Abigail vs. AOC
Ever heard the 1960s hit from Jefferson Airplane, “Somebody to Love”? Boomers remember lead singer Grace Slick belting it out on a vinyl record, while younger folks might know the words from an oldies Spotify playlist: “When the truth is found to be lies/ And all the joy within you dies.”
Those lyrics of disillusion came to mind when I watched Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York on CNN on November 8, explaining that the political platform that she and her allies had been campaigning on were just slogans, as opposed to serious proposals.
On CNN’s State of the Union, anchor Jake Tapper welcomed AOC and then played an unwelcoming audio tape: the voice of Virginia Rep. Abigail Spanberger, saying to her fellow House Democrats, in a LOUD voice, that leftists had been dominating the discourse during the campaign, thereby jeopardizing her seat, as well as the seats of many of her House colleagues. As Spanberger said:
We need to not ever use the word socialist or socialism ever again, because while people think it doesn’t matter, it does matter. And we lost good members because of that. If we are classifying Tuesday as a success from a Congressional standpoint, we will get (EXPLETIVE DELETED) torn apart in 2022. And excuse the profanity. (EXPLETIVE DELETED). That’s the reality.
Responding to Tapper and his tape, AOC was defensive:
If you look at some of the arguments that are being advanced, that “defund the police” hurt, or that arguments about “socialism” hurt—not a single member of Congress that I’m aware of campaigned on socialism or defunding the police in this general election.
Yet after the election, obviously spinning in self-defense, Ocasio-Cortez declared that the left-wing rhetoric vaping through campaign 2020 was just that—hot air: “These were largely slogans, or they were demands from activist groups that we saw in the largest uprising in American history against police brutality.” Ah, largely slogans. So now you tell us!
(And okay, perhaps AOC is confused sometimes; in a November 12 virtual town hall, she lamented that House Democrats had suffered “the loss of the House majority,” which, of course, is not the case—the Dems lost seats, yes, but not their majority. AOC will soon enough correct that error, and yet we can see the pessimism in her eyes.)
For her part, the more clear-eyed Spanberger obviously believes that AOC’s words were real—and that Woke doesn’t work. She barely survived tough Republican attack ads in 2020, and just as obviously believes that she could lose in 2022, when the midterm elections are likely to tilt against the Democrats.
Other Democrats Speak Up
Spanberger is hardly alone in her concerns; the list of Democrats denouncing AOC-style Wokeness is long:
We can begin with Rep. James Clyburn of South Carolina, the savvy pol who delivered the Palmetto State to Joe Biden in the March primary, thereby saving his campaign. Two days after the election, Clyburn said, “If we are going to run on Medicare for All, defund the police, socialized medicine, we’re not going to win.” That seems clear enough, especially as the Republicans seem destined to gain at least a dozen House seats. And on the Sunday after the election, Clyburn got even more specific: Recalling the well-funded senatorial campaign of his protege, Jaime Harrison, who lost to Lindsey Graham, Clyburn lamented, “Jaime Harrison started to plateau when ‘Defund the Police’ showed up with a caption on TV right across his head.”
Clyburn was joined in his assessment by Rep. Cedric Richmond of Louisiana, a Biden campaign co-chair, as well as a former chair of the Congressional Black Caucus: “‘Defunding the Police’ is a title that hurts Democrats.”
Okay, so we’ve heard from the Atlantic coast, as well as the Gulf Coast. Now, speaking from the West coast, Oregon Rep. Kurt Schrader adds:
Democrats’ messaging is terrible . . . When [voters] see the far left that gets all the news media attention, they get scared. They’re very afraid that this will become a supernanny state, and their ability to do things on their own is going to be taken away.
Next up from the Heartland: Rep. Conor Lamb of Pennsylvania, who won a Republican seat two years ago; he specifically backed up his Virginia colleague:
Spanberger was talking about something many of us are feeling today: We pay the price for these unprofessional and unrealistic comments about a number of issues, whether it is about the police or shale gas. These issues are too serious for the people we represent to tolerate them being talked about so casually.
