AOC is becoming just a typical Democrat.


The recent interview with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez on the Pod Save America program left me with a sense of final letdown, the type that’s a touch sad but ends a set of quixotic dreams. AOC made her support for Joe Biden for president in the 2024 race known during an appearance on the well-liked Crooked Media show. Delivering that specific endorsement while participating in that specific podcast, where former Obama administration employees set the parameters for acceptable left-of-center viewpoint, was a very calculated way to make a statement. It was AOC’s final goodbye to the radicals who had helped her, supported her, donated to her campaign, and made her exceptionally well-known in American politics. She had benefited from a completely unique cult of personality, which is now beginning to disintegrate.

After all, supporting a president in office doesn’t always require a formal ceremony. Ocasio-Cortez had the option of tweeting. AOC was tying up a half-decade-long drift from radical outsider to Establishment liberal when she made her announcement at a forum where the hosts claimed that voting for anyone other than Joe Biden was a vote for Donald Trump. This was a distillation of the hollow “We’re Not Trump” message that Democrats have been adamantly promoting for the past seven years. She has repeatedly deferred to the party leadership since taking office in January 2019 on crucial matters, although acting in opposition only in showy ways to maintain the appearance that she is a rebel. Furthermore, she looks to be getting more and more offended by criticism from the left to the point where she is prepared to simply embrace her party and its ideologies.

Ocasio-Cortez criticized left-leaning critics of the Biden administration on identitarian grounds in a 2021 interview with a journal of the Democratic Socialists of America. “We really need to question ourselves, when you say nothing has changed, what message are you sending to your friends who are Black, Brown, and Undocumented members of your community?This is a vivid illustration of what socialist critics of Democrats have claimed they do for years: suppress criticism and impose party loyalty through flimsy claims of racism and allusions to people of color and other underprivileged groups. However, the Biden administration had been busy deporting tens of thousands of undocumented immigrants, virtually exclusively Black and Brown, during the very time she gave that interview.

Ocasio-Cortez had a totally different take on party politics when she was running for office less than three years prior. When asked how Brett Kavanaugh could have been confirmed to the Supreme Court despite the sexual assault allegations against him, she said, “It’s because too many people sat on the sidelines and read the news and said, ‘Wow, that’s crazy.'” She made this comment at a campaign event in 2018. This is exactly what Hillary has done in her steadfast loyalty to Democratic Party leadership, complaining about how crazy the world is before rushing off to follow their example.

Ocasio-Cortez’s growth is bookended by two pictures that will live with her forever, neither of which are flattering. The first is the image of her sobbing in front of an immigration detention center in Texas in 2018, which was taken before she was elected to Congress. She cries out in protest of “kids in cages,” the activist term for the immigration policies of the Trump era, while wearing only white clothing. Although our treatment of migrants at the border is unacceptable, the demonstration itself was not disrespectful. The issue is what didn’t happen after that. The immigration policy in America did not significantly change when Biden became president in 2020. Although COVID-era restrictions are frequently blamed for this, they have long since been lifted, and Democrats have not significantly altered Trump’s border policy. Why isn’t Ocasio-Cortez at the border once more, denouncing her country’s president when there are still children in cages?

The second image of AOC was taken at the 2021 Met Gala, which included a who’s who of fame and riches and celebrated the very elitism that the left is supposed to be fighting against. So it was a little disheartening, but not at all unexpected, to witness this defender of the working class at a gathering where famous people strolled around without masks while their numerous attendants obediently wore masks to stop the spread of COVID. Politicians attend posh events and mingle with the affluent; this is a fact of life, especially for left-leaning politicians. Ocasio-Cortez tried to straddle the fence, however, by donning another white outfit, this time a frock bearing the words “Tax the Rich” in bold red. And because of this, her chance to mingle with the one percent was blatantly hypocritical. Going to the party is one thing, but shouting your disapproval of the party while you’re there is quite another.

If there is a middle ground that unites AOC’s political identity, it is located there. The first exhibits the basic moral perversion of partisanship: it forces people to care about political matters only to the extent that such concerns are advantageous to the party. After Biden’s victory, AOC did precisely what her fervent supporters had predicted she would never do: she stopped caring about our immoral immigration system. In the latter, AOC is not only relocated from the outside to the most exclusive locations, but it also displays her increasingly clumsy attempts to mask her true preferences with the flimsiest symbolic gestures.

