In response to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’ stunning victory, I’m tempted to jump on the bandwagon. However, for now I’ll have to settle for cautious optimism. Generally speaking, I like her policies, or at least the general direction in which they point. More importantly, I like her delivery. It’s positive and inclusive, not inflammatory and derisive.
Keeping it Positive
This, I believe, is the format that will work for progressives. Whether Ocasio-Cortez turns out to be a force to be reckoned with (and I hope she does) or just another another flash in the pan, progressives should adopt her general message, her delivery. It is not filled with vitriol, virtue signaling nor even basic righteous anger. It’s an uplifting message over how we can improve things, and is devoid of finger pointing (and wagging). This works for progressives and it minimizes the alienation that comes with “othering.”
“Othering” works better on the right than it does on the Left
Othering (the act of molding your opponents into an “other” so as to make it easy to hate them) works well on the right. This is why GOP/Right wing mouthpieces are so effective when talking about “illegal immigrants.” This is why Trump was so successful in blaming China and Mexico (and never once mentioning automation) for American job losses. This is why it’s so easy for the Christian Right to oppose gay marriage and take a strong anti-Islam stance. This works on the right because ideologically speaking, they are a smaller tent and by nature they are suspicious of “others.” This doesn’t work as well on the left, which generally considers itself a large and diverse tent.
Stop lambasting the Rich
The constant lambasting of the rich, or the 1% does seem to have some success. This certainly motivates some section of the left but it also splits the left. The problem here is that people who aren’t “rich” consider themselves so. I have met countless people struggling to make ends meet at 40K/year who think THEY’RE the provider class whose hard work is being taxed to death to help lazy people who refuse to get a job. Hence, many people who are actually being left behind by the rising income disparity identify themselves with the economic model that’s leaving them behind. So if the left is going to have a slogan, it can’t be one that blames the rich. Progressives need to focus their message on how we strengthen our economy by investing in a stronger middle class with more buying power and growing the economic pie for everyone.
Don’t blame white people
I’ll be honest. Bernie lost me when he said “white people don’t know what it’s like to be poor.” Someone shared the quote on Facebook and I was absolutely certain it was taken out of context. So I found the video to get the full context and to my dismay, it was not taken out of context. To be fair I was already barely supporting Sanders over Clinton, mainly due to the fact that Sanders rarely had specific policy answers, and generally answered policy-specific questions with platitudes (I no longer see this as such a deal breaker). Nevertheless, Progressives need to avoid these divisive messages.
This is what I like about Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Her focus remains positive. Rather than dwelling on what’s wrong (or worse yet, whose fault it is), she focuses on what we can do to make things better. Her message is inclusive. Not only is this message more palatable to the general public, it doesn’t give opponents additional virtue signal fodder.
Socialism and other Labels of yesterday
The only real line of attack right wingers will have is the word “socialism.” I am less worried about this now as I was even 2–3 years ago. The general public does seem to understand that what’s meant in the context of people like Sanders and Cortes is simply a stronger safety net than we have now, not top-down control of the economy. The Crowders and Jones’ of the world can keep repeating “Venezuela” over and over, but at this point this argument mostly only works with people who are stuck inside a right wing information bubble who were never going to vote Democrat anyhow.
I don’t know what will happen with Ocasio-Cortez. She does seem poised to do great things, so I guess we’ll see. Whether she herself moves on to do great things, I do believe her positive message and her policies are the way forward for the left, and they are the perfect antidote for Trump’s faux populism, and the vitriol “othering” it brings.