American voters are in many cases misguided and simply angry but the Democrats can neither win nor govern effectively without them. So what's next?
You don’t amass the kind of clout and experience Congressman Joe Crowley had, only to lose a primary to a young, inexperienced challenger, without seriously messing up.
This we know, yet that’s what happened.
Crowley, a longtime Irish American kingmaker in Queens politics who rose to national stature, was beaten soundly by 28-year old Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who loudly and proudly declared herself a Democratic socialist. Meaning, in the Age of Trump, a relative moderate like Crowley was not going to get things done.
“I wasn’t born to a wealthy or powerful family,” Ocasio-Cortez said in a video that apparently touched a nerve with many voters.
“This race is about people versus money. We’ve got people, they’ve got money. It’s time we acknowledged that not all Democrats are the same. That a Democrat who takes corporate money, profits off foreclosure, doesn’t live here, doesn’t send his kids to our schools, doesn’t drink our water or breathe our air cannot possibly represent us.”
Having not initially taken his challenger seriously, Crowley spent the waning days of the campaign trying to play catch up.
In the end, voters in Crowley’s district, which includes the historically Irish enclaves of Woodside and Sunnyside in Queens, came out in droves for Ocasio-Cortez.
He is now promising to support her, even though Crowley will technically be on the ballot as the nominee of -- ironically enough -- the Working Families party.
This story has become about much more than the Irish American boss who was toppled by the upstart Hispanic firebrand.
The New Yorker ran a story written by the legendary magazine’s Pulitzer Prize winning editor David Remnick with the headline, “Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s Historic Win and the Future of the Democratic Party,” and asked, “Will her Democratic-socialist identity push the party to the left?”
That is the question on the moment, isn’t it? On Sunday the lead story in The New York Times declared, “Democrats Brace as Storm Brews Far to Their Left.”
In New York, actress Cynthia Nixon is trying to play the same role, challenging Governor Andrew Cuomo, who is widely believed to have his eyes on a White House run in 2020.
Ocasio-Cortez has already been dispatched to help other insurgent candidates. She flew out to Kansas -- you know, a place some view as the “real” America - and made her pitch that, for too long, struggling Americans have been divided by those who would benefit from such divisions.
“What you have shown me, and what we will show in the Bronx, is that working people in Kansas share the same values -- the same values -- as working people anywhere else,” she said.
That would be nice.
We’ll know a lot more when Ocasio-Cortez has to take a side on some hot button cultural topic like police brutality or the national anthem.
Which brings us back to Joe Crowley. Say what you want about what he did or did not do in the race he lost, here’s what we do know. He didn’t become a Trump supporter. Which a lot of white males -- from Queens to Kansas -- have done.
In many cases these folks are misguided, simply angry. And yet, the Democrats can neither win nor govern effectively without them. Which does not mean people like Ocasio-Cortez have to pander to them.
On the other hand, her characterization of Crowley during the campaign occasionally, um, stretched the truth. As David Remnick noted: “It was hard to think of Joe Crowley as a reactionary ogre. Crowley went to Queens College. His father was a cop, his mother was an immigrant; his cousin was a battalion chief in the Fire Department who was killed on 9/11 making rescue attempts at the World Trade Center.”
There are highly complex questions here about power and privilege, the past and the future. But as certain folks dream about farmers supporting socialists, never underestimate a Republican’s ability to sow conflict and division. And never underestimate a Democrat’s ability to make that job easier.