Waterloo Region Record

‘Socialist scare’ tactics could scuttle Democrat election ambitions

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and ‘squad’ are Trump’s targets


If one can make the case that Donald Trump is hurting the Republican Party with his impulsive behaviour and controvers­ial rhetoric, then it should logically follow that Democrats on the left wing of their party might be having a comparable effect. Despite the media’s focus on the president’s extreme comments, one should not conclude that the 2020 election is a sure thing for the Democrats.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s self-promoting attempt to radicalize the Democratic agenda makes the party vulnerable to a “socialist scare” campaign by Trump. Some have argued that Republican­s will make the charge whomever the Democrats nominate, and that might be true. However the accusation would resonate much more effectivel­y should they nominate a self-declared socialist like Bernie Sanders, or others who have endorsed similar policies.

There are policies being advocated by more progressiv­e presidenti­al aspirants that might also be questionab­le, not just because they leave their party open to attack, but because they have limited opportunit­y to ever be enacted. In the 2008 campaign, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama seriously debated the merits of universal access to medicare. However, even with 255 Democrats elected to the House of Representa­tives (20 more than their current number), they were scarcely able to get a bare majority there.

An even greater challenge is the Senate, where present rules mandate 60 supporters to overcome a filibuster. The Democrats possessed that for a time in 2009, but current political realities suggest that neither party is within plausible range of overcoming that hurdle on issues where partisan divisions apply.

The vast majority of Canadians are very familiar with the benefits of a government-run, single-payer health plan, but in the United States at the moment, almost half the population is dependent upon employer-sponsored medical insurance. Moreover, 16 million Americans are employed in the health-care sector, more than in any other field. It isn’t difficult to imagine what kind of scare campaign Trump would run to frighten the clients and employees of the current system.

Other electoral challenges raised by progressiv­e candidates include the payment of all previously incurred student debt from both public and private universiti­es, regardless of financial status, as proposed by Bernie Sanders. Also the pledge widely endorsed at the first debate to provide health care to undocument­ed immigrants. Ironically, that already exists in hospital emergency rooms.

There is another potentiall­y dangerous fissure within the Democratic family, being laid at the feet of Ocasio-Cortez and her associates. She has encouraged more left-wing candidates to challenge incumbent congressme­n in primaries, who have been insufficie­ntly progressiv­e in their eyes. Among them is Jerrold Nadler, chair of the House Judiciary Committee. This test of ideologica­l purity tends to lead to internecin­e warfare within the party.

Her core contingent, the “squad” as they call themselves, is small and not nearly as entrenched as the analogous right-wing group, but they provide a sense of the storm warnings that might be on the horizon. This is particular­ly so because President Trump seems to be their biggest booster and wants to make them the face of the Democratic Party. Their appeal is through social media and a desire to represent generation­al change, though their ideas are identified with the 78-year-old Sanders.

Despite being a second-time candidate for the Democratic nomination, he has steadfastl­y refused to join the party. In 2016, he continued his campaign long past the point where it was evident he would not succeed.

James Carville, who mastermind­ed Clinton’s 1992 victory, has analyzed the current election as one Trump can’t win, but the Democrats could lose. That is essentiall­y what happened in 2016.

Barry Kay is a political-science professor at Wilfrid Laurier University, and also an election analyst for Global Television.

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