There’s been lots of media coverage lately of the sparring between Nancy Pelosi and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. The latest exchanges between the two began when AOC and her three newly-elected comrades on the left—Ilan Omar, Ayanna Pressley, and Rashida Tlaib–voted against compromise legislation on the migrant crisis that Pelosi regarded as unavoidable. A dismissive Pelosi comment on the recalcitrant foursome was followed by a tweet by AOC’s chief of staff, Saikat Chakrabarti, accusing moderate Democrats of being neo-racists, followed by a Pelosi warning obviously pointed at AOC et. al. to withhold attacks on fellow Democratic House members. Subsequently, AOC told the Washington Post that she felt she and her colleagues were being unfairly singled out as “women of color.”
I think there is blame on both sides here. The Chakrabarti tweet (subsequently deleted) was clearly outrageous and absurd, and AOC’s later play of the race card was offensive. (She was promptly rebuked by several African-American House Democrats.) But Pelosi has been making dismissive if not disparaging remarks about AOC et. al. for months. (Remember “the ‘Green Dream,’ or whatever they call it”?) Pelosi evidently is anxious to counter propaganda that her party is careening to the left. (Right-wing media have made AOC into something of a sensation, an anti-heroine personifying Democrats’ perfidious leftism.) Pelosi certainly has every right to point out that AOC doesn’t represent the Democratic caucus, but the tone of her remarks too often has been needlessly snarky. It’s surprising, coming from a master politician like her. Pelosi needs to recognize that AOC, with 4 million twitter followers, does indeed represent a new wave of energy and enthusiasm on the left that Democrats would be foolish to scorn.
Of course, this isn’t just a clash of personalities. There is in fact a continuing contention between perspectives in the Democratic Party that I’ve been writing about for years. Should Democrats move in an aggressively progressive direction to combat structural inequality and respond to the widespread cynicism about politics that helped bring us Donald Trump? Or should they hew more closely to the center to win the support of moderate voters alienated by GOP extremism? AOC and her comrades are promoting a particularly fervent version of the first alternative. Pelosi is trying to strike a balance, not always successfully. The contention will inevitably continue, but no one should lose sight of the paramount shared objective of expelling Donald Trump from the White House.