Freddie deBoer is back in a mainstream publication to argue that other people are Doing Leftism Wrong, with the expected results:
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s recent appearance on the Pod Save America podcast had, for me, the feeling of a final disappointment, the kind that’s a little sad but brings a set of quixotic hopes to a close. AOC appeared on the popular Crooked Media show to announce her endorsement of Joe Biden for president in the 2024 election. To deliver that particular endorsement while appearing on that particular podcast — where former Obama administration staffers define the limits of acceptable left-of-center opinion — was to send a very deliberate message. It was AOC’s last kiss-off to the radicals who had supported her, voted for her, donated to her campaign, and made her unusually famous in American politics, the beneficiary of a wholly unique cult of personality that is now starting to come undone.
An endorsement of a sitting president, after all, doesn’t have to be a ceremonial affair. Ocasio-Cortez could have sent out a tweet. In making her announcement in a forum where the hosts were saying that a vote for anyone but Joe Biden was a vote for Donald Trump — a distillation of the hollow “We’re Not Trump” message that Democrats have been loudly pushing for the past seven years — AOC was putting a bow on a half-decade long drift from radical outsider to establishment liberal. Since taking office in January of 2019, she has deferred to party leadership again and again on the issues that matter, even as she has made token gestures of resistance to solidify the illusion that she is a gadfly. And increasingly, she seems stung by criticism from the left, to the point where she appears ready to simply embrace her party and its politics with open arms.
AOC is endorsing Biden over Trump because he is far to the left of him on most issues and worse on none. And as for her choice of venue, who could possibly give a shit. It has nothing to do with anything important. To the extent that AOC cares about policy rather than demonstrating that she’s a “gadfly” to leftier-than-thou pundits, this is a point in her favor. I myself do not think that AOC becoming the lefty equivalent of Lauren Bobert would be good for anything.
AOC is also bad because she did not unilaterally change US policy toward Israel:
Less surprising, but just as damning, has been Ocasio-Cortez’s meek attitude towards Biden’s foreign policy. The Israeli occupation of Palestine is perhaps where AOC’s position has been most indefensible, most self-parodic: she has mixed at times impressive rhetoric with total inconsistency as a legislator. On the campaign trail in 2018, she ruffled many feathers by saying, “The occupation of Palestine is just an increasing crisis of humanitarian condition.” 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 an encouraging sign. So disappointing, then, that Ocasio-Cortez has spent the past half-decade waffling on this issue. Notoriously, she cried on the floor of Congress over a bill to fund Israel’s “Iron Dome,” one small part of our country’s seemingly limitless willingness to support that country’s domination of Palestine — and then proceeded to vote “present” rather than “no” on the funding bill in question.
Again, whether she votes “no” or “present” is of absolutely no material significance whatsoever. There’s no One Amazing Trick that can give House backbenchers power over foreign policy. A lot of the article is about this kind of thing — under what conditions AOC should cast symbolic “no” votes Freddie concedes are immaterial to any actual policy outcomes. My answer to all of these arguments is that this entire discussion is a massive waste of time. Worrying about the position of relation of officials to the “establishment” is a puerile lens through which to view politics, and if unchecked can lead to the full Greenwald of “fawning over Ron DeSantis because he owns the libs.”
While we’re on the subject of Biden’s foreign policy, you will be unsurprised to learn that a Command-F search reveals zero uses of the words “Afghanistan” or “drone.” Biden has given the left two huge foreign policy asks by ending the Afghanistan war and almost entirely grounding the drones, the former at considerable political cost. Refusing to give Biden any credit for either makes you one of the best friends the Blob has ever had. But people who care greatly on which podcast politicians they once liked make endorsements are also the kind of people who thought that drone warfare made Obama one of the worst war criminals in history and “mysteriously” stopped caring about the issue at all on January 20, 2017. All of this creates terrible incentives going forward — lefty critics using foreign policy solely as an opportunistic cudgel against Democratic presidents, while the Blob actually cares about policy outcomes. I assume that AOC, unlike Freddie, actually does care, which is why she is endorsing Biden.
But these huge wins for the left cannot be mentioned, because the critique of AOC depends on an assertion that the left of the party has gotten nothing out of supporting either Obama or Biden:
The macro situation is this: establishment Democrats and their liberal media mouthpieces expect total electoral loyalty from leftists, while offering us little in return. As the Pod Save America crew demonstrated, the party establishment barely attempts to hide its contempt for its leftmost flank. But as the constancy of third-party voting in presidential elections shows, the tactic of shaming voters has limited effectiveness. I don’t think Ralph Nader or Jill Stein cost the Democrats presidential elections; I think Al Gore and Hillary Clinton were terrible candidates who ran incompetent campaigns. But if you do think lefties voting third party determine the outcomes of national elections, perhaps at some point you might consider actually giving those lefties something to vote for?
I don’t want to dwell much on the Nader question, but I will observe that the contradiction Freddie alleges here is a false one — Nader was a but-for condition of Bush winning, and this remains true even if the mistakes of Gore’s campaign were also a but-for condition. (Stein, I agree, did not materially impact the 2016 election, although “she was too much of a buffoon to even succeed in her goal of throwing the election to Trump” isn’t much of a defense.) It’s also worth pointing out that voting for third parties from the ostensible left since 2000 has been “constant” in the sense that almost nobody votes for them, because the obvious lesson of Nader’s campaigns is that throwing presidential elections to Republicans in exchange for literally nothing is a terrible idea.
But anyway, you either think that vanity ratfucking campaigns that either get Republicans elected or accomplish absolutely nothing at all are good or you don’t. The bigger question here is whether the left wing of the party had gotten anything out of the Obama and Biden administrations and the congressional leadership during this period. The answer here — in addition to the huge foreign policy wins already mentioned — is clear, even if we just look at the big headlights:
- The most important American welfare state program since the Great Society, including a historic expansion of the public insurance program for the poor
- The most consequential financial regulation since the Roosevelt administration, including the creation of a new consumer protection bureau
- The most robust financial response to the pandemic in terms of direct aid to people of any established liberal democracy
- The largest investment in climate change mitigation in American history
The ACA and Dodd-Frank and ARP and IRA were not, of course, perfect bills. They were compromises between the progressive and moderate-to-conservative wings of the party, necessitated by the fact that the latter had effective vetoes over all of these bills (and, with respect to the IRA, required the vote of a senator from a state Trump carried by 40 points.) But the idea that the left got nothing worth voting for out of these bills is deeply unserious.
Of course, once you concede that AOC and Bernie and their allies support Biden because they wield real material influence within his party — and because Biden, unlike some moderate Democrats, has always taken them seriously rather than as a nuisance — all you’re left with is a bunch of theater criticism about whether AOC appears to be anti-establishment enough. I personally think these questions should be left to the Frank Brunis and Maureen Dowds of the world.