Watching the “Squad” at work is a lesson in radical politics. Radical politics is a dog-eat-dog endeavor, and it should be no surprise that the activities of the Squad line up that way. But superficially, it can look odd.
As impeachment comes to the fore in the Democrat-controlled House – a consummation members of the Squad have been pushing for – the figurehead is now distancing herself from it. Not with a trumpet fanfare, of course, but with a quiet “meh.”
Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D., NY) told supporters during a town hall in Queens on Thursday that impeachment proceedings against President Trump were “boring” and distracted from the goal of “social and economic and racial justice in the United States of America.”
“He should have been impeached a long time ago. I’m over it. And so that’s how I feel about it because we’ve got work to do,” she said, before going on to argue that “impeachment of this president is the short-term action we need to preserve our democracy, but if we are really going to thrive as a country, we need to make long-term investments.”
Why would Ocasio-Cortez do that? No, it’s not because she has a short attention span. It’s because her backers have gotten what they wanted: Pelosi, Schiff, Nadler, and the other superannuated Democratic careerists putting themselves on the line for impeachment.
Pelosi held off for a long time, but now the fading lights of the legacy Democratic establishment are going to carry the water on it. They’ve been leveraged into doing so. And they’re going to suffer the blowback.
Why would AOC’s leftist backers do that – leverage the leading Democrats into crawling out precariously onto a political limb?
They wouldn’t, unless their objective were to remake the Democratic Party in a radical image. There have been signs of that objective for years now, as state Democratic parties have been squeezed out of decision-making and control over funds and constituent lists, and the national party has been left a financial wreck, heavily dependent on a relatively small group of likeminded, big-dollar donors (i.e., Democracy Alliance).
That’s also the objective we can read into this sudden loss of interest by Ms. Ocasio-Cortez in the impeachment effort. The impeachment effort might bring down Trump, although probably not. But it will assuredly bring down the Democrats who invest everything in it.
Such Democrats are the ones with their own support infrastructure and war chests; the ones who haven’t been beholden to Democracy Alliance to keep themselves in office. They obstruct the project of remaking the Democratic Party.
The “why” of their investment in impeachment is a topic for another post. It’s not a “why” explained by abstract principle or theory; it’s about their lifetime investment in a system of money and power. There are Republicans invested in it too. Trump’s efforts to clean house in the U.S. government threaten the investments of many.
But the Squad is backed by a different investor class, and in a different way. It is far less tethered than legacy Washington is to constituent business interests, K Street, and P.O. box think-tanks and “consulting firms.” Its money comes from Qatar, Steyer, Soros, yes, but not via the Brookings Institution or Ford Foundation route; it runs with CAIR, Women’s March, Black Lives Matter.
This class consciously cultivates an “intersection”-themed front. It may bang the drums opportunely for an incendiary, Mickey-and-Judy show-in-the-barn like Impeachment: The Movie, but what it stays on message for is entirely different. It stays on message for its own radical agenda; e.g., catastrophic “Climate Change,” “No Borders,” “Medicare for All,” “social justice.”
Echoes of that reality were apparent in AOC’s recent town hall chat. They’re also heard in her new venture: a package of “Just Society” bills (obviously intended to evoke the “Great Society” theme of LBJ’s china-breaking 1960s legislative package) that addresses a list of things from rent control to federal benefits for illegals.
The purpose of setting AOC to this seemingly off-timed task is to move the needle on public – and Democratic Party – dialogue about progressive-left themes. Remember how noticeable it was that her Green New Deal was actually, no-kidding insane, and yet virtually all of the Democrats’ nearly two dozen early presidential candidates embraced a number of its key specifics. Even the front-runners, the big names – the power names – submitted themselves to the protracted derangement of a seven-hour, serial-candidates town hall on “climate change,” broadcast by CNN to a microscopic audience and doing not a single candidate any political good.
In fact, as recounted at the link above, the DNC didn’t want to have any such event, but the candidates agreed to participate.
That’s a needle well and truly moved. Ocasio-Cortez’s backers want to achieve the same effect with the rest of their agenda. The Squad was also instrumental in moving the needle on impeachment talk. But impeachment, finally on the table, can now be left to Nancy Pelosi and the old-school veterans.
The Squad’s backers need someone who auditioned for and won the part of “public face” of hip radicalism in the House of Representatives, and AOC’s the one who fits that description. Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar are more of a pick-up game, each having come through a specialized pipeline involving changing demographics and greater (if also specialized) political visibility before their runs for office. Ayanna Pressley is less exotic in general; known for “social justice” activism, to be sure, but also with a more standard-issue political paper trail before her run for Congress.
