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Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

Socialism

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez hitched her star to Bernie Sanders — and vice versa. AOC brought a young, hip Latina vibe to the elderly Sanders’ rallies. Photogenic and enjoying a massive social media presence, she joined Bernie in the far left’s crusade to take over the Democratic Party.

Joe Biden now commands a nearly insurmountable lead in Democratic delegates, thanks to a multiracial coalition including the white working-class voters Sanders believed he’d attract. Biden also has suburban women, whom Sanders hasn’t even tried for.

This whole mythology of a socialist uprising by people of color, blue-collar workers and a wave of millennials has fallen apart. It isn’t that many other Democrats don’t like some of Sanders’ proposals. Rather, they understand that their issues would be better addressed by Biden for the simple reason that Biden could defeat President Donald Trump and Sanders could not.

Sanders has also lost friends by attacking his Democratic hosts more than his Republican opponents. AOC has joined in, devoting much energy to challenging moderate Democrats who had fought their way into Congress in hard-to-win districts.

Fortunately, her candidates lost. The most prominent battle was a primary challenge by AOC’s “Justice Democrat” candidate Jennifer Cisneros against Democratic Rep. Henry Cuellar in Texas. Cuellar and his family have been fixtures in this socially conservative district, which includes much of the Rio Grande Valley. He won, though narrowly.

The Justice Democrats have a nearly unblemished record of defeat. In the 2018 midterms, 16 candidates tied to Justice Democrats lost. None won. Bernie’s Our Revolution movement backed 22 lefty Democrats. Twenty-two lost.

AOC is a smart woman. She couldn’t help but notice that, her presence at Sanders rallies notwithstanding, the sea of faces were almost all white — even in a mostly black and Latino neighborhood near her congressional district in Queens and the Bronx.

And she surely knows that her upset 2018 primary win against Democratic fixture Joe Crowley came courtesy of newly arrived college-educated whites in her district. Black and Latino voters in AOC’s own Bronx neighborhood overwhelmingly supported Crowley.

Why am I bothering to advise AOC, when she can be so irritating? Because I retain a spark of affection for the charismatic young woman. She is street savvy and a fast learner. She has a sense of humor and is a superb communicator. She also has a good life story, having grown up in a working-class Puerto Rican family. She can repeat her bio a million more times. (For the record, Cuellar came from even harder hard knocks; his father was a Mexico-born migrant laborer.)

As losers go, Sanders is pathetic. He’s now blaming his primary losses on the “venom” of the “corporate media.” He claims that Amy Klobuchar and Pete Buttigieg were forced by the “power of the establishment” to endorse Biden. As usual, he’s blaming rich people in general.

He’s even gone after Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer for endorsing Biden. “Well, that wasn’t her thoughts when I came here to help her get elected,” Sanders griped. Sanders may have forgotten that he campaigned for the man who challenged Whitmer in the primary.

AOC would do best walking away from this car wreck. She should go forth, work with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and stop trying to curb the careers of Democrats elected in districts far from her own. She doesn’t have to give up her political beliefs. She just has to stop being a constant pain in the butt for Democrats.

In terms of intelligence and energy, Ocasio-Cortez has the raw materials for national leadership. Does she want that? Or would she rather become a martyr for a movement in decline? I hope she chooses the future.

Follow Froma Harrop on Twitter @FromaHarrop. She can be reached at fharrop@gmail.com. To find out more about Froma Harrop and read features by other Creators writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators webpage at www.creators.com.

Bernie Sanders is currently the front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination. He and everyone else knows exactly how the Republicans will attack him if and when he becomes the nominee: old-fashioned redbaiting.

China became communist in name only during the 1980s; the Soviet Union shut its doors in 1991; the Cold War is dead; and 64% of Americans under age 50 have no memory of a socialist regime actually existing. Yet Trump and the GOP have already broadcast their plans to hang the “democratic socialist” label around Bernie Sanders’ neck.