And speaking from the beating heart of Trump Country, West Virginia, Sen. Joe Manchin declared that the Democrats’ drift to socialism had “scared the bejeezus out of people.” Speaking of voters in his state and elsewhere, Manchin invoked the “s”-word:
They were scared of this socialism that was thrown out there by a radical part of the so-called left that was throwing all this out that basically scared the bejeezus out of people.
Manchin quickly volunteered that he wasn’t a socialist, and so that’s why he was fighting left-wing ideas such as the Green New Deal (which, of course, has been AOC’s signature issue, all $93 trillion of it, even if maybe she’s now backing away a little).
As an aide, it’s worth noting that Manchin’s kind of middle-of-the-road politics has worked well for him in the Mountaineer State. In between two Trump landslides, in 2016 and 2020, Manchin was comfortably reelected in 2018.
Indeed, as this author argued last year, Democrats who firmly reject socialism, while embracing middle-class economics and prudential social positions, can win elections, even in ruby-red states such as Kentucky and Louisiana.
Yet the problem faced by Democrats everywhere is that Ocasio-Cortez has such an electric presence—capable of energizing some while terrifying others—that she becomes a lightning rod; moreover, the thunderbolts that she attracts have a way of zapping less-electric Democrats who happen to be nearby.
This “AOC Effect” inspired Matt Bennett, co-founder of the centrist Democratic think tank Third Way, to tell the Financial Times that Democrats must take affirmative steps to insulate themselves from her message and persona. As Bennett said of the toxic relationship between New York’s Ocasio-Cortez and Virginia’s Spanberger, the former “doesn’t understand that Queens isn’t anything like exurban Richmond.” He added:
Fundamentally, the Democratic brand is not all that strong outside of areas that are very blue. Voters look at [moderate House Democrats], they look at who is running for the state house and they see Bernie Sanders or AOC or Nancy Pelosi.
Former presidential candidate Andrew Yang also critiqued AOC-type Wokism. Speaking of the public’s perception of the Woken, he noted:
In their minds the Democratic party unfortunately has taken on this role of the coastal urban elites who are more concerned about policing various cultural issues than improving their way of life.
We might observe that Yang ran on a creative platform, aimed at rethinking the social contract and helping the middle class, a platform holding substantial appeal to many Republicans. And while Yang’s actual candidacy fizzled in 2020—he had, after all, never held elective office prior to running for the presidency—his ideas have taken on a life of their own. In other words, he’s a crossover figure from whom both parties could learn—and he’s the opposite of Woke.
Once again, it’s worth emphasizing that all the figures quoted above are Democrats. Obviously, it’s not their first choice to go criticizing another Democrat—they’d rather, of course, be blasting Republicans—and yet the disappointment of the 2020 election has convinced them that they had better speak up.
The Summer of Wokeness: The Democrats’ Three-Month Retreat from Reality
We might recall that for a brief period, in the wake of the May 25 death of George Floyd, it seemed that the country would be swallowed by Wokeness. And yet, as with any mania, the excesses soon became apparent; even people who feared Donald Trump were more fearful of Antifa and Black Lives Matter.
The enduring reality, of course, is that the 330 million people in this country are not woke—and a few hundred thousand protesters and conspirators can’t change that fact, even if they are, admiringly covered by much of the media.
In fact, just three months into the Summer of Wokeness, on August 27, this author headlined a piece here at Breitbart News: “Riot Reality Is Biting the Democrats.” By then, the American people had had enough of catering to crime and violence. Indeed, the Democrats, most of them, were getting the message: From a political survival point of view, it’s a mistake to be associated with AOC, Antifa and BLM.
Interestingly, Biden himself always managed to keep his distance from the crazies; he walked a cautious line, denouncing “systemic racism” (a favored hot-button code-phrase for the left), while refusing to step further leftward. In early June, he declared, “No, I don’t support defunding the police.”
Yet of course, even as Biden was being careful, thereby guaranteeing his electoral viability nationwide, other Democrats, including AOC and her Squad, kept charging ahead. And that’s why Wokeness, whether Biden liked it or not, became a part of the Democratic brand, right up until Election Day.
