Big news today: Centrist Democrats are not so sure about this Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez gal. Have you heard? You probably haven’t heard this four thousand times since she won her primary last summer, so let’s talk about it again, just in case you didn’t hear.
The Hill ran a piece today proclaiming that moderate Senate Democrats “see Ocasio-Cortez as [a] weak spokeswoman for [the] party,” and “more of a sideshow than [a] meaningful statement about the future of their party.” It quoted Sens. Jeanne Shaheen (NH), Doug Jones (AL), Joe Manchin (WV), and Jon Tester (MT), all of whom expressed various criticisms and concerns about Ocasio-Cortez. The most common: That she’s a “flavor of the month,” and that she risks turning the Democrats into a Tea Party of the left.
The piece also quoted defeated ex-senators Joe Donnelly and Claire McCaskill, who lost after running as centrists in their states. They criticized Ocasio-Cortez for not doing the “hard work” and potentially endangering Democrats’ 2020 chances. And it quoted Rep. Alcee Hastings, a Florida Democrat who is notorious for supporting the payday loan industry, saying of Ocasio-Cortez that “no matter how far you rise, that’s just how far you will ultimately get your comeuppance.”
A weird thing to say about someone in your own party, you might think—her “comeuppance?” For what? Supporting Medicare for All? Being good at Twitter? Defeating a long-time incumbent in a safe Democratic seat? (Actually, yes, that last one.)
But it’s not really surprising that conservative Democrats don’t like Ocasio-Cortez’s politics, because her politics are different to theirs. The unexamined assumption of all these pieces is that because both AOC and the quoted moderates are Democrats, they must share the same goals or basic ideology, and that simply isn’t true. America’s two-party system means it’s inevitable that people with only the slightest ideological resemblance to one other will end up in the same Big Tent. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez wants everyone to have healthcare because she sees it as a human right; Claire McCaskill doesn’t. That isn’t a minor disagreement over approaches towards the same goal. It’s a fundamental difference in ideology. She believes that taxing the rich to pay for social programs for the poor is good; they do not.
It’s equally unsurprising, too, that this difference in their ideology would lead centrist Democrats to tell the press as often as they can that Ocasio-Cortez’ ideology is dangerous and misguided and will lead the party into peril in districts like theirs, which she couldn’t possibly understand. Of course they want the press to write about that; they want their tepid ideology to dominate the party. They want to win this intra-party battle.
The question, then, is why the media keeps giving them opportunities to do this. I guess it’s fine to get these centrist Dems on the record about her, but how many opportunities to do that do they need? The Hill, for example, went back to Joe Donnelly and Claire McCaskill, who have already made their views about Ocasio-Cortez very clear. We already know what they think! What does it add to ask them again?
In fact, versions of this story keep getting written even about different leftist candidates. Look at this story from Politico in February 2016 about Bernie Sanders (emphasis mine):
“You need to start asking him questions about his plans and his background,” said Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.). Ask “how he’s going to address foreign policy and national security, how he’s going to pay for his higher education and health care proposals. There are a lot of unanswered questions.”
For months Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) seemed to be the only Democratic senator who would say what much of the caucus was thinking: That Sanders is unelectable in a general election and has not been fully vetted by the voters. Now, she says, more and more lawmakers will be speaking out.
Or this Politico piece from 2015 (emphasis mine):
And they fear the stronger he gets, the more he’ll pull Clinton to the left, hurting her chances in the general election.
“I just hope they don’t move Hillary so far left that people believe she is out of the realm,” said Sen. Joe Manchin, a moderate West Virginia Democrat who supports Clinton. “I’ve seen bases move people.”
“No,” Sen. Bill Nelson said when asked if he was excited about Sanders’ candidacy.
We get it. We got it then and we get it now: Centrist Democrats who rose to power with the support of the financial industry, health insurance and pharmaceutical companies, and coal companies do not like the people who offer a different vision for the party, one where corporate money doesn’t determine which policies are seen as possible. Of course Democrats who lost by running a campaign indistinguishable from a 1990s Republican are incapable of imagining a party dominated by people offering actually bold policies that people like (Medicare for All, for instance, is supported by about 70 percent of Americans).
There are a lot of other things that insidery DC outlets that love these stories could do instead. They could write a totally different story, or at least press conservative Democrats to admit that they have ideological differences with Ocasio-Cortez instead of maintaining this faux concern for the Future of the Party. If nothing else, they could find any way to stop doing PR for the centrist wing of the Democratic Party and giving them multiple extended opportunities to say the same things over and over about how her policies will play in the heartland. It is very, very boring.