Opinion

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez gets it

Moderate Democrats are not equal to the problems bedeviling America

Over the next decade at most, if the United States is going to do its part in the international effort to combat the existential risk posed by climate change, it must conduct an all-out crash decarbonization program.

The biggest obstacle to that objective is the Republican Party. But the second-biggest is the moderate faction of the Democratic Party, which may grudgingly acknowledge climate change — and many other problems only somewhat less important — but is too corrupt and mealy-mouthed to do anything remotely sufficient about it.

That's why it's so heartening to see leftist champion Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D) considering backing a primary challenge to fellow New York Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D), who recently beat Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) to become the Democratic caucus chair in the House of Representatives. Nothing short of an all-out political struggle will topple the centrist Democrats — or perhaps convince them to start taking these problems seriously.

Let's recall some history. Back in 2009, the Democratic Party controlled the presidency, the House, and even had a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate for a few months. For awhile, parts of the party attempted to pass a pitifully weak cap-and-trade plan (like ObamaCare, it was designed to not infuriate too many interested parties) and did get something out of the House. But it died in the Senate on the opposition of moderate Democrats.

So climate policy moved to the executive branch, where nothing much happened for over five years in large part because Obama's neoliberal regulatory czar in his first term deliberately threw sand in the gears of the entire regulatory apparatus. Then we got the Clean Power Plan, which at bottom was … another inadequate cap-and-trade scheme. Probably better than nothing, but not good enough to actually head off the problem.

And then Obama's handpicked successor lost to a reality TV buffoon, who promptly ripped up the plan.

I believe Joe Biden is right — just about anybody could beat President Trump in 2020. But America and the world cannot afford another repeat of this ignominious centrist failure. Corrupt moderate Democrats cannot be allowed to sandbag the next attempt at climate policy (or health care, or financial regulation, etc.) to please their big donor handlers or blinkered ideology.

So who is Jeffries? While he is not so bad as the Blue Dogs, he is a close ally of infamously corrupt, incompetent New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D), and has been for years. He's a huge fundraiser who gets virtually all of his money from large personal contributions and political committees. He's a big charter school fan — at a time when charters are increasingly unpopular among Democrats.

We should also remember that Joe Crowley — the New York machine politician that AOC beat in the first place — previously held the exact position that Jeffries now occupies. Essentially, when House Democrats lost one big money machine fundraiser, they quickly replaced him with another.

Many rank-and-file Democratic voters don't like this sort of infighting. "Can't we focus on defeating Trump?" they often ask. But not only must this happen before the party takes power again, it's also something moderates — many of whom patently loathe the left — do routinely. When Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) made a bid to be elected chairman of the Democratic National Committee in 2017, moderates stood up a candidate to run against him and pushed Islamophobic oppo research against him. In discussions about the 2020 primary, moderates are already accusing Bernie Sanders of a devious conspiracy.

And Jeffries himself beat Lee partly on the back of whispered insinuations from Crowley that Lee had donated money to AOC (she had, but only after the latter won her primary contest). Incidentally, that is a good insight into how moderate Democrats actually feel about AOC and the rest of the left, when they aren't desperately trying to appropriate some of her celebrity.

Politics ain't beanbag, as the saying goes. And given the appalling track record of moderate Democrats, they should expect nothing less. Just don't fall for this Cristiano Ronaldo shtick of taking weepy dives when the cameras are on and furiously putting the boot in when they are not.

It's going to be a fight, so let's have that fight — as AOC would have it, in fair elections.

Editor's note: A previous version of this article misstated the direction of the donation between Lee and Ocasio-Cortez. It has been fixed. We regret the error.

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