Democrats Shift to the Left Divides Party


Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez


Since the election of President Trump, Democrats have continued to shift further and further to the left on numerous issues, embracing the Progressive wing of the party. Democratic Socialist rhetoric and policy positions have been adopted as mainstream Democratic positions, while calls to abolish ICE have been echoed by potential 2020 presidential candidates such as Elizabeth Warren. However, as elements of the Democratic Party move further to the left, the divide between Progressives and establishment Democrats continues to grow. In the culture wars, a focus on intersectional identity politics is pushing moderates and traditional liberals away and fracturing the Democrats “coalition of the oppressed.” The most recent evidence of this move to the left and the resultant fracturing relate to New York congressional candidate Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and California Senator Dianne Feinstein.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a 28-year-old member of the Democratic Socialists of America, has made waves since her unexpended primary victory over New York Rep. Joe Crowley. In a recent interview with PBS’s Firing Line, Ocasio-Cortez revealed both her radical views and her ignorance of economics and international relations, coincidently, the disciplines in which she holds a degree. During this interview, she referred to the “occupation of Palestine,” and when pressed on this stated, “I’m not the expert on geopolitics.” While many commentators are interpreting this statement as simply indicating her lack of knowledge, considering the activist community from which she comes, one cannot help but wonder if she does not view the very existence of Israel as an “occupation.” While criticizing capitalism during the same interview, Ocasio-Cortez stated that unemployment is low because “everyone is working two jobs.” Not only does this reveal a misunderstanding of how unemployment figures are calculated, it also seems to render her campaign proposal for a federal jobs program irrelevant. Despite these gaffes, Ocasio-Cortez is being hailed by many as indicating the future direction of the Democratic party.

However, not everyone is as excited about this apparent turn to the left by the Democrats. In a Tuesday article for the Wall Street Journal, Former Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman urged voters to support Ocasio-Cortez’s primary opponent Joe Crowley in November, stating, “Ocasio-Cortez’s surprise primary victory over Rep. Joe Crowley seems likely to hurt Congress, America, and the Democratic Party. It doesn’t have to.” The possibility of a Crowley run remains, as he will stay on the November ballot due to his being endorsed as the Working Families party candidate prior to the primary election. New York election law prevents his removal from the ballot unless he dies, is convicted of a crime, changes his residence, or runs for another position in a different district. While Crowley has publicly stated that he is not running in November, he is also unwilling to change his residence or to commit what he believes to be election fraud by running for a position he does not intend to take.

A similar battle between the Democratic old guard and the party’s rising Progressive wing has erupted in California over the seat of 85-year-old Senator Dianne Feinstein. Disregarding the outcome of the primary election, the California Democratic Party has endorsed Kevin De Leon for Feinstein’s seat citing the need for a younger, more progressive individual who will be stronger in opposing Trump’s agenda. Feinstein has voted in favor of the President’s agenda approximately 25 percent of the time. However, this is seen as active assistance to the administration by supporters of De Leon, who on Wednesday called for congressional leaders to begin impeachment proceedings against the President. Despite this challenge from the left, Feinstein intends to run in November, believing that she can better represent more moderate portions of the state while reaching across the aisle to work with Republicans on policy.

These disputes are cast against a backdrop of the Democratic party shifting to the left on issues from guns, to abortion, to universal health care, while doubling down on divisive identity politics. This lurch to the left has been so extreme that even Bernie Sanders, who re-legitimized socialism within American politics has been derided as not radical enough. However, as Democrats scramble to vacate the center, it becomes ever more apparent that they lack the unity to implement effective policy. Pragmatists within the party realize that they are alienating broad swaths of the electorate, while ideologues insist on doubling down and expelling those who lack appropriately Leftist convictions. While party old guards attempt to maintain their influence, it appears that the overall direction of the Democratic party is decidedly left.

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