Can a political party be too inclusive? Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez apparently thinks so.
In a lengthy New York magazine profile this week, the New York congresswoman responded with a groan when asked what role she might play as a member of Congress if former Vice President Joe Biden is elected president.
“Oh God,” she said of the man who has been leading the pack of her party’s hopefuls in national polls. “In any other country, Joe Biden and I would not be in the same party, but in America, we are.”
That may sound sarcastic, but it also happens to be true. That’s not a bad thing. It also happens to be a very good reason for us Americans to have a two-party system.
But that’s not good enough for AOC and some others on the party’s left-progressive wing.
She mocked the “big tent” strategy by which candidates in both parties have tried to grow and diversify their voter appeal. “Democrats can be too big of a tent,” she said.
She even went so far as to suggest that the Congressional Progressive Caucus expel members who stray from the progressives’ party line. Other Democratic caucuses in Congress require applications, she said. But her wing will “let anybody who the cat dragged in call themselves a progressive,” she complained. “There’s no standard.”
“Anybody who the cat dragged in?” Ah, the impatience of youth.
I think former President Barack Obama had the right idea when he warned fellow Democrats against ideological “purity tests.” Ocasio-Cortez apparently thinks purity tests are a fine idea.
For years I have encouraged Republicans to broaden their reach and compete again for voters of color and other constituencies that used to feel more welcome in the party of Abraham Lincoln. Instead, we have seen the Grand Old Party’s activists escalate their demonization of “RINOs” – Republicans in Name Only – in their ranks. Now I am disappointed to hear similar ideological purity promoted on the left.
“DINOs?” I don’t think so.
But don’t get me wrong. Unlike some commentators, I don’t want to dislike AOC. I think she brings a youthful energy and excitement to national politics on the left that provides a much-needed counterbalance to the barnstorming extremism of President Donald Trump on the right.
Unfortunately, she also brings with her ideology an all-or-nothing attitude that can get in the way of her achieving her own goals. Even Sen. Bernie Sanders, whom she has endorsed for president, knows the value of compromise enough to vote with the Democrats in the Senate and run for president in their primaries.
For examples of how extremism can backfire, she need look no further than her Republican colleagues. The tea party movement rose up on the heels of Obama’s 2008 election with a zeal for spending cuts – which all but evaporated after Trump’s election.
The federal government’s budget deficit ballooned to nearly $1 trillion in 2019, the Treasury Department announced in October. That’s the fourth year in a row of deficit growth, despite a sustained run of economic growth. Apparently, deficit spending is only a sin to Republicans in Congress when Democratic presidents do it.
Ocasio-Cortez bristled in the New York profile at the suggestion that her movement is following a tea party model. “For so long, when I first got in, people were like, ‘Oh, are you going to basically be a tea party of the left?’ “ she said. “And what people don’t realize is that there is a tea party of the left, but it’s on the right edges, the most conservative parts of the Democratic Party.”
Yet, she expressed frustration that her fellow Democrats haven’t been more candid about that. “It’s like we’re not allowed to talk about it,” she said. “We’re not allowed to talk about anything wrong the Democratic Party does. I think I have created more room for dissent, and we’re learning to stretch our wings a little bit on the left.”
Indeed, but try to avoid getting them clipped. At the risk of sounding like the pragmatic old man that I am, I think Ocasio-Cortez should learn from her faction’s successes but avoid the hazards of overreach.
As the left-progressive Rev. Jesse Jackson preached to fellow Dems during his two presidential runs in the 1980s, “It takes two wings to fly” – a left wing and a right wing. Right on, Reverend. Right on!