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Socialism with Midwestern Characteristics

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I wanted to endorse this Eric Levitz piece about how Tammy Duckworth was fundamentally incorrect when she said that Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s democratic socialism can’t work in the Midwest. It’s remarkable to be how much elected officials eat up conventional wisdom, even when that conventional wisdom is really dumb. But here we see Duckworth doing that. The problem, as Levitz points out, is that AOC’s democratic socialism is really just left-liberalism under a new name and that her positions poll really well! Universal Medicare, the federal job guarantee, the end to homelessness–these are all positions that aren’t all that controversial. Levitz concludes:

Thus, the key for Democrats — especially in the Midwest, where a lot of economically liberal, culturally conservative white voters live — is to increase the salience of class identity in American elections.

And a modified version of Ocasio-Cortez’s politics might actually be a good model for that endeavor. In her paid messaging and public oratory, the 28-year-old socialist relentlessly characterizes politics as a struggle between working people and unaccountable, corporate interests. In her justly celebrated campaign ad, Ocasio-Cortez never used the words “socialism” or “abolish ICE.” Instead, she established the authenticity of her connection to her district; name-checked some of the specific material anxieties and challenges facing the voters who live there (rising rents, foreclosure, gentrification); and then defined her race as one of “people versus money — we’ve got people, they’ve got money.”

Transporting this model from the Bronx to Macomb County would certainly require switching up the details. But there’s little reason to think that a customized version of Ocasio-Cortez’s class-centric, social-democratic politics can’t thrive in the Rust Belt.

All of which is to say: Tammy Duckworth should embrace “socialism with Midwestern characteristics.”

Right. The evidence that because Bernie Sanders won many Midwestern states in the Democratic primaries, he would have won them in the general election is not particularly strong and is mostly wishful thinking on the part of his supporters. But he did win those states because a class-centric politics has a historical appeal in those areas. Given that I just profiled Indiana native Eugene Debs yesterday, it’s worth noting that there’s a long history of socialism in the Midwest and that there’s no per se reason to think it’s dead. Moreover, the milquetoast politics Duckworth seems to be promoting just don’t lead to anything valuable.

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