We’re all familiar with the rift happening in the Democratic primary between Sen. Kamala Harris and former vice president Joe Biden concerning civil rights-era busing of minority students to predominately white school districts. The issue has continued to fester and just this week, Rep. Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez (AOC) weighed in on the matter and also took shots at her party’s leadership accusing Speaker Nancy Pelosi of trying to sideline progressive representatives to “keep them busy.” The two issues are certainly related in the context of the war within the Democratic Party over the old guard establishment, figures like Joe Biden and Nancy Pelosi, versus the fresher faces pushing a harder progressive agenda like AOC.
Speaking just days ago to the New Yorker, Ocasio-Cortez blasted Joe Biden saying that his prior political sins, whatever you may consider them, are proof that he’s simply been around too long in politics carry the Democratic mantle in 2020. She also said that while Bernie is also up there in years, he seems to be more ready to address progressive causes than Biden:
New Yorker: You worked for Bernie Sanders. How do you think he did? Is he too old?
AOC: I don’t think that! I don’t think it’s about being too old.
New Yorker: You can’t be too old in this situation? I mean, let’s face it, we’re looking at two guys who, going in, going in to the Presidency—Biden and Sanders—they’d be older than Ronald Reagan coming out.
AOC: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm. I think that, when it comes to age, I think age gets used as a proxy for capacity. And so I think there are some folks that are of a certain age where you can kind of question their capacity.
New Yorker: Who are you talking about? … Joe Biden?
AOC: I think Joe Biden, his performance on the stage kind of raised some questions with respect to that. But I don’t want to say, just because someone is seventy-nine, they can’t or shouldn’t run for President. I don’t want to use those proxies, a number as a proxy for capacity. I think you have to assess a person’s capacity on a case-by-case basis.
The questioning continued with the interviewer pressing her on why she thinks Biden is falling short and whether he’s too centrist:
AOC: Well, it’s not just about being centrist, per se. It’s, when you are struggling to talk about segregationists, and you err on the side of discussing them in glowing terms, that is a big problem. I think struggling in talking about women’s rights is a big issue. Struggling to convey respect for women in this day and age is a big issue, I think those are systemic issues. Like, those are very deep. Those are not gaffes. They are problems. And so it’s before you even get to, where are you on public college and where are you on a living wage, I think, just, like, where are you on understanding the people that live in this country?
In other words, Biden’s well and good, but AOC sees him as being entirely out of step with what has become, in her opinion, mainstream progressive views within the Democratic Party. This is a great illustration of where the Democratic Party is right now in the primary because there are two schools of thought on what a 2020 Democratic coalition should look like.
With Biden at the helm, the thinking goes that Democrats will be able to recapture the “blue dog” moderate voters in rust belt states, the ones captured by Donald Trump in 2016. States like Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania, would fall back in line to form the “blue wall” Democrats rely heavily upon.
The opposite approach, perhaps, is to rekindle the Obama coalition of young and minority voters to turn them out in droves and recreate Democratic victories of 2008 and 2012. Hillary Clinton’s loss in 2016 sort of illustrated that the party must pick one direction or another because trying to play both angles simply won’t work. You can’t, as a candidate, call part of the country “deplorables” while you simultaneously lack appeal to the progressives you need to vote for you.
Pelosi and “the squad”
We know of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s issues with Joe Biden, her closely-aligned political group, Justice Democrats, began attacking him from the onset of his campaign. However, in a fascinating turn of events this week, AOC turned her fire toward House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and practically called her racist for single out people of color, as CNN reports:
Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York suggested that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has been “singling out” freshman congresswomen of color — the latest charge in a growing rift between the leader of the party in the chamber and the high-profile progressive freshman.
“When these comments first started, I kind of thought that she was keeping the progressive flank at more of an arm’s distance in order to protect more moderate members, which I understood,” Ocasio-Cortez told The Washington Post in an interview published Wednesday.
“But the persistent singling out … it got to a point where it was just outright disrespectful … the explicit singling out of newly elected women of color,” Ocasio-Cortez added.
Ocasio-Cortez stood by her claim Thursday that Pelosi has been unfairly zeroing in on freshman women of color.
In follow-up questions, AOC strictly denied that she was implying Pelosi had racist intentions:
Asked if she thinks Pelosi has racial animus or is racist, Ocasio-Cortez said unequivocally, “No, no, absolutely not, absolutely not.”
Pelosi is a shrewd politician and you don’t stay around this long in Washington politics without know when to retreat and when to advance. From the standpoint of a political observer, we’re in uncharted waters here. Both parties have their “maverick” politicians that like to buck party leadership, see Sen. John McCain, for example, among Republicans, However, in this case, AOC has stated that Pelosi is trying desperately to keep her, and her “squad” of other new progressive House members, in line that she’s burying them with committees assignments and other thankless work to keep them away from their Twitter accounts.
Pelosi says that’s utter nonsense, as you’d expect, and in response is calling for party unity against their real enemy, Donald Trump:
“Some of you are here to make a beautiful pâté but we’re making sausage most of the time,” Pelosi said, according to a senior Democratic aide. “Mitch McConnell is the person who stood in the way of our doing more, not anybody in our caucus.”
Pelosi sought to defend moderate members of her caucus who are on the front lines of re-elections in places where Trump won or where Democrats have flipped long-held GOP seats. According to Democrats in the meeting, she also urged members against tweets admonishing fellow Democratic members of Congress.
“You got a complaint? You come and talk to me about it,” Pelosi said. “But do not tweet about our members and expect us to think that that is just OK.”
Pelosi’s bottom line is that she doesn’t want any of this to benefit Republicans, or Trump, in 2020. Having a fight between blue-dog moderate Democrats and the progressive wing of the party is the last thing Democrats need heading into a difficult Presidential election year when Republicans hold some advantages with an incumbent in the White House.
The issues between Pelosi and AOC have been brewing under the surface for months, and no matter what the Speaker does, she can’t seem to get “the squad,” as she refers to them, in line with the party. Pelosi’s message of playing strategic politics simply doesn’t resonate with AOC who would much rather take the Facebook motto of “move fast and break things” to heart when it comes to reshaping the country toward a progressive vision.
However, Facebook eventually learned that to continue operating over the long term, even the most ambitious of Silicon Valley startups had to revise their motto or risk being alienated.
The new Facebook motto? It’s a much more boring yet business-oriented tag line of “move fast with stable infrastructure,” which sounds a lot like Nancy Pelosi’s strategy in politics.
It’ll be interesting to see which vision wins over the course of the primary.