Whether such archaic fearmongering — against long-dead adversaries — will be effective even with elderly voters is anyone’s guess. Considering the fact that 40% of Americans consistently tell pollsters they prefer socialism or communism to capitalism, branding Sanders as a nefarious democratic socialist might have the unintended effect of bringing out people who don’t normally vote to support an ideology they’ve never had the chance to get behind.

On the other hand, only 76% of Democrats say they would vote for a socialist.

One thing is for sure: The socialism thing will be Sanders’ biggest challenge. And so what? Every candidate enters the game with a handicap of some sort.

Elizabeth Warren has acquired a reputation for deception and opportunism. Amy Klobuchar plays a mean girl behind closed doors. Pete Buttigieg is gay; only 78% of voters say they’d consider a gay candidate. He’s also inexperienced. Joe Biden appears to have been suffering from dementia for years.

Political weaknesses are inevitable; what makes or breaks a candidacy is how his or her campaign chooses to address it. History’s answer is clear: Take it on honestly, directly and credibly.

Own your crap. American voters hate sneakiness and avoidance.

Bernie has no one but himself to blame for this potential electoral albatross. As Paul Krugman of The New York Times points out, the independent senator from Vermont is not really a socialist: “He doesn’t want to nationalize our major industries and replace markets with central planning.” He is a New Deal Democrat indistinguishable from old liberal figures like Hubert Humphrey and George McGovern. The economic model Sanders wants to establish isn’t the USSR, or even Yugoslavia, but the Scandinavian countries with their superior safety nets and enlightened penal systems. Capitalism as we know it would continue, albeit with reduced overall cruelty.

Bernie is a social democrat, not a democratic socialist. For some unknown reason, however, he chose to label himself as a democratic socialist. “It’s mainly about personal branding,” Krugman speculates, “with a dash of glee at shocking the bourgeoisie. And this self-indulgence did no harm as long as he was just a senator from a very liberal state.”

Now he’s going to have to explain himself and his beliefs to American voters who have been propagandized through education and the media to believe that socialism equals communism equals totalitarian dystopia.

If he’s smart — and there’s no reason to believe that he and his staff are anything but — he will own the phrase and address those concerns head on.

During the 1960 campaign, John F. Kennedy responded to worries about his being Roman Catholic and potentially taking orders from the pope. The speech allowed anti-Catholic voters to take a chance on him. “I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute, where no Catholic prelate would tell the president (should he be Catholic) how to act,” Kennedy said.

Aware that he was going to run for president in a few years, Barack Obama discussed his drug use as a young man, specifically the fact that he had tried cocaine, in his memoir and in an interview published ahead of the race. By the time he ran in 2008, the coke thing was old news baked into the politics of the time.

“Democratic socialism” is a pretty meaningless term. Which is not necessarily bad. Because it doesn’t define an existing party or ideology in the real world, Sanders can imprint his own definition upon his awkward tabula rasa.

Like every crisis, this is an opportunity. Voters want to know what Sanders stands for. Their confusion about democratic socialism (confusion caused by Sanders’ weird word choices) is his chance to explain himself and his policies.

The one thing he should not and cannot do is to shy away from the S-word. No matter how much he protests, Republicans are going to call him a Marxist, a communist, a socialist, and worse. So there’s no point in protesting. “Yes,” he could say, “I am a socialist — a democratic socialist. A democratic socialist is a person who cares more about you as an ordinary American than about greedy billionaires and corporations who pollute your water and lay you off at the drop of a hat.”

Nothing neutralizes an attack more effectively than to cop to it.

If nothing else, even if he loses, Bernie could rehabilitate socialism as an acceptable economic alternative. In the long run, that would be a greater accomplishment than anything he could accomplish in eight years as president.

Ted Rall, the political cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, is the author of Francis: The People’s Pope. He is on Twitter @TedRall. You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.

Photo Credit: Gage Skidmore