Consider how the persistent abuse of railroad employees related to the accident and ensuing air crisis in East Palestine, Ohio. Ocasio-Cortez loudly criticized the railway corporations and called for better working conditions for employees, yet she then voted to ban strikes. It’s difficult to think of a clearer illustration of her political philosophy than the fact that she spoke out in the press as a fervent advocate for workers before betraying them with her vote. She went on to say that this was actually about supporting what the workers wanted, but Railroad Workers United swiftly pointed out that this was a spectacular act of dishonesty on her part. Strikes are the left’s sword and labor is its heart, therefore voting to ban strikes for the sake of a purported socialist is an unforgivable betrayal of fundamental principles.

Ocasio-Cortez’s submissive stance toward Biden’s foreign policy has been less shocking, but no less devastating. AOC has coupled at times stunning rhetoric with complete inconsistency as a legislator, which is arguably where her positions have been the most self-parodic and untenable. It’s a testament to just how constrained the Establishment conversation is on this issue that such a mild statement drew controversy, but simply referring to the occupation as an occupation was a promising sign. In 2018, she upset many people by saying, “The occupation of Palestine is just an increasing crisis of humanitarian condition.” It is sad that Ocasio-Cortez has been dithering over this for the past five years. She infamously wept on the floor of Congress over a law funding Israel’s “Iron Dome,” one small piece of our nation’s willingness to back that country’s dominance of Palestine, and then went on to vote “present” instead of “no” on the funding bill in question.

Some said that she was using her “present” vote to play a 12-dimensional game of chess or had a deeper political motive. However, it is really challenging to imagine how this may function. Any opponent will be labeled an antisemite by Israel’s ardent supporters, and AOC’s vote did not exempt her from their fury. It might be true, as some have indicated, that the goal was to better position her for a Senate run, but given her prior views, it’s hard to imagine how those motivated to support Israel would ever support her. She wouldn’t need to worry much if she merely supported giving Israel’s military additional American funds; the proposal passed by a margin of 411 votes. What then was she doing, besides upsetting both her support base of voters who had elected her and the pro-Israel Establishment, which would have opposed her regardless?

Ocasio-Cortez appeared to be both a vicious political operator and someone who was out of her depth, as is so frequently the case. Even her symbolic actions are ambiguous and contradictory. Consider the discussions taking place within the Democratic Party regarding raising the federal minimum wage using the 2021 American Rescue Plan COVID relief bill. The federal minimum wage in 1970 was more than $12 per hour after inflation; in 2023, it will be $7.25. Left-leaning Democrats in the federal Democratic trifecta supported boosting that modest minimum. This approach had nothing sinister about it; forcing through popular legislation as part of large packages is a common procedure in Congress. Republicans frequently engage in it. However, as was to be expected, moderate Democrats opposed the initiative.

At first, Ocasio-Cortez appeared to be a supporter of raising the minimum wage. An article in Newsweek with the headline, “Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to Take Minimum Wage Fight Directly to Joe Biden,” was representative of the feverish manner in which AOC has been reported. Ocasio-Cortez was cited as saying, “There are progressive Democrats who have that muscle in the House.” I believe that breaking our commitment to raise the minimum wage is really irrational, and as a party, we might have a further discussion on how to fight for it.

Would it surprise you to know that they didn’t use that muscle after all? She still voted in favor of the ARP law when it was time to do so. She would have lost if she had opposed the bill, of course, but why not do so as a show of defiance? Given that she would later be the lone Democrat to vote against an omnibus funding plan backed by the president, she obviously has no problem making such gestures. This has been a frustrating aspect of her time in Congress: There is no internal logic to which hills she is willing to die on and which she is not, and there is no rhyme or reason as to when she will and won’t defy party leadership. Are protest votes important or not? Why not show support for the Palestinian people or for a greater minimum wage if they are important enough to do in some circumstances where her vote won’t matter? What’s the strategy here? How are her values put into practice? I’m not sure, and I have a hunch that Democratic voters aren’t either.

Ocasio-Cortez once declared, “In any other country, Joe Biden and I would not be in the same party,” expressing her dislike for the Democratic Party. She now appears more at ease letting go of her former radical branding. She ought to if she plans to become a submissive Democratic senator someday. Just give up trying to have it both ways, it makes you wince.

