Opportunity Knocks for the American Left

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The story of the summer in electoral politics so far is, without a doubt, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez — the 28-year-old Bronx native who stunned longtime U.S. Rep. Joe Crowley in the New York primary on June 26 and will head to Congress next year.

Ocasio-Cortez’s victory sent shockwaves ringing around the country. Crowley was the fourth-ranking Democrat in the House, a candidate to succeed Nancy Pelosi, and boss of the Queens County Democratic Party. He had all the money, all the endorsements.

But Ocasio-Cortez, a campaign organizer for Bernie Sanders and member of the burgeoning Democratic Socialists of America, ran far to his left, trumpeted her commitment to the district, and beat him — and not by a shy margin either.

Since then, conservatives have been hellbent on proving her lunacy. They haven’t done a superb job.

Sean Hannity, for instance, put up a massive graphic of Ocasio-Cortez’s “platform” that included such hair-raising proposals as “Clean Campaign Finance, “Mobilizing Against Climate Change,” and “Support Seniors.” The candidate herself tweeted a screengrab with the caption, “Pretty Much!”

The genre’s magnum opus came over the weekend, when an associate editor at The Daily Caller named Virginia Kruta attended an Ocasio-Cortez rally, hoping to expose the young leader’s wantonness, and came away… a near-convert.

“I saw just how easy it would be,” she wrote, “were I less involved and less certain of our nation’s founding and its history, to fall for the populist lines they were shouting from that stage. I saw how easy it would be, as a parent, to accept the idea that my children deserve healthcare and education,” and so on and so forth.

The crisis was averted — Kruta got a picture with Ocasio-Cortez to remind herself that “there, but for the grace of God, go I” — but it was clearly a close call.

A day later, Jim Comey — who has apparently taken it upon himself to save our democracy after playing an outsize role in imperiling it two years ago — sounded the alarm.

“Democrats, please,” he tweeted, “please don’t lose your minds and rush to the socialist left. This president and his Republican Party are counting on you to do exactly that. America’s great middle wants sensible, balanced, ethical leadership.”

Legitimate questions about Comey’s judgement notwithstanding, he makes an astute point here. America’s great middle almost certainly does want sensible, balanced, ethical leadership.

The question is about what’s sensible. Ocasio-Cortez says that what’s sensible is giving every person, regardless of the circumstances they were born into, the opportunity to lead a dignified life. As Kruta found out, it’s a compelling vision.

It’s also a difficult vision to seriously argue against, especially if you want to move beyond repeatedly screaming the word “Venezuela” — which was largely Meghan McCain’s strategy in an argument on The View on Wednesday.

“It’s petrifying to me,” McCain shouted during that segment, “that this is being normalized.”

“This”, of course, is socialism — though we’re only dealing seriously in this country right now with democratic socialism — and McCain is at least a couple of years too late in her concern.

Even before the first vote was cast for Sanders in the last presidential election, more Iowa Democrats were identifying as socialist than capitalist and 56 percent of Democratic party members across the nation reported a positive view of socialism.

The stigma that once surrounded the word itself, as Cold War recedes and a new generation begins, however slowly, to assume political power, is rapidly falling away.

At the same time, wages are stagnant, opportunity is scarce, healthcare is crushingly expensive, and Jeff Bezos is raking in $275 million each day while his warehouse workers are peeing into bottles to save time during their shifts.

It is not, in this day in age — no matter if you live in New York City or Topeka — all that difficult to come up with a critique of a barely-fettered capitalism that is so clearly enriching so few and destroying the Earth.

Even The Economist ran a column two months ago on the need for stronger unions. Regular people need help, and they largely cannot see how depriving people of a number of their basic needs contributes to the national good.

The conservative movement has no answers. Handed complete control of the federal government, all Republicans have done so far is slash the corporate tax rate, run up the deficit, and drive the Speaker of the House and nearly 50 of his members into retirement.

Policy wise, that’s it and that’s all. They did attempt to repeal the Affordable Care Act last year, but their final plan was so dramatically unpopular that it coaxed a spasm of political courage out of Susan Collins and failed.

Now, in what might be the waning months of their single-party rule, Republicans are consumed with trying to corral a president who — as if he doesn’t have enough on his plate, what with the Rigged Witch Hunt and all — seems set on starting a trade war.

At the risk of stating the obvious, none of this has anything to do with improving the lives of ordinary people.

Into this vacuum, into this gaping need, Ocasio-Cortez and her ilk have stepped. Progressive leaders like Pramila Jayapal, who helped launch the Congressional Medicare for All caucus with more than 70 members last week, have solid, serious proposals.

They’re proposals for universal healthcare and universal basic income, for expanding access to broadband, for ending money bail, for guaranteeing paid family and sick leave, and for ensuring that people are paid living wages.

Not only are these ideas workable — and, in large part, already working across the West — but they can and will sell all over this country. Ocasio-Cortez and Sanders recently made a campaign swing through Kansas and Missouri to rapturous receptions.

This is not to say that the conservatives or centrists are going away. But the conservative movement is now primarily made up of leaders and voters who are primarily interested in culture wars and white supremacy.

For just the most recent evidence of this, take Brian Kemp – the Georgia gubernatorial candidate who filmed a campaign ad with the line “I’ve got a big truck, just in case I need to round up criminal illegals and take ’em home myself”, and won his run-off on Tuesday by nearly 40 points.

The good news is that there is little evidence indicating that a majority of people prefer to continue down the path we’re on. Just 26 percent of adults in this country voted for Trump, and even a majority of Republicans believe that large corporations wield too much influence in politics.

Anyone reading reports on Steve Bannon’s communication with Boris Johnson has to be worried about the momentum of the far right, and history suggests that no amount of economic populism will be able to erase racism as a political motivator.

But the left has momentum too, more than it has had here in decades, and it has, unlike its opposition, ideas that can fundamentally change the direction of the country for the betterment of all of its people.

From uncertainty and despair springs the possibility of change. For the left, opportunity knocks.

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