Radical, run-of-the-mill Democrat, or neither?
Yesterday, New York Magazine published Freddie DeBoer’s stinging critique of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s career in Congress. DeBoer, a committed Marxist, takes a dim view of her and the broader Left movement she has helped lead, in an unofficial capacity, since 2019. I agree, broadly, with DeBoer’s criticisms, though I don’t believe AOC has failed leftists nearly as much as he argues. What this piece accomplishes, though, is something worthy: a thoughtful, left-oriented consideration of AOC’s four and a half years in the House. It raises uncomfortable questions that progressives, leftists, socialists, and the left-journalism establishment must consider—the same establishment that has flocked to her defense again and again.
Let me state this up front: I understand the fury here, though I soundly reject it. I hate the ad hominem—DeBoer has been a writer and activist for the last two decades, and the idea that he has written something at the “10th grade level” is absurd—and find the claim that New York published DeBoer to “do numbers” somewhat ironic. I actually can’t think of tweets better designed to do numbers on the platform formerly known as Twitter than these. Wild celebrations and aggressive defenses of Ocasio-Cortez are rocket fuel for social media. I would know; I’ve done enough of them myself. And I’ve felt genuinely motivated, as a millenial writer who once ran for office on a leftist platform and won an endorsement from AOC herself, to join the fray because it was undoubtedly invigorating to watch the Queens Democratic Party boss suffer a political humiliation few saw coming. Youngish reporters and activists see something of Ocasio-Cortez in themselves. They imagine, if they ever won such power, they’d behave in a similar way. Among this crowd—usually reporters for online news outlets—criticism of AOC is verboten.
DeBoer is right that his critics, largely, didn’t spend time contesting the substance of his claims, though they are correct that he could have accounted for her voting record in a more complete way. Ocasio-Cortez did make a spectacle of herself voting “present” and crying on the floor of Congress as other Democrats chose to fund Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system, but she was also one of a vanishingly few lawmakers to vote against a resolution that declared Israel “isn’t a racist or apartheid state.” DeBoer’s contention is that Ocasio-Cortez postures as a radical but is not all that disruptive to the Democratic establishment. That vote, though symbolic, went against a united Democrat front. Joe Crowley would not have done that. It’s inarguable, though, that Ocasio-Cortez’s criticism of Biden’s immigration policy has been much more muted. There are still “kids in cage,” brutal deportations, and nothing resembling the nearly-open border many progressives like Ocasio-Cortez longed for in 2018 and 2019. It’s not clear how Biden’s ICE differs from Trump’s ICE. Biden’s rhetoric is kinder, but is that enough? For a politician like AOC, it shouldn’t be.