As the standard-bearer for the faction of the Democratic party that is trigger-happy when it comes to condemning the slightest hint of a “micro-aggression” of any kind, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez came off as infuriatingly naïve, callous and politically misguided during an interview at this year’s South by Southwest Music Festival in Austin, Texas. Taking the condescending tone some of my more liberal Democratic friends have used on me when I haven’t measured up to their Progressive standards, she told Intercept’s Briahna Gray, ”Moderate is not a stance. It’s just an attitude towards life of, like ‘meh.’”
Suddenly I felt like a deplorable in my own party. And I wasn’t the only one, as the online reaction attested. “I agree with many of your principles, one person wrote, but “please explain how, say the ACA, born of big vision and made reality by excruciating compromise – in Great Recession America no less—equals ‘meh’.”
Another responded, “Moderate is the culmination of life experiences that guide your thoughts over decades…” Wrote another, “This really makes me angry. You’re invalidating my beliefs – yes, my stance – because they’re not as radical as yours. I’m sorry but a third of voters stand with me if you didn’t know.”
The coups de grace came from a guy who went straight for the jugular: “I see what she’s saying, but there are better ways to go about it,” he wrote. “This is advocating for political extremism which is what got that orange scrotum elected in the first place.”
Contempt for Compromise
Exactly! Far left-leaning Progressives like AOC equate being moderate, or open to compromise or incremental change, as weak and passionless. It’s not just an indication of where one falls on the political spectrum, but “an attitude towards life.”
I’ve come to view it more as a strategy toward life, and politics. I got this way from 35 years of trench warfare in a corporate environment that was, in many ways, as political as any in government. My time in that crucible taught me that it’s not enough to have deeply held beliefs and principled convictions about what the most desirable outcome is for the greatest public good. You also have to take into account the particular circumstances and influences that prevail at the time that outcome is being pursued. As righteous as my beliefs and principles were, when I proceeded with inadequate patience to allow others to come around, insufficient perseverance to persuade as many as possible to my side, and at least some willingness to give a little to get things moving in the direction I wanted, I was rarely successful.
Moderation in the Interest of What Matters Most
The fact is, I may not agree with everything, but I want much of what the AOC crowd aspires to. What I want even more is to defeat Trump in the next election. Consequently, as tempted as I may be to cast off the bland, middle-of-the-road, moderate approach that AOC ridicules, I’m convinced that liberal Progressive orthodoxy has to take a backseat to pragmatism. The last thing Democrats need is to replicate within the party the civil war that’s destroying our country. If that happens, it will build a wall as big as any Donald Trump could dream of between Progressive liberals and the vision that they, and even many moderates like me, aspire to.
Whenever I feel myself succumbing to media hype and peer pressure to jump aboard the AOC bandwagon, I remind myself that it was moderates, not more liberal Democrats, “who flipped most of the 41 districts that went from red to blue in November,” as columnist Thomas Edsall pointed out in The New York Times.
Democrats will be sewing with an extremely fine needle in the next election. To thread it, the party will need to choose a delicately balanced ticket and platform that appeal to the increasingly left-leaning wing of the party while not alienating moderates to the point where they stay home or vote for an independent. Unless they put their heads together and their differences aside, we could walk into another waking nightmare in November 2020. And that would be a lot worse than “meh.”