Friday, June 29, 2018

The Changing of the Guard?

A lot has been happening in our excessively fast-moving, circus-like, political world this past week, while I have been more personally preoccupied with the experience of knee-replacement surgery and recovery. 

As often happens at the end of June, there have been some extremely significant Supreme Court decisions - notably the Court's Janus v. AFSCME decision (yet another unfortunate consequence of Mitch McConnell and his comrades having gotten away with stealing a Supreme Court seat from President Obama in 2016). Then came Justice Anthony Kennedy's not unexpected retirement, which will surely light up the political sky with fireworks for weeks, maybe months. Meanwhile, a restaurant in Virginia has joined the more famous Masterpiece Cake Shop in exploring the ethical dimensions of what kinds of customers to serve or not. 

And, while all this was happening, there was also Tuesday's upset primary win of a 28-year old insurgent, Latina, "Democratic-Socialist," Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, in New York's 14th Congressional District, where she bested a long-time, traditional ethnic Catholic Democratic party leader, Joseph Crowley, a one-time chair of the "New Democrat" coalition in Congress - in what must be seen as yet one more defeat for traditional, mainstream, centrist Democratic party politics.

"All politics is local," and for sure there may have been any number of genuinely local factors contributing to the upset - not the least of which is the obvious long-term change in the district's ethnic composition (a factor which is both local and national in its import). That said, politics today is a lot less local than it used to be. Elections - in particular, primary elections - are likely a lot more national (and ideological) today than in the heyday of the sort of traditional, mainstream, centrist Democratic party politics represented by Congressman Crowley, et al.  Ocasio-Cortz clearly represents the familiar pattern of ethnic succession, whereby a district's congressional representative belatedly comes to look like his or her constituents. But it also represents the continued national and ideological evolution of the Democratic party, that was so dramatically - and catastrophically for the party's electoral fortunes - on display in Bernie Sanders' successful challenge to Hillary Clinton in 2016 (successful in that, along with James Comey and Vladimir Putin, Sanders' stunt helped give us President Trump instead of President Clinton).

As Peter Beinart observed in The Atlantic on Wednesday, if some centrist political dinosaur like Joe Biden were to run in 2020, he would likely “face younger Democrats who, like Ocasio-Cortez, entered politics after the New Democratic era had ended, and older ones, like Bernie Sanders, who rejected it all along. And he’ll do so in an era in which, more than at any time since the early 1970s, the activist left is defining the Democratic Party. … For Clinton, for Crowley, and for Biden, the New Democratic ideology that they once proudly espoused has become a source of shame. And when you run for office ashamed of principles that animated much of your career, you’re vulnerable to people who aren’t.”

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