The vast majority of those of us on the left have reckoned with the collective failure of liberalism in 2016. No one person or political faction is responsible for a titanic failure like President Donald J. Trump, and most of us on the left have sincerely addressed the shortcomings in the Democratic Party, and those improvements have manifested in the massive influx of new talent running for positions in the party, and the grassroots enthusiasm that helped the Democrats retake the House this past November.
I say “most” because some of the Democratic elite is being dragged kicking and screaming into this new world. A good example of how intransigent those in Democratic power can be is how objectively popular Bernie Sanders is within the Democratic Party. If you only paid attention to the fights around him, you would think that tons of Democrats hate him and he’s far too divisive, but according to the latest Gallup polling, a whopping 78% of Democrats have a favorable view of him versus just 14% who have an unfavorable view of Bernie. That entire 14% seems to either be extremely online or in positions of power in the Democratic Party, as demonstrated by this report from The Hill:
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) has infuriated colleagues by aligning with a progressive outside group that’s threatening to primary entrenched Democrats. Now some of those lawmakers are turning the tables on her and are discussing recruiting a primary challenger to run against the social media sensation.
At least one House Democrat has been privately urging members of the New York delegation to recruit a local politician from the Bronx or Queens to challenge Ocasio-Cortez.
“What I have recommended to the New York delegation is that you find her a primary opponent and make her a one-term congressperson,” the Democratic lawmaker, who requested anonymity, told The Hill. “You’ve got numerous council people and state legislators who’ve been waiting 20 years for that seat. I’m sure they can find numerous people who want that seat in that district.”
Much of the Democratic elite treat the 43% of the party who did not vote for their hand-picked candidate in 2016 like pariahs, and their actions demonstrate a belief that they have a divine right to power, and the grassroots organizing that sent Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to Congress just has to wait their turn, regardless of how popular they are. This disdain for Democratic grassroots is one of the main reasons why we have a President Trump, as the Democratic elite has demonstrated time and time and time again that it’s their way or the highway, even if their way has very little public support.
Despite the Democratic donor class’ obsession with “electability” and moderate voters (which I’m sure has nothing to do with the fact that moderate voters are less likely to want to tax the rich than liberal voters), America is a mostly liberal country, as I wrote in my piece about AOC moving the Overton Window:
Four out of five Americans think wealthy people have too much power and influence in Washington. A nice 69% of us think large businesses have too much power and influence in our nation’s capital, while 65% think our economic system “unfairly favors powerful interests,” and 59% (43% of Republicans) believe that corporations make “too much profit.”
Republicans spent the last decade empowering their grassroots, and they took over the entire government. Democrats spent the last election cycle empowering their grassroots, and it was the largest midterm victory in American history. As Paste politics editor Shane Ryan wrote when AOC secured a position on the powerful House Financial Services Committee, that unprecedented appointment for a freshman lawmaker is “proof that grassroots power matters.”
The entire Democratic elite is not emblematic of that extremely brave anonymous House Democrat taking shots at a freshman lawmaker, as Nancy Pelosi’s empowerment of AOC, Rashida Tlaib and many other progressives proves. Kamala Harris, widely regarded as a centrist Democratic candidate for 2020, said last night at her CNN town hall about private insurance, “let’s eliminate all that. Let’s move on.” The most ambitious policy proposal of our lifetimes pushed by grassroots organizers like Sunrise Movement, the Green New Deal, has been embraced by almost every single top-line 2020 contender. There are a litany of examples of the Democratic elite changing their politics to resemble the priorities of the Democratic grassroots, but there are still plenty of anonymous powerful Democrats who refuse to separate their politics from those of the donor class.
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s threat to primary Democratic lawmakers who do not represent the will of the people is not the same kind of divisiveness as threatening to primary her over her pledge to hold Democrats accountable. For this first time in this 32-year-old’s lifetime, I believe that the Democratic Party is just beginning to represent my political interests, and it’s thanks to the influx of new blood like AOC who are using their immense popularity to force Democrats to back popular opinion on the left. If you have a problem with AOC’s politics and want her out of the party, say so and run a hopeless (and misguided) presidential campaign like former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz. Don’t be a coward and hide behind anonymous quotes that try to whip up support to primary one of the most popular politicians in America.
The number one complaint many leftists have about this last generation of Democrats is how conservative their policies have been, beginning with Bill Clinton. President Obama’s signature legislative accomplishment was birthed from the extremely conservative Heritage Foundation and first implemented by Mitt Romney, and yet, the Affordable Care Act is undoubtedly the most ambitious liberal policy enacted in my lifetime, as it attempted to establish universal health care coverage (in an inefficient and roundabout way that benefited the insurance companies more than people who lack coverage, but still, it was something).
The Democrats are moving left, the only question is how far left, and will establishment Democrats do so willingly like Nancy Pelosi as of late (had H.R.1 been passed by the Senate and signed by Trump—a pipe dream, I know—Pelosi would be responsible for passing the most ambitiously liberal legislation of millennials’ lifetimes), or will they have to be dragged kicking and screaming into the future like the cowardly anonymous lawmaker quoted above?
Jacob Weindling is a staff writer for Paste politics. Follow him on Twitter at @Jakeweindling.