Even if Bernie isnt with us forever his Democrat-Socialist Movement will be
By Bill Scher
The recent endorsement of Bernie Sanders for president by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez will not determine the winner of the 2020 Democratic presidential primary. Endorsements almost never matter. But this one does for the future of the Democratic Party.
Some progressive commentators worry that friction between Warren and Sanders or more accurately between Warren and Sanders supporters is hurting the chances of progressives to sideline the partys moderates and the donor class.
All you people squabbling at your desks about whether Warren or Sanders is scarier to big money are missing the damn point" scolded Time editor-at-large Anand Giridharadas on Twitter.
Together they make up a two-headed populist uprising against plutocracy."
Hope the two candidates maintain their truce competing to outdo each other in the boldness of their ideas and the breadth and passion of their support" he wrote.
Yet Ocasio-Cortez is choosing and provocatively so. Ocasio-Cortez is making her move at a pivotal point in the race.
To make the endorsement at this moment is to say: Not so fast Elizabeth.
The timing of Ocasio-Cortezs endorsement sends a sharp message to the party establishment and the progressive movement:
We socialists are not here for Elizabeth Warrens reformed capitalism.
We socialists want socialism and were not keeping quiet until we get it.
Ocasio-Cortez seems to be telling us that Sanders and his movement will still be with us when hes gone and that she aims to be the one who leads it.
Warren has eclipsed Sanders as not just the left-wing front-runner but the races front-runner leading or tied for the lead in most national and early state polls.
However if you are a committed socialist the differences between Sanders and Warren are crucial. Nathan Robinson of the influential socialist magazine Current Affairs last month detailed his problems with Warren. Some were rooted in tactical concerns that she wouldnt build a political operation to overwhelm the ruling class as shes a law professor" and not a movement-builder."
But at bottom Robinson wrote
I dont like to say that I cant trust Elizabeth Warren but I cant."
He pointed to this years State of the Union address:
Donald Trump promised that America would never be a socialist country. Warren stood up and applauded as Bernie sat and fumed.
This was a very clear Which side are you on? moment."
At a similar moment Ocasio-Cortez has chosen to remind everyone of which side shes on. The differences are not strictly symbolic or theoretical.
Take climate. Sanders envisions a truly massive federal government intervention to avert the climate crisis: a $16.3 trillion investment over 15 years including the establishment of public ownership of electric utilities. Warren not only puts far less money on the table but she also believes the profit motive can help protect the climate.
Asked during the CNN climate forum whether she agreed with Sanders on public ownership Warren stuck to her capitalistic guns. Gosh you know Im not sure that thats what gets you to the solution" she said and added If somebody wants to make a profit from building better solar panels and generating better battery storage Im not opposed to that."
Warren has echoed Sanders on Single-Payer Health Insurance even weathering question after question about how much she would raise taxes to pay for it. But the fact that she hasnt always held that position and still hasnt released her own detailed plan leads some to challenge the depth of her commitment.
Sure they both propose taxing wealth not just annual income. But Sanders is more aggressive with higher rates levied on a broader class of multimillionaires bringing $1.75 trillion more in revenue over 10 years. And he is more rhetorically aggressive. I dont have a beef with billionaires" said a somewhat charitable Warren in the last debate.
Compare that with Sanders who has said I dont think that billionaires should exist."
Sanders has acknowledged his wealth tax does not eliminate billionaires" and that the day billionaires cease to be is not tomorrow."
But it is clear he wants that day to come. His endgame is not her endgame.
Sanders put it plainly in a recent interview with ABCs This Week." Elizabeth I think as you know has said that she is a capitalist through her bones" he said. Im not."
(Her exact words were I am a capitalist to my bones" and she has also talked of her love" of what markets can do.")
To some this looks like semantics. The fact that Sanders does not have a platform of immediate government command over the entire economy has made some question not only the significance of his differences with Warren but also why he even bothers to call himself a democratic socialist.
Still by expressing a desire for government to own at least some of the means of production and to place a ceiling on how much wealth individuals can accumulate Sanders forces us to take his socialistic language seriously. Certainly Ocasio-Cortez does.
The obvious explanation is that Ocasio-Cortez wants to keep the socialist flame burning. Sanders is 78 years old and is in the twilight of his career. If the socialist movement that he has built is going to last the torch must be passed.
Laura Ingraham may well be correct that Ocasio-Cortez wants to take that torch and eventually run for president herself. She would be just barely constitutionally eligible when she turns 35 in 2024. But her Sanders endorsement signals what kind of presidential campaign that would be a direct descendant of the Sanders efforts that have put building a durable socialist movement in America above short-term electoral considerations.
So Ocasio-Cortez is prepared to remain in the Democratic fold but her endorsement of Sanders means she has no intention of shelving the socialist banner in the process.
The Democratic Partys big tent has long been filled with ideological tensions between moderates and progressives but now there is also friction between progressives and socialists.
And considering that Ocasio-Cortez is 48 years younger than Sanders you can be sure that the socialist wing of the Democratic Party is not going away anytime soon.
Bill Scher is a contributing editor to Politico Magazine and co-host of the Bloggingheads.tv Show.