Democrats spurn AOC and uplift Bill Clinton at the party's own risk | Ross Barkan

Democratic party elites hope to marginalize the leftists who seek radical and necessary change

Though the traditional theater of the Democratic national convention is gone, the screaming delegates and balloon drops swapped for an endless procession of sleek videography, who speaks and for how long is still relevant to how the largest national party in America presents itself to voters. Embarrassed in 2016, the Democratic National Committee is trying once more to defeat Donald Trump and is proving, at least so far, it has learned nothing from its catastrophic failure.

On Tuesday night, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, perhaps the most famous first-term congresswoman in American history and a leader of the progressive movement, spoke for just over 90 seconds to a national audience. Former president Bill Clinton was allotted almost the same amount of time. Mike Bloomberg, the former Republican mayor of New York City and a failed Democratic presidential candidate will speak more than Ocasio-Cortez this week.

Speaking slots are not the stuff that drive national campaigns. But the priorities of Democratic elites are clear: they wish the Democratic party will not transform into the party of Ocasio-Cortez, where unapologetic calls for universal healthcare, a real plan to combat climate change, and a federal jobs guarantee are all assumed, without question, to belong to a party platform. Consigning Ocasio-Cortez, the biggest young star the Democrats have, to a mere minute of airtime is further evidence that those who control the Democratic party hope to marginalize the leftists who seek radical and necessary change.

For now, Democrats may get away with it. Trump is so noxious and inherently destructive that all Democrats across the ideological spectrum will unite this fall to try to defeat him. Joe Biden’s tired campaign, perhaps the most forgettable Democratic effort in modern history, may well be enough to elect him the 46th president of the United States, assuming Democratic turnout surges on the day so many voters get a chance to chase Trump from public life. Hillary Clinton’s tepid 2016 campaign could not inspire enough voters in key states, but Biden will have four years of incendiary incompetence and bigotry to run against.

What’s dispiriting, but not surprising, is how Democratic elites continue to believe Bill Clinton should be exhumed every four years to address the nation. Along with George W Bush and Ronald Reagan, it’s Clinton who is to blame for the hollowing out of America over the last 30 years. As a triangulating “new” Democrat, he cemented the Reagan legacy by gutting welfare, punishing millions of the most vulnerable Americans. His belief in free trade chased well-paying, blue-collar jobs beyond the American border, crushing factory towns. And his championing of draconian criminal justice policy turbocharged the era of mass incarceration.

It is ironic Clinton was called upon to speak during the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, brought about by a once-in-a-century pandemic. None of the economic dogma Clinton and his allies preached can be embraced today if the nation is to be rescued. Clinton and his ilk obsessed over cutting the deficit and shrinking government spending. The New Deal era – of massive, popular public programs to aid the workers most vulnerable to economic downturns – was utterly repudiated.

Even Biden, a disciple of the same anti-progressive movement, has acknowledged only trillions of dollars in federal spending will turn the economy around. He cannot afford to take advice from Clinton anymore, not with surging unemployment. Clinton represents a past no Democrat should want to return to.

The embrace of Bloomberg and John Kasich is particularly blinkered, in light of an alternate universe in which a 30-year-old political superstar is granted a prime-time speaking slot to outline where Democrats should actually go. Kasich was an anti-union, anti-choice governor who has reinvented himself as a doddering anti-Trump moderate, mostly complaining that Trump is too uncouth to lead a Republican party that should, when this is all done, get back to its austerity roots.

Bloomberg, a billionaire oligarch who failed in his hostile takeover of the Democratic party earlier this year, really has nothing else to say. Four years ago, speaking at the Democratic convention in Philadelphia, he berated Trump as a con man, winning plaudits from vapid party elders who believed the American people would be moved by the spectacle of a rich man criticizing another rich man. Despite wasting more than a billion dollars on his presidential campaign – imagine the better ways that money could have been spent – Bloomberg managed a single primary victory. If the Democratic party continues to uplift voices like Clinton and Bloomberg while spurning Ocasio-Cortez, it will truly get what it deserves.

  • Ross Barkan is a writer based in New York City


Ross Barkan

The GuardianTramp

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