And as we know, the perception of Wokeness undercut the Democrats, turning their hoped-for blue wave into, at most, a blue trickle.
The Hispanic Revolt
Here’s another post-election assessment, from Democratic strategist and scholar Ruy Teixeira:
I don’t think there’s any doubt that Wokeness, and the issues around that, helped brand the Democratic Party. The Democrats spent three months with a discourse dominated by the protests around George Floyd, racial justice and so on, culminating in the defund-and-abolish-the-police movement, which was basically of very little interest to the median voter. To the extent that the Democrats are identified with that rhetoric—from language-policing to terming the U.S. a White-supremacist society—the less able the party is to appeal to working-class voters of all races and moderate voters in general.
And of course, elections are won in the moderate middle.
Wokeness was particularly damaging to Democrats in Florida, a state which Biden lost, as did two of Democratic House incumbents. In the worlds of Democratic operative Alejandro Miyar, the results were “proof positive Democrats couldn’t rebut the socialist attack.”
Meanwhile, the U.K. tabloid Daily Mail offered a typically brash headline, “How American-Cubans’ fear of ‘socialists’ Biden and Kamala and backlash against Defund the Police and BLM helped seal crucial Sunshine State win for the Republicans.” The article quoted one unnamed top Democrat, “‘Defund the police’ killed us, We came out strong for BLM and then saw the Hispanic push back and went lukewarm and got killed.”
Nor was the Democratic erosion confined just to just Hispanics in Florida. The Wall Street Journal reported on a GOP surge in South Texas, taking note of the efforts of a Republican activist, Pat Saenz: “His elderly parents said they were persuaded to vote for Mr. Trump when Mr. Saenz showed them videos of social justice protests in northern cities turning violent.” ¡Ley y orden, amigos!
We might add that other issues also cited as helpful to Republicans were: the economy, protection of the oil industry, support for the police, a positive attitude toward Christianity, and opposition to abortion. In other words, a good chunk of Texas Hispanics want the exact opposite of AOC-style Wokism.
One Democrat who sees this clearly is Rep. Henry Cuellar, who represents South Texas. Appearing on Fox News—a channel many Democrats boycott—Cuellar was asked about the just-ended Democratic campaign: “When you say it didn’t play well, give me a specific example. What didn’t play well?” Cuellar answered, “Defunding the police.”
Matthew Yglesias, a progressive but clear-eyed observer, added these points:
Trump-voting Latinos in South Texas per anecdata typically are some combination of:
— Law enforcement officers or fossil fuel extraction workers of their families
— Business owners
— Gun enthusiasts or strong abortion opponents
Like people everywhere!
In the summary words of Dave Wasserman, writing for the nonpartisan Cook Political Report, “Democrats suffered a catastrophic erosion of Hispanic political support.”
In fact, Trump won the highest percentage of his vote from minorities than any Republican since 1960.
Left-Wing Media Keeps the Woke Faith
So can the Democrats fix their Wokeness problem? Can they present themselves as moderates when their fellow Democrats are presenting themselves as immoderate?
One challenge the would-be moderates face is that much of the left-wing media agrees with AOC, the Squad, and all the rest of their radical-chic agenda. To lefty Twitter, AOC is always the hero; so Twitter cheered when she tweeted an old photo of herself giving Manchin the cold stare.
It’s also worth pointing out that even if some Spanberger-type Democratic politicians lose their jobs, the media Woken won’t lose their jobs.
In other words, far-left media figures—such as MSNBC’s Joy Reid, the New York Times’s Charles Blow, FiveThirtyEight’s Clare Malone, and Mother Jones’s David Corn—are all still secure in their gigs, ever eager to heat up the ideological hothouse, even if their ideas can’t flourish in the cold reality of elections across the nation.
