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Thursday, June 28, 2018


Crashing the Gate 2018

by Tom Sullivan

"Five years ago, the Republicans took over the government through nondemocratic means," wrote bloggers Markos Moulitsas and Jerome Armstrong in the preface to their 2006 book on progressive organizing, "Crashing the Gate":

Establishment Democrats, for the most part, stood back and watched as a partisan judicial body halted the counting of presidential votes. While conservative activists led the charge on behalf of their party, there was nothing happening on our side.
A decade later, establishment Democrats sat back again as Senate Republicans stonewalled President Obama's nominee for the Supreme Court seat eventually given by President Donald Trump to Justice Neil Gorsuch. Two years beyond that, Trump is pondering dismantling NATO even as he builds internment camps on the southern border for Central American refugees, and Democrats are even more powerless to stop him from appointing another conservative ideologue to the high court. We're going to need some better Democrats.

Now comes the stunning primary win on Tuesday by newcomer Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in New York’s 14th Congressional District. The 28-year-old Latina and Democratic Socialist defeated 10-term incumbent Rep. Joe Crowley by 15 points in a race where he outspent her by over 15 to 1. Crowley, the fourth-ranking Democrat in the House, has not faced a primary challenge in 14 years.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) downplayed the loss to her leadership team, telling reporters, "They made a choice in one district. So let’s not get yourself carried away as an expert on demographics and the rest of that." She added, "It is not to be viewed as something that stands for everything else." Uh-huh.

Indeed, Josh Marshall cautioned that New York is an immigrant city and NY-14 is a minority district with a disproportionate number of young adults, thus not representative of the country as a whole. Martin Longman concurred, adding:
If there is any part of this victory that concerns me, it’s that Crowley’s race was used rather explicitly as a reason why he shouldn’t continue to represent the district. If someone were to use that logic to, for example, explain why former NAACP director Ben Jealous shouldn’t be elected as governor of Maryland, I think it would be rightfully condemned. More than that, though, it sends a message to the broader country that I think is more powerful and alienating than Ocasio-Cortez’s ideological leanings.
They're coming for you, Longman didn't say.

But MSNBC's Steve Kornacke (clip below) pointed indirectly to the same establishment dynamic Moulitsas and Armstrong pointed to in 2006. Crowley got to Congress via New York's Democratic machine politics. He toiled in the trenches to "climb the Democratic ranks in D.C." only to be blocked by Pelosi (a member of the House since 1987). Only in the last few years has Crowley made his way into leadership, with the potential to be the next Democratic Speaker of the House.

The Democratic Party in many ways has all the institutional vigor of a men's fraternal organization. It is wedded to a culture of incumbency that rewards those — with or without talent — willing to toil in the trenches until it is finally their turn to take the reins. It elevates chummy political careerists, perhaps idealists to start, but ambitious enough to linger long enough to become institutionalized and thus everything voters hate, especially younger voters and non-voters.

That career track caught up with Joe Crowley on Tuesday.

Which brings us back to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. I've watched the "Morning Joe" video below a couple of times and remain impressed with the clearness of Ocasio-Cortez's message. A first-time candidate (and likely congresswoman in January), she defeated Crowley with a message more authentic than a career politician's. She has not been in the game long enough to absorb the careerist culture of the party establishment or the pugilistic politics of the Beltway. Ocasio-Cortez focused on her message for working-class Americans, not on the president, at least not directly.

A critic on Twitter described her proposal for funding universal Medicare, free post-HS education, and student loan forgiveness as "confident, articulate incoherence." As if that hasn't been the GOP's approach for decades, fueled with institutionalized guile, subterfuge, xenophobia, and corruption. But "speaking your truth" boldly without hesitation earns respect. What's frightening is how many Americans on the right will buy the packaging without examining the contents.

The cautiousness of the Democratic Party establishment has strangled its "edge." What's needed is a willingness to nurture new talent. Ocasio-Cortez might not be the candidate for Kansas, but being plainspoken and direct as she is a skill Democrats need to relearn. It won't come from those already institutionalized.

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For The Win 2018 is ready for download. Request a copy of my county-level election mechanics primer at tom.bluecentury at gmail.