Over the past few weeks, Republicans have turned a spotlight on the delusional socialism of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the anti-Semitism of Reps. Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib, and the pro-choice extremism of Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam and Del. Kathy Tran.
At first glance, the Democratic response, uncritically amplified by the establishment media in stories like The New York Times’s “Republicans Already Are Demonizing Democrats as Socialists and Baby Killers” (the headline has since changed), and Politico’s “Superstar freshman Dems replace Pelosi as GOP targets,” seem entirely typical. Framing a story as Republicans “pouncing” or “seizing” on things that are basically true and suggesting the “pouncing” is racist are timeworn methods of suggesting there is something unfair or morally objectionable about a political party exploiting opponents’ missteps.
In this case, however, the response requires pretending the GOP has not attacked white politicians like socialist Bernie Sanders or infanticide sympathizer Ralph Northam, and should ignore “superstars” because they happen to be women of color. It also requires pretending that House leadership and other prominent Democrats have not undermined Ocasio-Cortez’s ambitions and forced apologies out of Omar and Tlaib.
Why would the left bizarrely advance its usual tropes in this situation? Looking beneath the surface, the pushback obscures (either intentionally or out of habit) fault lines in the Democratic coalition.
As Lee Drutman, a senior fellow at New America and contributor to the Democracy Fund Voter Study Group, told Politico magazine: “Democrats have an upstairs/downstairs coalition with an affluent class that does quite well. And they are in a coalition with a poorer set of voters who don’t seem to get ahead but who are trapped in that coalition, since if they are poor African-Americans or poor Latinos they view the Republicans as a racist party.”
In the same article, a social scientist who requested anonymity to speak frankly added: “For people on the left, the fact that black and Hispanic voters aren’t with them on everything is a huge source of embarrassment.”
The data showing that “upstairs” is occupied by a small group of disproportionately white progressives has been piling up in studies of polling by More In Common and the Pew Research Center. This evidence has often centered on race and political correctness, but it is becoming ever clearer the upstairs/downstairs split does not end there.
A new Gallup study of the Democrats’ leftward lurch finds that since 2000: “Increased liberal identification has been particularly pronounced among non-Hispanic white Democrats, rising 20 percentage points from an average 34% in the early 2000s to 54% in the latest period. By contrast, Gallup trends show a nine-point rise in the percent liberal among Hispanic Democrats, from 29% to 38%, and an eight-point increase among black Democrats, from 25% to 33%.”
The Gallup study identifies a number of issues on which liberal Democrats are out of step with those who identify as moderate or conservative. Liberals favor abortion on demand (55 percent), physician-assisted suicide (74 percent), and government-run health care (75 percent) far more than other Democrats, and are significantly more likely to see climate change as a looming threat (64 percent).
Notably, Gallup also finds that “despite recent discussion about the extent of Democrats’ support for Israel, fewer than a third of Democrats in any of the ideological groups say they sympathize more with the Palestinians than the Israelis in the Middle East conflict.” Unfortunately but unsurprisingly, however, anti-Israel sentiment has grown most among liberals, increasing from 23 to 31 percent.
Gallup did not ask about socialism, but a recent YouGov survey offers some strong hints about the subject. Non-whites had roughly the same favorable impression of socialism as registered voters in general, ranging between 22 and 26 percent. But 53 percent of Hillary Clinton voters viewed socialism favorably. Given that Clinton won a large majority of Latinos and overwhelmingly won among African-American voters, the pro-socialism faction is likely disproportionately white. Indeed, the most recent data suggests the Democratic Socialists of America, to which Ocasio-Cortez and Tlaib belong, is roughly 90 percent white.
The “superstar” promotion of Ocasio-Cortez, Omar, and Tlaib––which has included magazine covers from The New Yorker to The Hollywood Reporter, and profile after profile after profile after profile after profile after profile after profile in establishment outlets like Time magazine and The New York Times––should be examined in light of the mounting evidence that these “stars” reflect the views of the Democratic Party’s far-left, largely white elites than its more diverse rank and file.
Progressives of pallor get quite a bit out of not only promoting radicals of color, but also attacking their critics as racist. First, the success of Ocasio-Cortez, Omar, and Tlaib relieves far-left whites of their aforementioned embarrassment. Being more woke on racial issues than non-white people are often makes pastier progressives look silly.
Second, in an era of identity politics, it helps woke whites build bridges to non-white Democrats generally. The near victories of progressive African-Americans like Stacey Abrams and, to a lesser degree, Andrew Gillum in the 2018 midterms has helped convince Democrats they can move the Overton window ideologically if they promote minorities who previously were expected to vote for more moderate white Democrats, but not top a ticket.
Third, woke white elites may hope their radical crushes will serve as role models for younger Democrats, among the rank and file and future office seekers. In recent years, there has been more evidence partisans will “follow the leader” (see Republican shifts on trade in the Trump era) than choose candidates based solely on policy preferences. And elites are sending the message that a minority candidate will get far more publicity and support if he or she holds extreme positions.
Fourth, the ability to throw the race card helps shield the radicalism of woke white elites. Promoting people like Ocasio-Cortez, Omar, and Tlaib obscures their champagne socialism.
Lastly, the ability to dismiss criticism of extremism as racist or sexist acts as a social deterrent to Democrats of color defecting to the GOP. In an era where negative polarization seems more important than a platform, the otherization of the GOP has only grown in importance as a political tactic.
In a political environment where the field of 2020 presidential candidates perceives that the energy of their party rests among the socialists and identitarians of the far left, extremists like Sanders, Ocasio-Cortez, Omar, Tlaib, and Northam (and the nationwide campaign he inadvertently exposed) will likely become more important in our politics. And it will not be the fault of Republicans for spotlighting them.