Ocasio-Cortez Splitting The Democratic Party In More Ways Than One

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Joe Simonson Media Reporter
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The so-called “future of the Democratic Party,” in the words of DNC chairman Tom Perez, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is causing more inter-party disruption than perhaps she even intended.

Since her primary victory over Democratic heavyweight Joe Crowley in June, both the media and various left-wing activist groups have framed Ocasio-Cortez as a model for Democrats nationwide. But plenty within the party aren’t biting.

Former Democratic vice presidential candidate and Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman wrote an op-ed Tuesday urging New Yorkers to vote for Crowley on Election Day, who will still be on the ballot as the nominee of the Working Families Party.

“Because the policies Ms. Ocasio-Cortez advocates are so far from the mainstream, her election in November would make it harder for Congress to stop fighting and start fixing problems,” Lieberman wrote.

And while Lieberman is frequently chastised by many on the left for being a moderate, his feelings are shared by a number of progressives like Sen. Tammy Duckworth of Illinois.

“I think that you can’t win the White House without the midwest,” Duckworth told CNN’s “State of the Union” in late June. “And I don’t think that you can go too far to the left and still win the midwest.”

Even the reliably liberal Vox noted that “centrist liberals are still necessary” if Democrats want to make any inroads outside of the coasts.

“Not every insurgent or left-wing candidate will win in the 2018 midterms. Democrats must be strategic about their choice of candidates; a left-wing candidate could sink a seat that might otherwise be turned blue,” Michael Brenes wrote for Vox.

Yet, it appears that party leaders want it both ways. On one hand, as Perez noted shortly after her win, the idea of a younger generation of candidates energizing the base could help Democrats take back power from the GOP. (RELATED: As Her Party Scrambles For Unity, Rising Star Ocasio-Cortez Seeks To Oust Another Legacy Democrat)

On the other, simply banking on a candidate’s youth and radicalism (Ocasio-Cortez is a proud dues-paying member of the New York City Democratic Socialists of America) can come at the cost of coherent policies, forget about whether they’re too radical for certain districts.

Conservatives enjoyed watching Ocasio-Cortez squirm on PBS’s “Firing Line” on July 13, where she failed to articulate her position on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

In her interview, she professed support for “Israel’s right to exist” and a “two-state solution.”

While many Americans would believe such positions count as Ocasio-Cortez’s most reasonable beliefs, many on the left who supported her primary candidacy particularly because of her hostility towards Israel, expressed betrayal.

The Palestinian activist outlet Electronic Intifada accused Ocasio-Cortez as “cower[ing] before [the] Israeli lobby.”

“One lesson Ocasio-Cortez needs to learn quickly is that attempting to appease the Israel lobby is futile. The pressure on her is not going to let up unless she totally surrenders to the most extreme pro-Israel positions,” EI’s Ali Abunimah wrote.

This sentiment was shared with a number of other leftists and Palestinian activists, including Corey Robinson in Jacobin, an American socialist magazine.

“[Her interview on PBS was] a bad moment for the Left but it was also a lost opportunity: to speak to people who are not leftists about a major issue in a way that sounds credible, moral and politically wise,” Robinson wrote.

Other activists echoed conservative criticisms of Ocasio-Cortez by suggesting her performance on Firing Line was nothing more than evidence of her ignorance.

“One of the first things that excited me about [Ocasio-Cortez] was when she called Israeli murder of Gazan protesters a ‘massacre’ and urged Democrats to no longer be silent,” left-wing journalist Glenn Greenwald tweeted on Tuesday. “But when I interviewed her, I saw her knowledge of the various complex Israel/Palestine issues was rudimentary.”

Therein lies the problem with Ocasio-Cortez. While so many leftists and radicals placed their hopes and dreams into her candidacy, any deviation from their policies will be deemed a betrayal.

Robinson went as far as labeling her a “fraud.”

“[Her interview is] confirmation that she is no real leftist, that she is turning right, that she’s been absorbed into the Democratic Party machine, that she’s a fake, a phony, and a fraud.”

Thus Ocasio-Cortez could risk alienating herself from the mainstream Democratic Party and constantly finding herself unable to placate the demands of the radical base.

While many activists thought Ocasio-Cortez’s victory could signal the beginning of a remaking of the Democratic Party, they may soon find that the biggest division lies within their own ranks.

And keep in mind: She hasn’t even won yet.

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