Could AOC, Tlaib and Omar Be Dems' Blessing in Disguise?

Could AOC, Tlaib and Omar Be Dems' Blessing in Disguise?
AP Photo/Andrew Harnik
Could AOC, Tlaib and Omar Be Dems' Blessing in Disguise?
AP Photo/Andrew Harnik
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Faced with the opportunity to defeat the most unpopular president in modern times, it’s a wonder the Democratic Party is working to re-elect him. By the things they are discussing and, more importantly, failing to address, Democrats have recently elevated anti-Semitism, socialism, infanticide and a focus on diversity that is divisive rather than unifying. The smart candidate on their side, if there is one, should see this as a silver lining and reject such extremism outright.

Voters are questioning whether Kamala Harris is black enough, while she is threatening to take away people’s private insurance. Democrats now have problems with Israel, billionaires, prosecutors and even airplanes. What’s next?

The mostly liberal contenders in the Democratic primary seem to be content to let all of this rip. After all, they have yet to be challenged by moderating voices that could come with the entrance of Vice President Joe Biden or Mike Bloomberg or John Hickenlooper or Steve Bullock. But any candidate who wants to beat President Trump next year should distance him- or herself from the provocateurs imitating him. Reps. Alexandria Ocasio Cortez, Rashida Tlaib, and Ilhan Omar are the break-out stars of nearly all of the GOP’s fundraising appeals these days. They have irritated a good number of their Democratic colleagues who have already had to answer for Omar’s anti-Semitic tweet and subsequent apology, whether Tlaib was speaking for her caucus when she promised her supporters “we’re gonna impeach the” m-f’er, as well as Cortez’s rejection of the ultra-wealthy and her Green New Deal subsidizing Americans unwilling to work and seeking to eliminate air travel. Combined, they amount to a Trumpian Trio in the Democratic Party -- defiance, outrage and publicity are priorities, but the facts aren’t always so important. It’s clear to the more seasoned lawmakers around them that these Instagram darlings are just getting started.

But noisy neophytes aren’t the only problem Democrats have to contend with. The top three elected leaders in the Commonwealth of Virginia have given them plenty of headaches, and don’t seem willing to resign and clean up their big mess -- of racist costumes and sexual assault scandals plaguing Gov. Ralph Northam, Attorney General Mark Herring and Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax, respectively.

The revelation that white men partying in blackface aren’t just members of the GOP was the controversy that bounced Northam’s horrifying description of late-term abortion -- using the word “infant” -- out of the headlines, after it had been noticeably met with no push-back whatsoever from Democrats.  

Last weekend Democrats considered derailing the spending deal and owning a new government shutdown by insisting on reducing the number of ICE detention beds, only to be rescued by -- you guessed it -- another consuming controversy as Omar’s tweet managed to take over the news.

The newly minted Minnesota congresswoman, who tweeted in 2012 about “the evil doings of Israel” and how Israel had “hypnotized the world,” played on an anti-Semitic stereotype of Jews buying political influence in her tweet swiping at Republicans, writing on Sunday, “it's all about the Benjamins baby,” before clarifying she was referring to the Jewish lobby AIPAC. It was swiftly denounced by Democratic leaders including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who issued a joint statement calling it offensive, forcing Omar to apologize. She did so “unequivocally,” but pushed back too, issuing a tweet including her statement with the words “listening and learning, but standing strong.” She also took another dig at AIPAC, stating, “I reaffirm the problematic role of lobbyists in our politics, whether it be AIPAC, the NRA or the fossil fuel industry. It’s gone on too long and we must be willing to address it.”

Both Tlaib and Omar have supported the BDS movement, “boycott, divestment and sanctions” meant to exact economic pressure on Israel for its treatment of Palestinians. Tlaib has said of the senators pushing a bill opposing the BDS, “they forgot what country they represent.” Ocasio-Cortez recently gushed about her phone visit with the leader of the British Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn, who has established a reputation as an anti-Semite.

To combat this leftward drift they see growing among younger members of their party critical of Israel, some prominent Democrats started the Democratic Majority for Israel to educate voters, and they will launch a PAC later this year to influence primary elections. Democrats have been loath to publicly debate this rift and define criticism of the leadership and policies of Benjamin Netanyahu, who embraced President Trump and other Republicans, as distinct from statements and characterizations that are actually anti-Semitic. But party leaders are well aware that Trump doesn’t do nuance, and neither -- it seems -- does the Trumpian Trio of the freshman class.

But Ocasio-Cortez did appear to have a learning experience this week, though time will tell if she truly learned from it. Her Green New Deal had an embarrassing launch, released prematurely (says AOC’s office) with a description of a policy granting some form of subsidy to “all who are unable or unwilling to work” (her office later called the accompanying “FAQ fact sheet” a mistake when it was met with immediate criticism). The Green New Deal proposal itself was endorsed widely, including by several of the 2020 presidential candidates, who weren’t eager to answer questions about the mix-up. The goal of eliminating the use of fossil fuels would seem to eliminate overseas flights and prompted not just jokes from Trump but push-back from experts like Ernest Moniz, a nuclear physicist and secretary of energy under President Obama. “It’s just impractical. And if we start putting out impractical targets, we may lose a lot of key constituencies who we need to bring along to have a real low-carbon solution on the most rapid time frame that we can achieve,” such as labor unions, Moniz told NPR.

Next year Trump is going to do all he can to divide Democrats and independent voters on Israel and socialism, abortion, immigration and air travel -- whatever openings they give him. The new agitators will no doubt be all too willing to oblige him, happy to become punch lines at Trump rallies. Democrats seeking to be the party’s nominee, or influence the race next year, should step up now and disavow all of this before it’s too late.

A.B. Stoddard is associate editor of RealClearPolitics and a columnist. 

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