Don’t be shocked by Ocasio-Cortez’s win, understand it
By SETH J. FRANTZMAN
America woke up to news that Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez had defeated Rep. Joe Crowley. Major media is in shock. The “10-term incumbent, in New York’s 14th Congressional District primary” lost in a “a stunner that rocked the Democratic world and shook up the party’s line of succession.” The Democrats are “soul searching,” claims CNN. The article claimed “Until now, there had been few signs of a mounting progressive insurgency.”
The way major media writes about Crowley, you’d almost think America had a royal family and he was part of it. “Crowley, the heir apparent to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, of California, could lose a primary to a 28-year-old, politically unknown and woefully underfunded Democratic Socialist speaks volumes about where the energy in the party is right now.” But in the telling of the tale is evidence for why he lost. He was part of a nepotistic, privileged, entitled group that took for granted that the voters would do as they are told. He was “only” 56 years old in a Democratic leadership that is mostly in their 70s. Journalists ponder why the party wants young faces and even seems a bit surprised that a young woman of color won.
But isn’t the Democratic party always boasting about youth, women and minorities? It’s just lip service, right. Virtue signaling. And that’s why Crowley lost. Because you can’t just talk all the time about “minorities” and “inequality” and keep getting a fat paycheck. In fact the New York Times pointed this out in May, looking at Crowley through the lack of diversity lens.
There are other things going on here as well. In the period before Hillary Clinton’s run for president she and Bill Clinton made $153 million giving speeches. CNN notes “total, the two gave 729 speeches from February 2001 until May, receiving an average payday of $210,795 for each address. The two also reported at least $7.7 million for at least 39 speeches to big banks, including Goldman Sachs and UBS, with Hillary Clinton, the Democratic 2016 front-runner, collecting at least $1.8 million for at least eight speeches to big banks.”
There is a lot of talk about “socialism” now in Democratic ranks. but the reality is that mainstream Democrats have been playing the financial warfare card for decades. What they wanted was to not have “socialists” like the young and energetic Ocasio-Cortez, but to talk a lot about financial differences. Remember Al Gore, the wealthy white candidate, talking all the time about the “richest 1%” and talking about “the rich” and “the rich” again and again. But he’s the richest 1%. He has hundreds of millions, according to numerous reports. John Edwards also complained about income inequality. He should know, he had a lavish estate.
Then there are the relatives of these privileged incumbents. The cousins and daughters who all seem to get jobs through connections. It’s understandable that average voters are tired of this system of nepotism and privilege, where small insular groups of people seem to perpetuate themselves in power through networks of government appointments, trusts, foundations, corporate boards and then back around again. Generation after generation, locking out the rest of the voters. There are elected officials who have never had a minimum wage or even low wage job.
Alexandria, as much of her election material announced, was not from the incumbent group and she destroyed her opponent 57% of the vote to 42%. People of color make up 70 percent of her district. And it seems they finally spoke up and said that the politics of paternalism are over.
The newspaper headlines expressing “shock” at the victory are often written by the same group of insiders who also lack diversity. Newsrooms are overwhelmingly lacking in diversity as numerous studies show. The most “liberal” newspapers have barely one or two minorities on their mastheads. How is that possible? In 2018 there might be less African-Americans and hispanics in newsrooms than decades ago. As I wrote in 2017 “A study by the American Society of News Editors found that in 2015 only 12.7 percent of employees at US daily newspapers were minorities. More than 88 percent of reporters and supervisors were white while 83 percent of videographers were.”
So, yes, the people writing the news are “shocked” because they tend to look a lot more like Crowley and some of them expect America to be Crowley-country. They are often outraged by Trump and virtue-signal anger over racism, but the real concern is not that Trump and his friends are in the White House, but rather that a different group of expecting-to-win people aren’t. It’s not like the anti-Trump crowd, at the top, is really that different. Many of them, prior to Trump running, were not so far from his circles. Certainly they were closer to the Trump circle than they were to the one of Alexandria and her young zealots.
There is a kind of conflict for the soul of the Democratic party, but it is a conflict that has been decades in the making. The Democrats had another revolution years ago when young college students went “clean for Eugene” back in 1968. Democrats talk a lot about RFK and JFK, but they live only on the legacy often, not the youthful idealism of that era. For some reason the party insiders want the Crowleys and not the Alexandrias.
America is adrift as it has been since the 1990s, not understanding its role in the world and suspicious of that role. It is becoming more insular, more isolationist. It wants to fix problems at home. It is changing. The ideas of the 1990s are fading and it has been replaced by cynicism. That cynicism was dominant as the generation of the 2000s rose toward power. The reaction to what appeared to be a drift towards “coastal elites” and the “deep state” resulted in the Trump election. But Trump lost by millions of votes. The reality is that America still is unmoored and searching for its footing. Trump is not a hopeful leader. His slogans are largely empty and his solutions bereft of clarity and follow through. His is a stopgap in the Republican Party. The ridiculous debates on the right about “who is a conservative” belie the reality: There are no conservatives. There are a few fading “neo-cons” and then there is Trumpland and then there are a bunch of Republicans who have no idea what to do in the post 1990s era.
The Democrats have a different problem because they have hopeful young people searching for a future answer, but that answer is also wrapped in unclear ideas that sound good but don’t seem to go anywhere. They tend to be hijacked and coopted, as Obama was when he wanted to do things like “close Guantanamo.”
America is going to need a lot more Alexandrias before it can grapple with the 21st century. And that’s a good thing. It needs people in power who have working class backgrounds and had a job once and who know what a public school looks like.