Search Comment Central
Shutterstock 12891282881

The futility of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez

Ed Clements
May 13, 2021

When exciting young Democrat Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was elected in the 2018 US midterms, there was great hope that this would kickstart progressive politics in the US. Three years on, Ed Clements writes that in reality little has changed in the US Democratic Party.

When young-progressive Justice Democrat (JD) Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez defeated 10-term incumbent Joe Crowley in the 2018 midterm election primaries, many people saw the event as a significant juncture for progressive politics in the US. Almost three years on, while progressive representation in Congress grows steadily, the hope for any real political realignment within the Democratic Party appears further away than ever. The overwhelming aim of the JDs, unbeholden to large corporate donors, was to push the Democratic Party to the left. But it is now abundantly clear to anyone that, rather than reshaping the Democratic Party, the Party has changed and assimilated the JD.

With so few truly progressive members in Congress the path to achieving any genuine legislative victories seemed remote. Their first real opportunity to use their leverage presented itself during Nancy Pelosi's re-election bid to be named Speaker of the House. Given the Democrats' small majority and that the possibility of garnering any Republican support was virtually unthinkable, the progressive members held the balance in the election. By withholding their votes, or more likely voting for an alternative candidate, the JDs could have single-handedly prevented Pelosi from becoming Speaker. A perfect opportunity for the progressive alliance to negotiate a bargain, then, and perhaps to bring forward their signature policy Medicare for All for a vote?

This was certainly the view of much of the left-wing political commentariat on various social media channels. Naturally, as is often the case with the left, this sparked a significant division between those advocating for forcing the vote for Medicare for All (#forcethevote) and the more establishment Democrat supporters who did not believe in the merits of the strategy. Perhaps surprisingly, Ocasio-Cortez and her fellow progressives in Congress took the latter view.

Of course, the chances of Medicare for All actually receiving enough votes to pass was enormously slim but 'Force the Vote' advocates saw two fundamental advantages to their approach. Firstly, there would be a public record of all the Democratic and Republican candidates who denied the public universal healthcare in the middle of a global pandemic, setting up some favourable future primary opportunities. Secondly, it would allow for an already very popular policy to receive increased attention on the national stage, undoubtedly dominating media news cycles for a number of weeks.

Unsurprisingly, however, on the 3rd of January Pelosi was narrowly re-elected as Speaker of the House with not a single JD defection. Given the Speaker has the authority to decide if and when bills reach the floor, a further opportunity for a vote on Medicare for All now seems hopelessly distant.

Nevertheless, during the fall out, Ocasio-Cortez instructed her loyal 12 million Twitter following that progressive leverage would be better utilised in getting a $15 minimum wage passed in Biden's first 100 days, another key progressive policy. However, given that this was one of Biden's central policy proposals in the general election, this did very little to placate the anger of 'Force the Vote' advocates who had already felt let down by their representatives in Congress. Perhaps ironically, Biden has seemingly reneged on his promise to introduce a $15 minimum wage, representing yet another significant failure for progressive Democrats.

Despite the colossal failures and a host of embarrassing concessions elected progressives appear surprisingly optimistic. Ocasio-Cortez in particular seems intent on courting favour with establishment Democrats, recently calling Pelosi the 'mama bear of the Democratic Party' and describing Biden as having 'exceeded expectations' of progressives. Fellow progressive Rep. Pramila Jayapal could be heard recently on CNN gushing over how Biden 'has risen to the moment' in his first 100 days.

Perhaps more instructive of the monumental failure of elected progressives came from fellow squad member Rep. Cori Bush when she explained recently that squad members would not use their leverage by voting as a block, explaining astoundingly that "you vote alone." Quite how the members of the squad are aiming to force their progressive agenda without using their collective leverage is anyone's guess. What is clear is that if progressives in Congress think they are going to extract concessions out of the Biden administration through flattery they are sorely mistaken and are simply revealing themselves to be fundamentally ineffective political operatives. Those on the left of the Democratic Party are rapidly losing faith in the candidates they worked so hard to get elected.

The left-leaning voters were instructed by their leaders in Congress to vote for Biden, assuring them that during his premiership progressives would push his agenda to the left in pursuit of materially progressive legislative victories. At present, progressives are failing to ensure Biden even stays true to his fairly uninspiring campaign promises. It is therefore increasingly difficult not to endorse the view growing amongst members of progressive grassroots politics that the JDs have been swooned by their newfound access to the corridors of power. The Democratic Party has subsumed the JD, providing the Party with an electorally advantageous 'woke' glow while only serving to further increase the establishment Democrats' stranglehold on the Party. The Justice Democrats experiment has failed spectacularly, and the veneer of progressiveness has been preferred to substantive progress.

Edward Clements is a recent MA graduate in History and Politics from University College London. He specialised in 20th century US history with a particular interest in the civil rights movement. He previously studied Philosophy and History at Newcastle University.
Most Popular
Image: Pexels / Olga Lioncat
The economy is not doing...
Max Mosley 1
Max Mosley
February 28, 2024
What to read next
51360819837 f693aa8235 o 1
With one whole year gone since Joe Biden was inaugurated as...
Ed Clements
January 21, 2022
Shutterstock 1839747724 1
As the US media enjoys being able to carry out their...
Ed Clements
June 22, 2021
Shutterstock 2078556859 1
After calling a Fox News reporter a “stupid son of a...
Donald Forbes
January 26, 2022