Um, Speaker Pelosi, do you have a second?
You’ve turned in a stellar performance in your encore as House speaker. But there’s a problem ahead on the Democratic political horizon. Actually, two. So please, could you call Alexandria Ocasio-Cortezand Ilhan Omar in for a chat about national politics?
AOC, who rocketed to international fame after upsetting Democratic establishment pillar Joe Crowley in New York’s 14th congressional district, is an avowed and proud Democratic Socialist. Fine; that’s her right. But she’s also more than a little situationally solipsistic. That is, she seems to think her own political circumstances are the only reality. And she is disdainful of those who favor more moderate politics.
“Moderate is not a stance,” she told a festival audience last week. “It’s just an attitude towards life of, like, ‘meh.’ ” She added: “We’ve become so cynical, that we view ‘meh,’ or ‘eh’ — we view cynicism as an intellectually superior attitude, and we view ambition as youthful naivete.”
Talk of your superior attitude!
In other settings, Ocasio-Cortez and her close associates have threatened to recruit primary challengers against Democratic House members if they aren’t fully aboard with port-side plans. A recent closed-door meeting of House Democrats, The Washington Post reported, found her “admonishing the moderates and indicating she would help liberal activists unseat them in the 2020 election.” Although the congresswoman denied that — clumsily — it’s consistent with past behavior. In November, after winning but before taking office, she added her voice to efforts by Justice Democrats to recruit primary candidates against Democrats it deems insufficiently leftist.
As you know but she apparently doesn’t, Madam Speaker, Democrats won the House back largely because moderate Democratic candidates flipped purple districts. You might also tell her that most Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents would prefer a moderate party over one that moves further left, at least according to a post-election Gallup Poll.
AOC needs to realize that political movements that are pure are almost by definition narrow — and that it takes a broad coalition to win a national election. And further, that pressuring incumbents to move left or face a primary challenge isn’t a prescription for a winning movement but rather for a Democratic civil war.
As for Representative Omar, she seems to open her mouth only to change feet.
Witness her latest stumble. In a sit-down with Politico, she blasted past Democratic president Barack Obama, saying the hope and change he had campaigned on had proved a mirage. She added, circuitously but unmistakably, that Obama had engaged in “droning of countries around the world.” Then, when Politico reporter Tim Alberta’s piece appeared, she accused him of distorting her remarks and released a tape in which she said . . . well, pretty much exactly what Alberta had written, including this: “[Trump’s] policies are bad, but many of the people who came before him also had really bad policies. They just were more polished. . . . We don’t want anybody to get away with murder because they are polished.”
That brouhaha came on the heels of Omar’s controversial remark about the “push for allegiance to a foreign country.” And that offensive comment, in turn, followed a fraught tweet in which Omar implied that congressional support for Israel came because of campaign dollars from pro-Israeli organizations. Now, there’s room aplenty for criticism of Israel, particularly under machiavellian Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, but not for comments that play on anti-Semitic tropes or smears. But though Omar apologized for the tweet, she didn’t seem to learn from the episode.
Normally one would say: Well, the two are first-term lawmakers; they’ll learn or lose. But conservatives and the Trump TV Network — or Fox News, as it likes to be called in public — are determined to make them the face of the Democratic Party. So please, explain to them that there’s an art and a subtlety to politics. And that they need to avoid embarrassing, insulting, or angering their own colleagues or party, which just plays into the GOP’s hand.
Or if it’s easier, just hand them this column.Scot Lehigh can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter@GlobeScotLehigh.