What Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s Victory Means and Doesn’t

I think Josh Marshall is correct when he warns people off over-interpreting the shocking primary loss Joe Crowley, the chair of the House Democratic Caucus, suffered last night at the hands of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a 28-year-old political novice and Democratic Socialist who was working as a bartender as recently as last year. The district is roughly 50 percent Latino, 50 percent foreign-born, and disproportionately young. Add to this that women have been running strong in Democratic primaries all year long, and it really shouldn’t surprise us that the district was ready to make a change or that it would embrace someone running to Crowley’s left.

I don’t think this really ought to send that much of a message either to the Democratic Party or to the nation as a whole. It’s not actually remarkable that a representative from the Bronx and Queens would embrace socialistic policies. And it’s now a strongly minority-majority district, so there’s nothing out of the ordinary about it being represented by a Latina rather than a more traditional Irish-American pol.

If there is any part of this victory that concerns me, it’s that Crowley’s race was used rather explicitly as a reason why he shouldn’t continue to represent the district. If someone were to use that logic to, for example, explain why former NAACP director Ben Jealous shouldn’t be elected as governor of Maryland, I think it would be rightfully condemned. More than that, though, it sends a message to the broader country that I think is more powerful and alienating than Ocasio-Cortez’s ideological leanings. The case for Ocasio-Cortez was made independently of Crowley’s race and making that an issue was gratuitous and unfortunate.

Trumpism feeds off a sense of white racial solidarity, anxiety and grievance, so when Democrats send a message that whites are not welcome or acceptable, it increases the power of his movement.

Having said that, I also don’t want to overemphasize it. Ocasio-Cortez will probably represent my political leanings better than Crowley would have, and I suspect we can say the same for the constituents of New York’s 11th congressional district. The House Democrats will now have the opportunity to elevate someone to the leadership from the younger generations, which is something many people have been advocating with good reason for quite some time. It’s also encouraging to see that it’s possible to win an election in this country even when you’re badly outspent and running against someone with some significantly entrenched power.

Her story is inspiring and she seems to have a lot of natural talent, charisma and energy, which will all be welcome in the Democratic caucus on Capitol Hill. She was correct, too, to argue that she’ll bring a badly underrepresented perspective to Washington.

On balance, I think this election result is good news for the Democratic Party and not some indication of disarray or that they’re moving too far away from the mainstream.

I spent last night looking up the biographies and positions of all the fresh faces among the Democratic Party primary winners in New York State, and it’s a very impressive and heterogeneous pool of talent. Taken in that broader perspective, I think Ocasio-Cortez’s victory was just one small part of a great night for the Democrats of New York.

Martin Longman

Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly and the main blogger at Booman Tribune.