Republicans have greeted the rise of “democratic socialist” Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez as if she is a sign of redemption for the GOP.
The insurgent radical, who defeated Democratic Party boss Joe Crowley in the New York primary last month, and wants to abolish Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), is a convenient symbol of how crazy the other side has become. Voters, the thinking goes, will never support Democrats in the fall if Ocasio-Cortez is the face of the opposition.
Have we learned nothing from 2008?
Barack Obama won the presidential election despite being every bit as radical as Ocasio-Cortez — and worse, in some ways.
He was mentored by a communist and trained as a left-wing “community organizer.” For two decades, he attended — and gave tens of thousands of dollars to — a racist church that preached anti-Americanism from the pulpit. He launched his political career from the living room of an unrepentant former domestic terrorist. On the campaign trail, he even promised to “spread the wealth around.”
Obama won that election in spite of all that, because the public had lost confidence in the ability of the Republican establishment to lead the country, and because the media generally protected him from scrutiny. Once he won, Newsweek declared: “We Are All Socialists Now.”
We weren’t, thanks to a Tea Party movement that ousted Nancy Pelosi from the Speaker’s chair in the U.S. House, and thanks to the predictable failures of Obama’s statist policies.
But socialism was not, and still is not, a bar to high public office.
It ought to be. There is no way that an objective observer could look back at more than a century of communism and socialism and conclude that either had been of net benefit to the world. Most of today’s socialist countries, like Venezuela, are complete disasters. Those communist or socialist nations that have enjoyed economic success — like China, or the Scandinavian countries that are cited frequently by the American left — have prospered by dumping their old dogmas in favor of expanding the role of private enterprise.
Here at home, Americans vote with their feet, moving from high-tax, big-government blue states to low-tax, limited-government red states.
Bizarrely, the new red-state arrivals often cling to their blue-state political convictions, turning their new states purple.
The lessons of experience are wasted because we continue to judge socialism by its self-proclaimed sentiments rather than by its dismal results. Few bother to make the moral case against those sentiments, which are just greed wrapped in the language of virtue.
The only real defense against socialism is the U.S. Constitution, which divides power among the several branches of government in a way that makes central planning very difficult, and which enshrines the rights of the individual against the whims of the state.
For that reason, the left insists that the Constitution is a “living” document that ought to be amenable to the divinations of wise (i.e. leftist) judges. Only the unlikely victory of Donald Trump in 2016 preserved the Constitution from that fate — for now, not forever.
But socialism can win American elections when it is played up just enough to excite the Democratic base, and played down just enough to avoid frightening independent voters — when it can be obscured by focusing on general grievances, the way Obama did: the weakness of the economy, the quagmire in Iraq, the lack of faith in public institutions. He excited supporters with the promise of “fundamentally transforming” America, while soothing the rest of America with familiar rhetoric about middle-class tax cuts.
Democrats have not yet found the right message for 2018, or the right leaders to carry that message forward. But if they can tap into some broadly shared sense of dissatisfaction — frustration with Washington’s failure to fix health care, for example — then they can win the midterm elections, and perhaps the 2020 presidential election, regardless of their extremist baggage.
We have elected socialists before, and we can certainly do so again, if Trump and the Republican Congress fail to live up to their commitments.
Joel B. Pollak is Senior Editor-at-Large at Breitbart News. He is a winner of the 2018 Robert Novak Journalism Alumni Fellowship. He is also the co-author of How Trump Won: The Inside Story of a Revolution, which is available from Regnery. Follow him on Twitter at @joelpollak.