Indeed, the left-media force is so strong that ordinary Democratic elected officials across the nation must struggle to survive the resulting backlash–and sometimes they don’t. That’s what happened to Democratic Sen. Doug Jones in Alabama, just defeated for reelection by 20 points. As he told Politico, “We’re not some demonic cult like we’re portrayed to be.” Jones’ problem, of course, is that down in Alabama, he had to answer for all the left-wing nuttiness emerging from the Twitersphere. So while Jones might have been able, from time to time, to put some distance between himself and the hard left, he couldn’t put too much distance, since his funders were oftentimes aligned with the tweeters. And so Jones was left with a well-funded, but losing, campaign.
Meanwhile, Rep. Gregory Meeks of New York City has offered to go to Georgia for the January 5 runoff elections to explain to voters that Democrats don’t agree with left-wing activists on everything: “I don’t want anyone to think that I am trying to defund the police.” Meeks’ protestations notwithstanding, given the media’s relentless political correctness, it’s easy for voters to get the idea that Democrats support defunding the police.
In this supercharged Twitter environment, even once-respected figures can turn themselves into ideological hell-raisers. Here, for example, is the New York Times’s Paul Krugman, a Nobel-prize-winning-economist, tweeting like a Brooklyn intern: “Racism is Trump’s brand.”
That bald assertion inspired Matthew Yglesias, whom we met earlier, to tweet a tart response:
At a certain point one would think we have to admit that there is simply a large swathe of the population, including a substantial fraction of non-white people, who do not buy into progressive intellectuals’ conception of what racism is . . . you can’t really do politics on that basis.
And another Democratic media figure, Bill Scher, offered this blunt advice to AOC and her Squad:
The Squad members would earn a lot of good will if they said “Defund the Police” was a bad slogan, is not the Democratic Party position, and is never going to happen.
Yet interestingly, several newly elected Democrats have indicated an interest in joining the Squad. While it’s not clear that there’s a formal membership process, the fact that the Squad is growing, even perceptually, within the Democratic ranks is not a good harbinger for more moderate Dems.
Still, Squad or no Squad, the election results speak for themselves. Surveying the now-manifest reality that Woke doesn’t work, Eric Levitz, a progressive writing for New York magazine, headlined his piece, “The 2020 election was likely a nigh-catastrophic setback for progressive politics in the United States.”
Will AOC Get the Last Word? Or the Last Exit Out?
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez may have taken some hard knocks this year—from Democrats, to say nothing of Republicans—but she is, always, media-accessible.
In a November 7 interview with the New York Times, she responded to the attacks on her by attacking, in turn, many of her House colleagues—including Conor Lamb, mentioned above—for running campaigns that she deemed inadequate. Amusingly, she even lamented that embattled Democrats in swing districts had declined her offer to help.
Then, speaking of her own situation as an embattled icon of the hard left, she sighed, “It’s the incoming. It’s the stress. It’s the violence. It’s the lack of support from your own party. It’s your own party thinking you’re the enemy.”
Still, AOC doubled down on the Woke mantra: “We need to do a lot of anti-racist, deep canvassing in this country.” Right there, one can see a new GOP attack-ad in the making: Will the fill-in-the-blank Democrat join with AOC in anti-racist deep canvassing? What would such “treatment” entail?
Yet even as she seeks to purify the country, we see signs that the backlash from fellow Democrats is getting to her. When asked if she is considering a Senate run—she has been rumored as a possible Democratic primary challenger, either against Chuck Schumer in 2022, or against Kirsten Gillibrand in 2024—AOC answered, “I genuinely don’t know.” Then she added:
I’m serious when I tell people the odds of me running for higher office and the odds of me just going off trying to start a homestead somewhere—they’re probably the same.
AOC out on the frontier somewhere, homesteading? Stranger things have happened. However, most likely, she’ll stay in Congress, preaching to Woke choirs in cities and on university campuses. She might be toxic in national politics, but she will always get attention. Of course, that was also true of another pretty, lefty, face, a star who was forever on the fringe of actual politics: Jane Fonda.
Meanwhile, those Democrats looking to win in all but the leftmost districts will keep doing whatever they can to distance themselves from AOC. For most of America, she’ll be the political equivalent of the strange aunt from Queens, the one nobody wants a visit from.
Yes, in 2020, the truth has been found: The USA is not AOC, and AOC is not the USA. No wonder much of the joy within her has died.