The political media is abuzz about the implications for Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s shocking win over fourth ranking Democrat long-term incumbent Joe Crowley by a 15% margin in the New York primary election.
Ocasio-Cortez represents in many ways the new face of progressive politics growing in strength on the left flank of the Democratic Party. She is a young woman of color whose campaign platform included Medicare for All, abolishing Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), a universal jobs guarantee, protection for Dreamers and a “clean campaign finance” system. You couldn’t have written a more liberal platform if Bernie Sanders – for whom Ocasio-Cortez worked as an organizer in 2016 – had written it himself. Late Tuesday night, Sanders said in a statement: “She took on the entire local Democratic establishment in her district and won a very strong victory. She demonstrated once again what progressive grassroots politics can do.”
We should not over over-interpret the win though. Although it is definitely encouraging that a young, progressive Latina who identifies with the Democratic Socialists of America won, it does not necessarily mean that the leadership will follow suit. Nancy Pelosi is downplaying the wider implications of the election, suggesting that it is peculiar to that particular district. You can see the contempt with which the party establishment views democracy in the comment made by Bronx Borough president, Ruben Diaz, Jr. that “It’s unfortunate that [Crowley] had a primary. We need him in Washington DC. Washington is about consistency and seniority.” For such people, elections are such a nuisance.
Here is Ocasio-Cortez at the moment she realized that she had won.
One thing that has not been discussed as much is that she spoke out against the killings by Israel in Gaza, tweeting: “This is a massacre. I hope my peers have the moral courage to call it such. No state or entity is absolved of mass shootings of protesters. There is no justification. Palestinian people deserve basic human dignity, as anyone else. Democrats can’t be silent about this anymore.” When asked in an interview why she took this stand, she “compared the Gaza protesters to civil rights activists in the United States” and added:
“I think I was primarily compelled on moral grounds because I could only imagine if 60 people were shot and killed in Ferguson. Or if 60 people were shot and killed in the West Virginia teachers’ strikes. The idea that we are not supposed to talk about people dying when they are engaging in political expression just really moved me,”
The Democratic party establishment, including Crowley, is solidly in the pocket of the Israel lobby. One of the party’s big megadonors is billionaire Haim Saban and he makes no bones about the fact that his main issue is support for the Israeli government and its atrocities and he is quite willing to chastise Democratic politicians whom he feels are insufficiently subservient to the demands of the lobby. He lashed out at 13 senators who had signed on to a Bernie Sanders-initiated letter that was critical of Israel’s “continuing control of Gaza’s air, sea and northern, southern and eastern borders, and its restrictions on the freedom of movement of people, legitimate goods and equipment in and out of Gaza, have made the humanitarian situation worse.”
The Israeli lobby makes it a deliberate policy to target for defeat any candidate who is seen as not sufficiently subservient to Israel and have had some success in the past. You can be sure that Ocasio-Cortez is now in their sights. Her district is a safe Democratic one so they will likely lean on the party leadership to not give her any important committee assignments and run a primary challenger against her in two years. But it will not be as easy for the lobby to exert pressure as it was before. As Philip Weiss writes, it used to be that the Democratic party marched in lockstep with the lobby. Not any longer. The center-left of the party has broken away, led by its younger and more diverse members.