Normally, I don’t respond to criticism of Ocasio-Cortez by saying that she has been a skillful politician or even that she has shown any consistency between her words and deeds. Instead, I keep hearing that the issue is that I have any expectations of her at all. Hey, she’s only one of the congresspeople! Her party and an undemocratic system have her trapped. The limits placed on her by capitalism! I’ve been told time and time again that expecting Ocasio-Cortez to exhibit even a modicum of ideological consistency, let alone outcomes, is simply asking too much.

However, this argument raises a fairly devastating question: If AOC never had the chance to act, why have we been praising her? Why has she become the target of such voluminous, humiliating hagiography? And what was the point of nominating her instead of Joe Crowley, the ten-term Democratic machine politician she replaced, if the response to every complaint about a lack of outcomes is to suggest that we should never have anticipated anything in the first place?

And more specifically, what were all the donations for if this left-leaning Democratic side was always so helpless that we would be idiots to demand anything in return for supporting them? Since the 2016 presidential primaries, the Justice Democrats and several connected individuals, most notably Bernie Sanders, have collected tens of millions of dollars in donations. That faction of the party frequently boasts that this funding originates from little contributions, from everyday people like you and me rather than from wealthy individuals or significant institutions. Will AOC or anyone associated with her, however, ever reveal what we have bought with our donations? It certainly seems unlikely.

After taking office in 2019, Ocasio-Cortez declared, “Now that I’m elected, I have the power to draft, lobby for, and shape the laws that govern the USA.” How quickly her supporters’ insistence that nothing can be done replaces her amazing power.

The underlying concern here is that by seeing Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez through a critical lens, people may be led to question Bernie Sanders, whose popularity among American lefties rivals that of Santa Claus. We might have the same discussion about Sanders if we’re trying to figure out what AOC has actually accomplished or why she has had such a rapturous response when we’re not permitted to hold her to any expectations. I know a lot of committed lefties who will go to tremendous efforts to avoid having that discussion. I firmly believe that Sanders’ 2016 primary campaign was worth the time, effort, and money, and I have a lot of fondness for him personally. That affection, however, is precisely the issue; too many otherwise sensible, politically astute leftists are unable to look past their personal affection for Sanders, treating him as a kind old socialist grandpa rather than a career politician whose legislative successes are modest and who should be held to the same critical accounting as everyone else.

The overall situation is that liberal media mouthpieces and establishment Democrats want complete electoral commitment from leftists while giving us little in return. The party Establishment makes only the barest of attempts to conceal its disdain for its leftmost wing, as the members of Pod Save America revealed. However, the effectiveness of the voter-shaming strategy is limited, as evidenced by the consistency of third-party voting in presidential elections. Al Gore and Hillary Clinton were lousy candidates who ran inept campaigns; I don’t think Ralph Nader or Jill Stein cost the Democrats the presidency. However, if you genuinely believe that leftists’ third-party votes impact the results of national elections, perhaps you could at some point think about actually giving those leftists something to vote for?

For years, the conventional wisdom has been that Bernie, AOC, and the Squad are valuable beyond their votes because they represent what is feasible on the far-left of partisan politics, and their exposure will encourage more people to support their campaigns, cast their votes for them, or even run for office as socialists. I was informed in 2016 that Sanders’ primary fight, win or lose, was creating a long-lasting infrastructure for left-wing organizing within the Democratic Party. The email lists and donor base would continue to exist after that primary and after Bernie, and they would serve as a tool for enduring lefty muscle within the Democratic system.

Well, I suppose the verdict is in: Far-left Democratic power is still not attainable or scalable, despite a few socialist leaders becoming increasingly well-known. Our congressional delegation can still fit in a three-row SUV, according to the extremist fringe of the party. Perhaps we’ve waited long enough to realize that there’s no need to anticipate things getting better anytime soon. Three years have passed since a Democratic presidential primary where candidates made vague promises about much-needed health care reform and claimed to care about the left wing of the party. Five years have passed since Ocasio-Cortez was elected despite making frequent boasts about her revolutionary potential. Seven years have passed since Bernie Sanders’ primary campaign in 2016, when it appeared as though real change might be coming to the D. What have we achieved as a result of all the commotion during that time? Where are the future champions that should have emerged from the Bernie for 2016 apparatus? Where is the much-hyped surge of socialist activists who were supposed to win elections? The too-pure-to-live leftists who insisted that nothing would ever result from all of this commotion were correct, and we may eventually have to concede that the Democratic Party is merely structurally resistant to socialist transformation. There is no fruit left to pluck in this area.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez previously served as a metaphor for the future of American politics. She now serves as a warning to the rest of us: more than symbols will be required.