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Socialist? Yes. Democratic? Ehhhhhh.

Progressives are showing their true colors when they turn concerns about the Maduro regime into a conversation about American imperialism.
March 7, 2019
Socialist? Yes. Democratic? Ehhhhhh.
(Photo illustration by Hannah Yoest. Photo by Getty Images.)

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has become the Democratic Party’s gift to the GOP. It seems that each time she issues a statement, she is ensuring that the Democrats in 2020 will lose many of the seats they gained in the recent midterm election.  Donald Trump certainly thinks so and has encouraged her and other progressives to keep it up.

As Thomas Edsall points out, it was moderate Democrats, not leftists, who played the crucial role in the Democratic takeover of the House in 2018. None of the seats previously held by Republicans were won by left-wing (i.e., “progressive”) Democrats, whereas 33 of the House candidates endorsed by the moderate New Democrat PAC did win in those districts. In the Washington Post, political analyst Elaine Kamarck notes that “In 2016, moderates constituted 52 percent of Democratic voters; historically when Democratic presidential candidates win, they have done so by winning closer to 60 percent of moderate voters.” Democrats, she concludes, “can’t win without moderates.”

None of this seems to be stopping the self-proclaimed “democratic socialists” from doing all they can to destroy the prospects of centrist Democrats. Most revealing was AOC’s meeting last week with House Democrats, in which she threatened to put some of her House Democratic colleagues on “a list” of candidates whom progressives might primary when they sought re-election. What motivated her to make this threat was that some Democrats voted for a Republican amendment that undocumented immigrants who tried to purchase guns be reported to ICE. It’s pretty clear the “progressives” will not tolerate this kind of heresy and do not want a big tent party.

The latest example of AOC’s foolishness and lack of knowledge took place at her recent press conference, held at her new headquarters in Queens, New York. She was asked by a reporter whether as a democratic socialist, she would give him her thoughts on the Venezuelan crisis. Would you, he asked, “denounce the Maduro regime?”

One would think that the easy and responsible answer would be a simple yes. After all, a firm alliance of regional powers and international allies have sided with the United States on demanding that Venezuela restore democracy and allow the only freely elected head of the National Assembly, Juan Guaido, be made president. Her answer was that Venezuela is a “complex issue,” and that in any solution, it be assured that the U.S. puts “the Venezuelan people and … the democracy of the Venezuelan people first.” It somehow does not occur to her that the Maduro regime itself is what stands between the Venezuelan people and democracy.

Moreover, she said that she is “very concerned about U.S. interventionism in Venezuela, and I oppose it, especially when we talk about a figure like U.S. special envoy Elliott Abrams here. He’s pled guilty to several crimes related to Iran-Contra. I am especially opposed to U.S. interventionism as a principle, but particularly under this administration and under his leadership. I think it’s a profound mistake.”

Octasio-Cortez was making the same claims as her DSA colleague in the House, Ilhan Omar, did when she spoke at the recent hearing of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. And Omar, in turn, was simply repeating arguments made back in the 1980s by the far left, in various radical “anti-imperialist” and pro Central American revolution groups like CISPES, The Christic Institute, and NACLA,  which echoed the propaganda of Fidel Castro’s regime in Cuba, the Sandinistas in Nicaragua, and the Soviet Union, all of whom were supplying the rebels with arms and money.

When Omar delivered her statement, it was fairly obvious that she was reading from a text she had not seen earlier and was simply repeating the propaganda she was handed. I doubt that she and Octasio-Cortez have any real familiarity with the debates and reality of the fights about Central American policy and developments in that region, other than boilerplate leftist claptrap given them by advisers on their staffs.  What is important to them is to broadcast their belief that the United States can never stand for anything that promotes democracy, and any intervention by the United States is of and by itself an example of what back then the left called “American imperialism.”

When Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) was formed, many of its leaders and members opposed much of U.S. foreign policy, but the group never opposed the United States itself or believed that the country did not support democracy. It certainly had no illusions about Castro’s Cuba. Some of its leaders, however, began to believe—out of hopes it might be true—that the Sandinistas in Nicaragua were a genuine non-Communist “third force,” and were on the path to forge an independent authentic democratic revolution in Central America. Toward the end of the 1980s, its leaders Michael Harrington and Irving Howe ignored the warnings of friends abroad like Mexico’s most important writer and intellectual, Octavio Paz, who wrote a series of essays trying to show how Daniel Ortega and company were seeking a Marxist-Leninist regime modeled on Cuba and that was backed by Castro himself. That shift may indeed have been the start of DSA’s veering from its basic commitment to democracy toward supporting regional and Third World totalitarian governments.

What Alexandria Octasio-Cortez and Ilhan Omar have revealed is that although they are socialists, they are clearly not the democratic type they claim to be.

Ron Radosh

Ronald Radosh is a professor emeritus of history at CUNY, and the author and co-author of many books, including A Safe Haven: Harry S. Truman and the Founding of Israel (with Allis Radosh) and Commies: A Journey Through the Old Left, the New Left and the Leftover Left. Twitter: @RonRadosh.