The “Plus 3” have themes they’re expected by their own backers to flog. But in terms of driving radical stakes in Democratic Party politics, they also have roles to fill. Tlaib, for example, enlivened the debate last week with a nervy riff on arresting and incarcerating Trump officials.
For one slice of constituency out there, it’s a big emotional “goose” to savor such imaginings. Rashida “Impeach the mother****er” Tlaib is a reliable go-to for that kind of incendiary rhetoric, which has its uses.
To remain effective, the Squad shouldn’t position itself to be hit by impeachment backlash – and notice, again, how it has dropped off the radar in terms of public commentary on the topic – but it can profitably keep the public mindset riled up.
Ilhan Omar has only to be her ineffable self to keep things riled up, as she demonstrated during a recent appearance with Samantha Bee by complaining that her critics hate her because she’s “one beautiful [read: ‘intersectional’] package.” The furnace of “social justice” resentments must be kept stoked. Impeachments come and go, whether as tragedy or as farce, but resentment is politically evergreen in the human heart.
Notably, Ocasio-Cortez does seem to have been selected to make one very particular move over the weekend. Out of the blue, on Saturday, she accused Trump of “deliberate, atrocious, targeted antisemitism towards Chairman Schiff.”
Understand that Trump is engaged in deliberate, atrocious, targeted antisemitism towards Chairman Schiff.
Then ask yourself why no one cares to denounce it – esp when his accusation of it towards others drove full news cycles earlier this year. https://t.co/bjEw6eb7Md
— Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@AOC) October 5, 2019
She did this in connection with an article at the Intercept accusing Trump of anti-Semitism because he lambasted Adam Schiff and Jerrold Nadler (in a tweet in which Trump also mentioned “AOC Plus 3 and many more”) for getting into a hyperpoliticized impeachment lather. That article, by Mehdi Hasan, appeared on Friday, 4 October, and seemed to miss the point that Schiff and Nadler were called out by name because in their House roles, they have done the lion’s share of water-carrying and script-writing for the impeachment reality show.
I have actually never, even once, heard Adam Schiff referred to, either positively or negatively, as Jewish. He certainly could be Jewish; if so, he doesn’t seem to make a big deal of it. I think that by far the overwhelming majority of Americans simply don’t care, one way or the other, and never even thought about it. Even if you’re determined to think Trump is dog-whistling, there’s no one to dog-whistle to in the inexplicit manner of a tweet with no scintilla of anti-Semitism charging it.
But the sudden burst from the Left of anti-Semitism references began to seem more like the placement of a theme, when the Israeli news outlet Haaretz, known to have a very far-left editorial bent, published an article about Schiff later on 5 October with this awkwardly over-larded headline: “The Jewish American Lawmaker Who Has Become Trump’s Greatest Enemy — and May Yet Bring Him Down.”
That’s an exercise in weirdly gratuitous headline-stuffing. Haaretz could have left both of the adjectives off “Lawmaker” in the headline and achieved an effect that would be (a) better headline-writing, and (b) more sensible in general. A lawmaker who becomes Trump’s greatest enemy isn’t going to be a Peruvian lawmaker, after all. That he’s American need not be specified to avoid confusion.
If the lawmaker were a Jewish person with high-profile ties to Israel or participation in Jewish civic groups, it might make sense to mention that he’s Jewish in the headline, depending on the article’s content.
But it has an “off” sound to it, appearing from out of nowhere. Considering that Schiff being Jewish has never come up in U.S. media coverage of his thoroughly conventional career in Congress, it was objectively unnecessary to mention it in the headline. It’s simply not a political issue in the United States that Adam Schiff may be Jewish.
The obvious conclusion to draw is that there is a media effort to make it an issue. And the AOC tweet offers the clue as to why. Making it an issue lays the groundwork – groundwork that wasn’t there before – for smearing Schiff’s critics, with shameful opportunism, as anti-Semites.
Watch the Squad. Watch what they do, and watch what is being done through them. It’s like watching Bolsheviks at work between February and October of 1917. It’s impossible to prophesy right now what will happen to the Democratic Party; I don’t wish the Democrats the ill that may befall them, and the Republicans have plenty of woes of their own. I hope and pray mainly for a safe landing for America at the end of all this.