What If AOC Is Right?
The future of the Democratic Party looks a lot more progressive
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So there’s a brief defensive media piece on Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s perspective on the status of the Democratic Party, one that will doubtlessly be discussed at length on cable news, from Errol Louis in New York Magazine. It sounds a lot of the expected notes, with a few exceptions, on AOC’s view that the party has been insufficiently leftist, and that they will be penalized for it in November. But I would ask you to read it through the lens of asking: What if she’s right about this?
“As a younger member of Congress, the first vote I ever cast was for Barack Obama, who was called a socialist and all of this stuff. All of this rhetoric that we see today has been the political reality my entire life. And so I never felt a nostalgia for something that never existed in my lifetime,” she told me. “I feel like our politics has fundamentally changed — whether it’s for better or for worse is for people’s determination — but I was never under the illusion that we can bring Manchin along.”
Ocasio-Cortez was one one of only six Democrats (including Representative Jamaal Bowman of the Bronx) — to vote against Biden’s $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill last November. She reasoned — correctly, it turned out — that severing the infrastructure spending from Biden’s much larger Build Back Better proposal would allow the bigger bill to be killed, in the closely divided Senate, by the defection of two conservative Democratic senators, Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema.
“I have the utmost respect and confidence in the president, but I just felt like we called two different plays on this one,” Ocasio-Cortez said. “I think that there is a sense among more senior members of Congress, who have been around in different political times, that we can get back to this time of buddy-buddy and backslapping and we’ll cut a deal and go into a room with some bourbon and some smoke and you’ll come out and work something out. I think there’s a real nostalgia and belief that that time still exists or that we can get back to that.”
But those days, she says, have been over for a long time. And the fact that Biden and others don’t realize it, she says, could spell disaster in the fall’s elections. With Biden’s low approval numbers and the historic tendency of the president’s party to lose, on average, 26 House seats in the midterms, the Democrats face an uphill battle to keep control of Congress — a situation that requires firing up the party’s progressive base, Ocasio-Cortez said.
“We need to acknowledge that this isn’t just about middle of the road, an increasingly narrow band of independent voters. This is really about the collapse of support among young people, among the Democratic base, who are feeling that they worked overtime to get this president elected and aren’t necessarily being seen,” she said.
Ocasio-Cortez and the other 97 members of the House Progressive Caucus are calling on Biden to issue executive orders to enact environmental protections, lower health-care costs, cancel federal student-loan debts, and expand protections for immigrants.
“If the president does pursue and start to govern decisively using executive action and other tools at his disposal, I think we’re in the game,” she said. “But if we decide to just kind of sit back for the rest of the year and not change people’s lives — yeah, I do think we’re in trouble. So I don’t think that it’s set in stone. I think that we can determine our destiny here.”
Now, there is within the Democratic coalition currently a voice, or two, and behind the scenes several more, marshalled against this economic agenda, Joe Manchin’s comments on the wealth tax just being the latest example. Yet there is something important to consider here. In the wake of the November elections, the Republican coalition on Capitol Hill will likely be vast and more diverse, in ethnicity and gender and ideology. It will be a difficult coalition to direct, on both sides.
But the Democratic coalition, in contrast, will be much closer to AOC, the Squad, and the progressive impulse than it was for the past several years. Her voice will only be supplemented by the Democrats who are likeliest to win, particularly on domestic issues. The momentum will be on their side, and they will be in a better position to prevent the White House from triangulating than Democrats were under Bill Clinton after 1994.
So the odds favor AOC’s worldview, as difficult as that is to grasp: a younger, more progressive, less transactional group of Democrats are likely to take over the leadership of the party and have a direct impact on what agenda flows into the 2024 election — especially when framed against the return, in fire and storm, of Donald Trump. Whether she is right about this being the wise politics of the moment, she could turn out to be right about the politics of the future.
Ukraine Could Be Putin’s Bleeding Ulcer
Russian soldiers, as they always do, will begin to adapt. But Ukraine’s armed forces will continue to benefit – as Russia’s will not – from ever better training and weaponry supplied by a newly revitalised Nato. In addition, Ukraine’s forces have shown a considerable edge in their military culture, notably using ‘mission command’. This means empowering and trusting junior leaders to carry out commanders’ orders and use their initiative. This is vital in a fast-flowing combat environment. Russia’s traditional top-down military approach cannot compete with that.
The Ukrainian military’s ability to innovate has also been important, allowing for aggregation of small, new and effective capabilities. Behind the lines, Ukraine’s partisans will continue to take a severe toll on Russian forces. As the British and US saw in Iraq, even when largely unsupported by outside powers, this kind of war can be brutally effective.
Nato has applied the lessons of Iraq to develop new thinking on setting up effective resistance forces against Russian forces. For some time Ukrainian, US and other intelligence agencies will have been identifying and supplying the territorial defence leaders behind Russian lines, and they have been effective in disrupting Russian supply lines and logistics.
Should Ukraine be split as Putin plans, this will not be a frozen conflict, as Korea is. Nor will it resemble Abkhazia or Chechnya, uneasy though they both remain, under the control of a Russian puppet Ramzan Kadyrov in Chechnya and military occupation in the breakaway Georgian region. Even Afghanistan in the 1980s will pale in comparison.
From 1807 to 1814 on the Iberian peninsula, Napoleon had to fight Spanish, Portuguese and British armies while beset by ubiquitous, ferocious insurgents. He described this war as his ‘bleeding ulcer’, draining him of men and equipment. It is the west’s aim to make Ukraine for Putin what Spain was for Napoleon.
