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When Ocasio-Cortez loses me

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez lost me when she played the race card on Nancy Pelosi after Pelosi addressed a slanderous tweet by Ocasio-Cortez's chief of staff, Saikat Chakrabati. The tweet, subsequently deleted, stated, "Instead of 'fiscally conservative but socially liberal,' let's call the New Democrats and Blue Dog Caucus the 'New Southern Democrats.' They certainly seem hell bent to do to black and brown people today what the old Southern Democrats did the 40s."

We should not be misled by Chakrabarti's use of the qualifier "seem" to give himself cover, a tactic I confess to adopting on occasion. His intent is clear. This goes beyond being wrong or mistaken. Either it is a lie, a deliberate falsehood, or it shows an indifference to truth worthy of the president. Ocasio-Cortez is complicit by her failure to disavow the smear.

The congresswoman denied that she played the race card when she accused Pelosi of being "outright disrespectful" for the "explicit singling out of newly elected women of color" (quoted by Caygle, Ferris, Bresnahan), referring to herself, Rashida Tlaib, Ilhan Omar, and Ayanna Pressley. The language is plain English. If this is not the race card, I am hard-pressed to fathom what it might be.

To her credit, Ocasio-Cortez did state emphatically that Pelosi is absolutely not racist or motivated by racist animus. But she gets it wrong when she insinuates that Pelosi should give her and her comrades a pass:

"We’re not talking just about progressives, it’s singling out four individuals and knowing the media environment we’re operating in, knowing the amount of death threats we get, knowing the amount of concentration of attention, I think it’s worth asking why."

This is disingenuous. The fact that the four are women of color is coincidental and irrelevant. Pelosi singles them out because they are a pain in the ass of the ninth degree. They are a minority of four whose demands for special treatment on committee assignments and disrespect for colleagues who do not sign off on their agenda has riled representatives from moderate and swing states, the Congressional Black Caucus, and House leadership that is trying to hold the caucus together.

Chakrabarti backtracked slightly with a subsequent tweet saying, "I think the point still stands. I don't think a person has to be personally racist to enable a racist system.... I don't believe Sharice [Congresswoman Sharice Davids] is a racist person, but her votes are showing her to enable a racist system." This is at best a gross mischaracterization of those who voted for the emergency border aid package opposed by the Ocasio-Cortez faction. It illustrates a troubling tendency among progressives to impugn those who dissent from their agenda.

I am tempted to refer to Chakrabarti as a neo-Bolshevik who is trying to engineer a hostile takeover of the Democratic Party. The neo-Bolshevik tag is too cute by half and needlessly provocative, so let's drop that, but I stand by the charge that he is trying to engineer a hostile takeover of the Democratic Party and will settle for bringing down the party if it plays out that way, consequences be damned. I am somewhat more kindly disposed toward Chakrabarti after reading David Montgomery's article about him in The Washington Post Monthly. He is dedicated and bright, he is concerned about the right issues and wants to do a lot of the right things, and he is almost heartbreakingly naïve on many fronts, with a a near total absence of any sense of circumspection. In a conversation with Jay Inslee's climate direction, Chakrabarti says on the record:

"The interesting thing about the Green New Deal,” he said, “is it wasn’t originally a climate thing at all." Ricketts greeted this startling notion with an attentive poker face. "Do you guys think of it as a climate thing?" Chakrabarti continued. "Because we really think of it as a how-do-you-change-the-entire-economy thing."

Is it possible he has no notion of what hay will be made of this by his political adversaries? His words cast a shadow over the entire enterprise. Ocasio-Cortez should at least muzzle this guy if she cannot bring herself to fire him.

The Montgomery article raises all sorts of interesting points about Chakrabarti and presumably Ocasio-Cortez's agenda worth examining in depth at a later date. For now I'll just say there is much with which I agree in principle and much that looks to me like sophomoric utopianism when it comes to addressing these issues in the political arena.

It is worth noting in closing that a May poll reported today in Axios shows that Ocasio-Cortez "has become a definitional face for the party with a crucial group of swing voters" and not in a good way. The article notes these two key points about the poll:

  • These are the "white, non-college voters" who embraced Donald Trump in 2016 but are needed by Democrats in swing House districts.

  • The group that took the poll shared the results with Axios on the condition that it not be named, because the group has to work with all parts of the party.

Ocasio-Cortez was recognized by 74 percent of voters in the poll; 22 percent had a favorable view. Ilhan Omar was recognized by 53 percent; 9 percent had a favorable view. Socialism scored out at18 percent favorable, 69 percent unfavorable.

I tend to view polls generally with a jaundiced eye. The value of findings this far out from an election is especially suspect. Nonetheless, this has to be troubling for those of us who hope to elect a new president next year and maintain a Democratic majority in the House.

My criticism of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez today notwithstanding, I view her and Ilhan Omar more favorably than not. They are frustrating because they are intelligent, talented, and routinely victims of smear campaigns by the usual suspects among our common adversaries. I would rather be defending than criticizing them. Yet Ocasio-Cortez loses me when she embraces her role as progressive ideologue, loose cannon, and Twitter celebrity at the expense of doing the grinding and difficult work that comes with being a member of a diverse party that holds a majority in one-half of one of the three branches of government. Respecting diversity cuts both ways. It would be nice to see some indication that Ocasio-Cortez recognizes that...and to see her act on it.

Memo from the Editorial Desk

Minor nonsubstantive edits were made for the sake of clarity and to correct a typo after this piece was published.


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