Not waiting before such thinking takes firmer hold or begins to be put into action, Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is speaking out forcefully against radical centrist pundits, so-called "Never-Trump Republicans," and corporate-friendly Democratic operatives trying to advance a post-election narrative that the Democratic Party's growing progressive base is a faction to be sidelined as opposed to one that should be embraced.
"I need my colleagues to understand that we are not the enemy. And that their base is not the enemy. That the Movement for Black Lives is not the enemy, that Medicare for All is not the enemy."
—Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-CortezAs much of the nation—and the world—celebrated Joe Biden's historic defeat of President Donald Trump on Saturday, Ocasio-Cortez gave an interview to the New York Times in which she repudiated those in recent days who have tried to cast a new wave of progressive lawmakers—backed by an army of like-minded supporters and organizers—as somehow dangerous to the party.
Epitomized by a comment that made the rounds on social media Saturday by former Ohio governor John Kasich, a lifelong Republican, the thinking goes that progressives policy solutions (which, in fact, turn out to be highly popular with voters across the political spectrum)—such as Medicare for All, forgiving student loan debt, expanding Social Security, a massive federal increase to the minimum wage, a green energy transition and jobs program, demanding racial justice, and working to end mass incarceration—are toxic politically to Democrats.
"The Democrats have to make it clear to the far-left that they almost cost him this election," said Kasich, who endorsed Biden earlier this year and was given a speaking role at the party's convention this summer, during a CNN interview Saturday. The comments quickly drew ire among progressives, who have condemned the very idea that figures like Kasich should have any say whatsoever in the party's future projection.
John Kasich is demanding Social Security and Medicare cuts, which is both terrible policy and the best way to ensure Trump (or one of his acolytes) returns to the White House in 2024.— SocialSecurityWorks (@SSWorks) November 7, 2020
Joe Biden must keep Kasich FAR AWAY from his administration. https://t.co/YPStOKnOw5
"Yesterday," tweeted People for Bernie on Sunday morning in response to the comments, "we officially entered a new era of not listening to anything John Kasich says. The era will continue until further notice."
And Ocasio-Cortez was among those who rebuked the remarks online as she defended her fellow Squad member, Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), from the insinuation that progressive House victories in key districts didn't play a large role—as observers have pointed out—in helping deliver the White House for Biden.
"John Kasich, who did not deliver Ohio to Dems, is saying folks like Omar, who did deliver Minnesota, are the problem," Ocasio-Cortez tweeted in direct response to his comments. "Please don't take these people seriously and go back to celebrating and building power."
Common Dreams reported Thursday how Omar in Minnesota—just like Rep. Rashida Tlaib in her Detroit, Michigan district—were "major factors" in helping Biden pull away from Trump in those key battleground states.
In her interview with the Times, published late Saturday night, the New York Democrat—who won her reelection with nearly 70% of the vote in her district—elaborated on that dynamic.
"If the party believes after 94 percent of Detroit went to Biden, after Black organizers just doubled and tripled turnout down in Georgia, after so many people organized Philadelphia, the signal from the Democratic Party is the John Kasichs won us this election?" said AOC. "I mean, I can't even describe how dangerous that is."
On Sunday, Ocasio-Cortez joined CNN's Jake Tapper to discuss the issues she raised in the Times interview and also emphasized the need for Democrats, as a party, to come together in unity:
"Progressives have assets to offer the Party that the Party has not yet fully leaned into...Every single swing seat member that co-sponsored Medicare for All won their re-election, and so the conversation is a little bit deeper than saying anything progressive is toxic." -@AOC pic.twitter.com/nGxfVpGWYi— Justice Democrats (@justicedems) November 8, 2020
Progressives like Mike Casca, former communications director for Bernie Sanders' 2020 campaign, applauded Ocasio-Cortez for both her critique and outspokenness.
"What I love most about this interview, and AOC," commented journalist Alice Speri on Saturday morning, "is that she says what she thinks, pulls no punches, and puts her name to it. Just imagine if journalists stopped allowing politicians to stay anonymous for no reason other than their lack of courage."
Tana Ganeva, a criminal justice reporter, said: "AOC is so fucking smart. I can't believe there was actually an effort to deem her 'not smart.' This is the smartest analysis I've read in months."
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In the interview—in which she acknowledged that internally within the party "it's been extremely hostile to anything that even smells progressive" since she arrived in 2018—Ocasio-Cortez expressed frustration that the more left-leaning members of the caucus are now under attack for losses suffered by its more centrist members.
What the election results have shown thus far, she said, is "that progressive policies do not hurt candidates. Every single candidate that co-sponsored Medicare for All in a swing district kept their seat. We also know that co-sponsoring the Green New Deal was not a sinker."
Instead of blaming for progressives—something that ousted Florida Democrat, Rep. Donna Shalala, did on a caucus conference call after her defeat last week—Ocasio-Cortez said the party needs to have a much more serious look at what led to those failures.
As she told the Times: "If I lost my election, and I went out and I said: "This is moderates' fault. This is because you didn't let us have a floor vote on Medicare for all. And they opened the hood on my campaign, and they found that I only spent $5,000 on TV ads the week before the election? They would laugh. And that's what they look like right now trying to blame the Movement for Black Lives for their loss."
Ocasio-Cortez said the party must begin to examine some of its entrenched belief systems—as well as internal power structures—so it can have a more honest assessment of where shortcomings exist and how to better prepare for the future:
There's a lot of magical thinking in Washington, that this is just about special people that kind of come down from on high. Year after year, we decline the idea that they did work and ran sophisticated operations in favor of the idea that they are magical, special people. I need people to take these goggles off and realize how we can do things better. If you are the D.C.C.C., and you're hemorrhaging incumbent candidates to progressive insurgents, you would think that you may want to use some of those firms. But instead, we banned them.
So the D.C.C.C. banned every single firm that is the best in the country at digital organizing.
The leadership and elements of the party—frankly, people in some of the most important decision-making positions in the party—are becoming so blinded to this anti-activist sentiment that they are blinding themselves to the very assets that they offer.
Ocasio-Cortez further explained that while she and others have tried to get other members to modernize their campaign operations, those offers have persistently been rebuffed.
"I've been begging the party to let me help them for two years," she said. "That's also the damn thing of it. I've been trying to help. Before the election, I offered to help every single swing district Democrat with their operation. And every single one of them, but five, refused my help. And all five of the vulnerable or swing district people that I helped secured victory or are on a path to secure victory. And every single one that rejected my help is losing. And now they’re blaming us for their loss."
"So I need my colleagues to understand that we are not the enemy," she continued. "And that their base is not the enemy. That the Movement for Black Lives is not the enemy, that Medicare for All is not the enemy. This isn't even just about winning an argument. It's that if they keep going after the wrong thing, I mean, they're just setting up their own obsolescence."
And what if the Biden administration takes the lead of people like Kasich—of whom there is much chatter that he could serve in the next cabinet—and proves itself hostile to its progressive base?
"Well, I'd be bummed, because we’re going to lose. And that's just what it is," responded Ocasio-Cortez, who elsewhere said it is her simple belief that "people really want the Democratic Party to fight for them" and that it's the party's responsibility to show that not in words, but in deed.
"It's really hard for us to turn out nonvoters when they feel like nothing changes for them," she warned. "When they feel like people don't see them, or even acknowledge their turnout."
Update: This article was updated from its original to include portions of Ocasio-Cortez's televised interview on CNN.