Republicans are afraid they cannot stop Democrats from making big gains in November, so they’re trying to convince Democrats to stop themselves. For the sake of the nation, don’t fall for it this time.
The GOP’s propaganda arm, Fox News, has become obsessed with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the 28-year-old newcomer who defeated veteran Rep. Joe Crowley, D-N.Y., in a primary last month. What fascinates Fox and the rest of the right-wing media is not Ocasio-Cortez’s sharp intellect or her telegenic presence but the fact that she describes herself as a democratic socialist.
Cue the horror-movie music and throw in a piercing scream.
What does “democratic socialist” mean, in real life? That she takes positions which are perfectly appropriate for a candidate seeking to represent her district, which encompasses parts of the Bronx and Queens. It’s a solid Democratic bastion, roughly half Hispanic and loaded with immigrants, including many from places President Trump has described as “shithole countries.”
The policies Ocasio-Cortez advocates make perfect sense for her district – and obviously connect with voters, since she blew Crowley away by a whopping margin. She favors universal health care, free college tuition and a reorganization that would abolish the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency as it now exists -- positions that put her to the left of the aging Democratic Party leadership.
All the yelling and screaming by Sean Hannity and others on the right is not aimed at damaging Ocasio-Cortez’s prospects of winning; if anything, it probably enhances them. Nor can the disproportionate focus on one House contest out of 435 be intended to influence President Trump’s loyal supporters – very few of whom, after all, live in the Bronx.
The impact, rather, is on Democrats, who seem congenitally inclined to fret, who overthink every situation and who have been creative in finding new ways to squander political advantage.
Predictably, some Democratic hand-wringers are warning darkly that the very existence of left-of-center candidates such as Ocasio-Cortez, in the bluest districts in the land, will limit the party’s potential gains in the House and imperil some Democrats in the Senate. The thing to do, these worrywarts counsel, is have all candidates stick to bland centrist nostrums, saying nothing that anyone might disagree with.
Which is exactly what the GOP wants.
What Trump-era Republicans stand for is appalling, but it’s something – and you can’t beat something with nothing. At a time of loudmouth politics, the one thing Democrats cannot afford to do is muffle their voices.
Please keep in mind, everyone, that this is a midterm election. In presidential years, it is more important for a party to speak with one voice – generally, that of its standard-bearer. In a midterm, there is no one at the top of the ticket. What’s important is for candidates to connect with the voters they seek to represent.
And voters in Missouri or West Virginia are not the same as voters in Queens. So no, Sens. Claire McCaskill and Joe Manchin do not have to support the abolition of ICE or call themselves socialists. If they have policy disagreements with Ocasio-Cortez, that’s fine. If Democrats concentrate on winning and manage to take control of both chambers – which is what really ought to happen, based on the Republicans’ disgraceful performance – they will have difficulty reconciling the views of progressives and centrists. That’s the kind of problem the party should want to have, rather than its current problem of utter powerlessness.
What Republicans really fear when they see the likes of Ocasio-Cortez is the rise of a new generation in the Democratic Party. They fear that Trump’s many outrages have opened new political space on the left, and that this space is being filled by smart young men and women who have fresh ideas – and who don’t mince words when expressing them.
One thing all politicians should have learned from the rise of Trump is that voters are in no mood for timidity. He may defy the laws of politics, but the laws of economics are less forgiving; his love of tariffs as an end rather than a means will soon begin hurting exporters and consumers. His failure to either kill or improve the Affordable Care Act puts truly universal care back on the table. His cruel hostility toward Latino immigrants sickens many voters outside of his base. His authoritarianism and egomania threaten our institutions.
Democrats need to win this election, not just for the good of the party but for the good of the country. This time, they can’t afford to defeat themselves.
Eugene Robinson’s email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.