Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and other so-called progressives exemplify the dangers of depending on the Democratic Party to enact any meaningful change.
Since the election of Barack Obama in 2008, Black Agenda Report has been the most consistent voice on the Left sounding the alarm about Democratic Party bankruptcy. The late founder and executive editor of the publication, Glen Ford, rightly called the Democratic Party the more effective evil serving the Lords of Capital in their reign of terror against the working class and oppressed masses. Late managing editor of BAR, Bruce Dixon, routinely pointed out that the Democratic Party made tepid promises to get elected but refused to enact a progressive policy agenda once in possession of majorities in Congress.
It was impossible to predict, however, that the reign of Barack Obama would precipitate a crisis of legitimacy in the two-party duopoly after his diligent service to the Lords of Capital had reduced much of the Left in the United States to a state of political stagnation. The economic discontent expressed in the Occupy Wall Street movement gave rise to Bernie Sanders’s presidential campaign in 2016. Thus began the ongoing split within the Democratic Party between an ever-consolidating establishment and a growing cohort of left-ish "democratic socialists." The Democratic National Committee’s deliberate takedown of Bernie Sanders’ initial bid for the Democratic Party nomination gave rise to “the Squad,” a group of four women of color who adopted the Sanders agenda and successfully won Congressional seats in 2018.
One member of the Squad who has ripped whatever mask was left hanging on the Democratic Party is Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC). AOC has done a masterful job bursting asunder whatever illusions existed that the Democratic Party can operate as anything other than an engine for war and austerity. AOC attended the $30,000 per ticket Met Gala event in mid-September wearing a dress draped with the message, "tax the rich." This eye-grabbing moment prompted a good number of liberals to applaud AOC for bringing a progressive message on taxation into an elite space. However, others on the Left questioned why the self-described "democratic socialist" would tout a message already popular with majorities of the country instead of expressing solidarity with Black Lives Matter activists protesting outside of the Gala or, better yet, taking more meaningful action to pressure Medicare for All and the rest of the Squad's so-called progressive agenda.
AOC followed up this act by changing her vote on $1 billion in additional U.S. funding for Israel's Iron Dome from "nay" to "present." The sudden decision appeared to be encouraged by House speaker Nancy Pelosi. Photos went viral of AOC visibly in tears following an encounter with Pelosi on the floor of the House. AOC has routinely coined herself a champion of human rights for the Palestinian people yet abdicated her responsibility to oppose additional funding to the settler colonial regime currently colonizing Palestine. To make matters worse, AOC painted herself as the victim in her response to the backlash by insinuating that a climate of “volatility” forced her to make a decision in haste. She did not, however, apologize to the Palestinian people and their allies for the vote.
While AOC has received her fair share of bad-faith criticism from the political right, she has yet to answer any of her good-faith critics from the left. It is thus quite easy to dismiss her most recent errors as worthy of criticism but not total condemnation. However, history is a stubborn thing. History says that AOC is not an innocent bystander in the establishment’s ongoing effort to sheep-dog the Left into the Democratic Party on the one hand and satisfy the interests of the rich on the other. In 2018, AOC called the deceased warmongering Republican John McCain an "unparalleled example of human decency" and expressed admiration for Nancy Pelosi's activist credentials. She then collaborated with Republican Senator Ted Cruz in 2019 on a letter demanding that the National Basketball Association (NBA) pledge support for the U.S. color revolution in Hong Kong.
AOC has tacitly supported imperialism by regurgitating the State Department's narrative of humanitarian imperialism on nearly every major instance of U.S. aggression. She has labeled Venezuela a "failed state" but has yet to demand an end to U.S. sanctions under Joe Biden. On Palestine, AOC has offered a variety of word salads when questioned on her opposition to Israeli colonialism. She has also professed her loyalty to the CIA-backed Dalai Lama. These instances of capitulation to imperialism have only aggravated frustrations held by progressives and leftists who rebuke her tendency to privilege spectacle over meaningful political action in the fight for a so-called “progressive” agenda.
AOC has recently been thrown praise by supporters for standing up to establishment Democrats seeking to tank Biden’s “Build Back Better” spending plan. Yet neither AOC, the Squad, nor the rest of the Progressive Caucus has been willing to take the political action necessary to meet the moment of crisis. AOC refused to force a vote on Medicare for All in exchange for Nancy Pelosi’s House Speaker vote and even suggested that Jimmy Dore and others who demanded that she do so were engaging in violence. AOC and the Squad’s so-called protest against the removal of the eviction moratorium did not include demands for universal housing, healthcare, or income during a deadly pandemic. Furthermore, AOC and the rest of the Democratic Party has been unwilling to take the streets to oppose the Biden administration’s mass deportation of undocumented immigrants, privatization of the Postal Service, and abandonment of police reform but has been more than willing to call Joe Biden a “good faith” partner in the Democratic Party.
AOC offers a particularly difficult but useful lesson on the need to dump the duopoly. In the final analysis, no member of the Democratic Party is equipped to lead the United States out of the abyss of its systemic decline. For successive administrations, progressives and leftists across the political spectrum have allowed the Democratic Party’s massive escalation of war and austerity to go unchallenged. While support for progressive policies has risen among the impoverished majority in tandem with a new wave of “left” sounding politicians, none of this has changed the overall character of the Democratic Party. The Democratic Party remains the more effective evil of U.S. imperialism—a system which only independent, grassroots political organization can defeat.
Danny Haiphong is a contributing editor to Black Agenda Report and co-author of the book “American Exceptionalism and American Innocence: A People's History of Fake News- From the Revolutionary War to the War on Terror.” He can be reached at [email protected]. Follow his work on Twitter @SpiritofHo and on YouTube as co-host with Margaret Kimberley of Black Agenda Report Present's: The Left Lens. You can support Danny on Patreon by clicking this link.