the two movements have in common is that both are dangerous to the very tiny group of ineffectual politicians who’ve been running both parties for decades now.
When pundits talk about this or that new idea being a “threat to democracy,” that’s what they mean – a threat to a few thousand hacks who’ve had a very long turn at the helm, and don’t want to let go. That’s really what all this pearl-clutching is about. Not all new ideas lead to the next Trump, no matter how much people try to scare you into thinking so.