Skip to main content

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is the Kind of Progressive Liberals Have Been Begging For

Rather than combative extremism, she's pushing left with respect. Why are we still complaining?
NBC NewsWire/Getty

NBC NewsWire/Getty

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is doing everything liberals have been begging progressives to do for years. She working with the party. She's staying respectful instead of throwing bombs all day. She's pushing the party to the left without doing her level best to divide it. But liberals are still white hot furious with her. We need to learn to take "Yes" for an answer and move on.

For better or for worse, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is the face of the progressive movement now. Although it's debatable how long that's going to last. I don't say that to be mean, I say it because both liberal (read as: Hillary) voters and progressive (read as: Bernie) voters have been expecting her to come charging into Congress like a bull in a China shop and she's so far refusing to smash any teacups.

Instead, she's opted for the much more pragmatic course of being vocal and visible but very respectful. It started with the "protest against Nancy Pelosi" that wasn't actually a protest against Nancy Pelosi. It was a bunch of activists calling on Pelosi to take a stand on Climate Change. AOC joined and the press immediately leaped on that as a chance to run their favorite narrative: "Dems In Disarray!"

Buried deep in their breathless reporting on how AOC was "protesting" against Pelosi (if they bothered to report it at all) was what she actually said:

"I don't want to see my own district under water and I know that Leader Pelosi doesn't either and I know that what we need to show her is we're here to back her up in pushing for 100% renewable energy," Ocasio-Cortez told CNN. "This is to show that we are here to back up bold action and that, you know she will be supported in that."

She added, "One of the things that I admire so much about Leader Pelosi is that she comes from a space of activism and organizing and so I think she really appreciates civic engagement and really what I'm here to do is just to support the folks that are here."

Pelosi then announced she would be reinstating a special committee to address Climate Change and let the diminishing right wing of the Democratic Party know that the larger and more powerful left wing was going to get its way. That's not "Dems In Disarray!" That's how political parties work.

And then there's this:

We dirty establishment types have been begging progressives to take precisely that kind of nuanced stance for the last three years. Putting aside the fact that Pelosi is actually quite progressive in her own right, the popular perception among the far left is that she's a centrist. But if Pelosi's replacement would be someone to the right, then obviously you stick with her even if she's not as progressive as you would like. Ocasio-Cortez spells out what should be obvious to anyone but clearly isn't

This is why I said it remains to be seen if AOC will continue to be the face of progressivism. They are not fans of nuance and compromise and Ocasio-Cortez shows every sign of being very very good at her job as a legislator by embracing both. That means, like many female legislators, she will build coalitions and work with anyone, including centrists and Republicans, she has to to get things done. That also means she won't be there to necessarily "disrupt" the Democratic Party. That's going to frustrate the hell out of people who are expecting her to spend most of her time yelling at Democrats. 

Even the latest story of "Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez backs campaign to oust fellow Democrats" isn't the kind of attack on the party it's being made out to be.

The grass-roots group expects to focus more on safe Democratic seats — as Crowley’s was — than on the swing districts, largely centered in the suburbs, that the party won en route to the House majority. That’s a slight shift in strategy after all of the group’s candidates, such as Kara Eastman in Nebraska, came up short in Republican-held congressional districts in 2018. Replacing safe Democratic incumbents with more progressives and diverse leaders, the thinking goes, could move the Overton window of what is and is not acceptable in the Democratic Party.

Before the midterms, the progressive movement assumed it could just drop a super progressive candidate into a red district and the people would rise up to embrace them. They got their asses kicked and cost the Democrats a few seats they might have won with a more centrist candidate. Losing elections to win the ideological battle is suicidal in the face of fascism. Turfing out centrist incumbents in deep blue (and therefore safe) districts, on the other hand, that's a different story. There's nothing wrong with moving the party to the left as long as it's done strategically.

I know a lot of liberals have a serious bug up their ass about Ocasio-Cortez. I wasn't thrilled when she won her primary and proceeded to keep attacking the Democratic Party. It was tacky and unnecessary. But now that she's stepping into her role as a congresswoman, she seems far more interested in doing the work of advancing the progressive agenda than in scoring cheap political points to make herself look better.

One of the primary complaints liberals have had about progressives is that they want everything (like control of the party) handed to them on a platter without doing the work to make it happen. AOC so far appears to be more than ready and willing to do the work. We should let her do it and let her be a role model to the rest of the progressive movement. Being a moral scold isn't getting them anywhere. Time to try something different.