News & Politics

Rep. Ocasio-Cortez: 'We Need New Leadership in the Democratic Party'

Tom Williams/Pool via AP

When Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez first arrived in Washington she was breathing fire and brimstone, threatening Democratic members with being primaried if they didn’t toe her radical line. Eventually, Nancy Pelosi more or less gave her an ultimatum: tone it down or be ostracized by the party regulars.

AOC did tone it down a little, but she was in constant hot water with the Democratic establishment. She and the other radicals are in a difficult position. If they want to move up the ladder in the House they have to play ball.

Apparently, AOC thinks that she and other younger Democrats should be “groomed” for leadership positions and the current crop of Democrats who are running the House and Senate have failed to do so.


Ocasio-Cortez argued that there are no viable alternatives for House or Senate leadership at the moment because the caucus’s current leaders spent a number of years concentrating power without any “real grooming of a next generation of leadership.”

“A lot of this is not just about these two personalities, but also about the structural shifts that these two personalities have led in their time in leadership,” Ocasio-Cortez said. “The structural shifts of power in the House, both in process and rule, to concentrate power in party leadership of both parties, frankly, but in Democratic Party leadership to such a degree that an individual member has far less power than they did 30, 40, 50 years ago.”

This is a common complaint made by younger members of both parties who grouse about the lack of opportunities for advancement. And she is way off base as far as “the good old days” when members supposedly had all that power. In fact, the party system has always been structured so that leaders are able to discipline those members who stray from the party’s agenda. Unity trumps ideology and always has.

It’s simple: to get ahead, you have to play ball with the leadership. Either that, or you can leave and take a shot at higher office.

This dynamic is what pushes the “really talented members of Congress that do come along” to leave or run for statewide office instead. But Pelosi has also indicated that this upcoming term could be her last, “and the left isn’t really making a plan for that either,” Ocasio-Cortez added. “So I do think that it’s something that we really need to think about.”

It’s laughable to believe that AOC is leadership material. She’s too eager to lecture, accuse, hector, and denigrate those who disagree with her. She may have millions of Twitter followers but that hardly matters when it comes to the brass tacks of intra-party warfare.

She’s right about there being no alternative to Pelosi and Schumer for leadership positions. Pelosi’s number two, Steny Hoyer, is a nice guy, very competent, and is 81 years old. James Clyburn, the speaker’s majority whip, is 80. There are several lesser-known committee chairmen but there’s no one who could mount a challenge for the speakership that the Democrats in the House could coalesce around.

Pelosi will probably be re-elected speaker, but there’s going to be an intervention. Before the next Congress sits in 2023, the party will have chosen another speaker, and Pelosi won’t have much to say about it.

Democrats are old, they’re tired, they’re bereft of ideas — their party hasn’t had a new idea since the 1970s. AOC is bursting with ideas but she’s not the one to promote them. Therein lies the Democrats’ conundrum: they have new personalities who could promote new ideas but are blocked by “the system”

AOC sees that system as an impediment to radical change.

Instead, she believes, progressives should fight some of the bigger structural obstacles in the way of Medicare for All, like pay-go, an austerity provision that makes it difficult for Democrats to pass more ambitious policies, or replacing conservative Democratic Rep. Richie Neal as head of the Ways and Means Committee. “We are currently negotiating to get and work towards real material concessions for the left that can move things into place, to help build power for the next two years,” she said.

Is Rep. Ocasio-Cortez a one-off or a harbinger of the future? Since it seems likely that Democratic leaders will stifle her ambition and prevent her from moving up, she may try her hand at statewide office in New York — a likely platform for a run for national office before this decade is out.

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