In the absence of a negotiated settlement, Ukraine and Nato will continue to grind away at Russia’s army, digging away at that bleeding ulcer and prolonging Russia’s agony on the military front, as the west continues its parallel assault on its economy. If Putin’s plan is to proceed with the Korea model, he will fail. There is a strong possibility that Putin has only a limited idea of how badly his army is faring. So be it – he’ll find out soon enough that there is now no path for him to military victory.
Outsized Importance Of Rural Voters
The story of Democratic success since the Trump era has been one of political shifts in the suburbs. Well over half of President Biden’s voters in 2020 hailed from the suburbs, and he won suburban voters by a whopping 11 points. Of the 41 House seats Democrats picked up in the 2018 midterms, 38 of them were located in predominantly suburban districts. The suburbs remain the preeminent battleground in the country, as Republicans in 2022 gained back much of the ground they lost with Democrats.
But in this year’s House races, a disproportionate number of battleground races are taking place in either rural districts or districts with a significant rural segment. Of the 20 races that are ranked as toss-ups by The Cook Political Report, over half have a sizable rural constituency. It’s a reminder that Democrats can’t take rural America for granted, at least if they hope to hold a House majority for the long term.
Several of the rural House battlegrounds are newly drawn districts, like North Carolina’s 13th, which combines the burgeoning, Democratic-trending Research Triangle exurbs with the deep-red rural outposts of Harnett and Johnston counties. One is a brand new seat, Colorado’s 8th District, which includes parts of Weld County where “cattle sun themselves on grazing land and feedlots,” as The Denver Post put it. Others have always been competitive, like Maine’s expansive 2nd District, home to one of the most independent-minded Democrats in the House.
The best chance for Democrats to hold down their losses this year is to win many of those seesawing suburban seats. But even if they make a miraculous suburban turnaround, they still could lose their majority by failing to hold onto the smaller number of rural seats held by their party. As national Democrats cater to urban, progressive interests, they’ve all but abandoned the rural constituencies that once made up a major part of their coalition.
Death Of A Homeless Man
On most days during my morning walks, it’s just me, my bulldog, and the brightening sky. One day, last August, before honking cars crowded Ditmas Avenue, an ambulance stood in the middle of the street, a motionless body covered in a white sheet on the ground in front of it.
The ambulance was parked in front of Mr. and Mrs. Hall’s home, next door to the small business I own. I saw them peering out their living-room window, the blue and red lights of the ambulance transforming their complexions every few seconds. He can help, they told the EMTs, motioning toward me.
“What’s his name?” an EMT asked, gesturing toward the body.
“Nobody knows,” I replied.
I called him Julio, but maybe it was Refugio. From about April 2020, he and eight other homeless men had slept in a huddle of dirty quilts in front of the so-called nonessential businesses ordered by Governor Andrew Cuomo to lock their doors. For a few months, these men had the streets to themselves.
Because of Covid, they had been released from mental facilities and prisons. When restrictions were eased, returning business owners found more than rats to shoo away when they rolled up their gates.
Julio was about 30 and had come from either Mexico or a place that sounded like “Ha-la-wa-la.” He might have had a speech impediment; his English was poor. The men spoke to one another in an indigenous dialect. The only one I could clearly understand was the one they called “El Viejo.”
When the weather was warm, El Viejo would sit on a crate next to Julio, smoking weed and telling everyone who passed by to have a good day. He was about 70 and, if what he says is true, he used to “shoot faces off” in Vietnam. “Shoot them in the front—they get a hole in the back of their head. Shoot them in the back—their face blows off.” One day when I was nearby, his cell phone rang. It was his daughter, he said, before becoming annoyed and raising his voice at her. I left.
I once gave the men a bag of apples. They ate quickly and chucked the cores on the pavement. “Over there,” I said, pointing to the trash can at the corner. They left.
The men showed up later, asking for money. “Here’s 20 if you sweep the front,” I told them. They refused. I offered them bags so that they could collect cans. They walked away.
I rarely saw them during the winter, but by spring 2021, they had returned. Passersby would leave beer and Chinese takeout by their quilts. Julio and the others would leave behind trash and urine. Fights often broke out among them. They threw bottles and drew blood. The police said that they couldn’t do anything about it.
One day, I heard Mr. Hall yelling, “Get out!” He was shuffling toward his empty driveway. Mr. Hall, who no longer drives, hadn’t used his driveway in ages. Julio and his friends had found a purpose for it.
“They’re using my driveway as their toilet,” he said, pointing to two homeless men rising from a squat in the rear of his driveway. Under the rosebush, next to the hydrangea, were piles of excrement.
The men were belligerent but listened when I told them, “You guys gotta clean that up.” There was nothing around that they could use, so I reached into my pocket and handed them one of the poop bags that I use for my dog.
City agencies could not force the men to stay at a shelter. Instead, they stayed in the streets, sleeping, eating, fighting—and driving away business. When they weren’t in sight, their broken bottles and piles of feces were.
Whenever I was nearby, they stayed away from Mr. Hall’s driveway. And they weren’t around when Julio was lifted into the back of an ambulance. I glanced at the driveway, and then went into my store and returned with cleaning supplies. I barely heard when Mr. and Mrs. Hall thanked me from their window as I rinsed away the stench of urine. A river of suds made its way down the sidewalk and into the gutter and stopped in almost the same spot where a man with no name and no home took his final breaths.
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