The election of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in New York’s 14th Congressional District primary is another sign of the sharpening rifts in the Democratic Party that were exposed in the course of the campaign bringing Donald Trump to the presidency. In fact, both capitalist parties are in crisis.
Ocasio-Cortez, 28, a member of the Democratic Socialists of America who campaigned for Bernie Sanders in 2016, defeated 10-time incumbent Joseph Crowley, who was considered a possible replacement for House of Representatives Democratic Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.
Crowley is not a conservative Democrat. He was backed by the AFL-CIO. But Ocasio-Cortez portrayed him as beholden to corporate money and being out of touch with a district that has become more Black, Latino and immigrant over the years.
The party “establishment” was shocked, including many liberals who backed Hillary Clinton for president. They argue that Donald Trump must be stopped at all costs and that the way to do it is to put forward “centrist” candidates. To them, anyone who calls themselves a socialist hurts their chances of winning.
Others in the party, like Maxine Waters, say, “We can’t wait” and urge mob harassment of Trump officials, threatening free speech and freedom of association.
The Sanders’ wing of the party says Trump won the 2016 election by talking about the crisis facing working people and falsely claiming he was on their side. Sanders says moves to impeach Trump today are “premature.” He focuses on calling for campaign “reform” to prevent the influence of “big corporate” money, and organizing to take over the party, even if that means selecting candidates he says might lose elections.
Ocasio-Cortez barely mentioned Trump during her campaign. And when asked what she means by democratic socialism she offered the platitude that “no person in America should be too poor to live.”
The first plank of Ocasio-Cortez’s program is “Medicare for All,” a demand for health insurance, not health care. Like other kindred candidates she championed the slogan of “Abolish ICE” (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) and she sent out at least one tweet denouncing what she called the “genocidal” policy of Israel toward Hamas-inspired protesters in Gaza.
Trying to save the Democrats
In an interview with Jacobin, the magazine of a wing of the DSA, Ocasio-Cortez said that before the election her campaign focused on unaffiliated voters who she told “the only way we can win this election is if folks like you decide to register as a Democrat so we can count on your vote next year.”
That was the “hardest canvassing of the entire campaign,” Ocasio-Cortez said. “That was the most slammed doors I got. And I said, ‘Listen, I get it. I get why you don’t want to be a Democrat.’”
At a time when more and more working people are disillusioned with both capitalist parties, Ocasio-Cortez tries to draw them back into the Democratic fold. She offers a course that is the opposite of what working people need, relying on our own strength and fighting together to defend our class interests.
Instead, she lays out the goal of the Sanders’ wing of the party, getting other, younger, fresher “socialist” and “progressive” candidates elected to take over and rebuild the Democratic Party.
More mainstream party officials downplayed the District 14 upset. “Let’s not get yourself carried away,” Pelosi told the press. “They made the choice in one district.” The left is in nirvana over the Ocasio-Cortez victory. The DSA called the vote an “earthquake.” The International Socialist Organization called it “a stunning upset.”
But Ocasio-Cortez won the primary with just 15,897 votes in a district of 700,000 people of whom 214,750 are registered Democrats. Some earthquake!
The Republican Party is also in crisis as pro-Trump and anti-Trump forces jockey for position. Anti-Trump Republican “strategist” Alex Castellanos calls the Republicans a “broken party.” Trump has risen because “a broad slice of working-class voters fear the American dream has become the American game,” he wrote in Politico magazine.
The truth is that the crisis in both parties will continue because no wing of the capitalist class has — or can have — a solution to the unfolding crisis of their system today.