Much is being made in the right-wing media about former President Barack Obama’s failure to include upstart progressive Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez among the scores of Democrats he’s endorsed in this November’s federal and state elections. Much is also being made of the split within the Democratic party between the pro-corporate, pro-empire centrists and the democratic socialists further to the left. The former dismiss the latter as ideological extremists who don’t understand how the world works and whose stubborn “purity” costs elections. The latter blast the former as corporate sellouts whose policies and actions are often indistinguishable from those of their Republican foes.
During the 2016 presidential election, the centrists overwhelmingly supported Hillary Clinton, while democratic socialists backed Bernie Sanders or — gasp — Green candidate Jill Stein. Anyone who was writing or commenting here will recall without joy the overwhelming toxic vitriol and literally repressive environment during that star-crossed campaign. If it’s anything like that come 2020, I’ll take my thoughts to one of the other fine sites where am I regularly published, and sometimes repaid for my considerable efforts with lucre and “likes,” not derision, sophomoric flaggings and unwarranted time-outs.
I was going to write that Obama’s endorsement list tears open the old wounds of 2016. But those wounds haven’t yet healed. They’ve festered because Democrats, or at least the ones in charge, have stubbornly failed to learn the lessons of 2016 and are instead hell-bent on blaming everyone from Vladimir Putin to Sanders, Stein and socialists, instead of the bloody horrific candidate they ran.
It would be better to write that Obama’s list pours salt on the festering wounds of 2016. Barack Obama endorsed 81 candidates for the midterm elections. Of those, only four are also endorsed by Our Revolution, the progressive political action committee spun out of Sanders’ electrifying 2016 bid. In other words, out of the 81 most progressive Democrats seriously running for office, Obama deemed only 5 percent of them worthy of his endorsement.
Why has Obama endorsed so few truly progressive candidates? The name of the winner-take-all game is victory über alles, and as he did so often during his disappointing presidency, Obama mostly chose to play it safe. He is endorsing centrist candidates who are the best bets to beat Republicans, but the worst bets to promote the policies and actions needed to avert the approaching ecological, economic and social disaster and to save humanity from what Martin Luther King Jr. called the “evil triplets” of capitalism, militarism and racism.
This approach is not without its significant dangers. As we saw in 2016 with the embarrassing defeat of Hillary Clinton, playing it safe and centrist can and does spectacularly backfire. It repulses progressives who don’t want to hold their noses and swallow candidates who support endless wars of imperial aggression, corporate greed over human need, Earth-destroying energy and environmental policies and even slavery and child soldiers.
There is another reason why Obama failed to endorse Ocasio-Cortez and other true progressives. Barack Obama is not a true progressive. He was, once upon a time, way back when he was fighting the power during his Chicago community organizer days. But then he became the power and, well, bombed more countries than George W. Bush.
Barack Obama is part of the problem. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is part of the solution. For now, at least. There is a great chance she will gradually abandon her principles with each new higher peak of power she climbs, just as so many erstwhile progressives who came before her have done. During the 2008 campaign, for example, Obama remarked that “nobody is suffering more than the Palestinian people.” But by the time he left the White House he’d lavished Israel, the only nation on the planet simultaneously engaged in occupation, apartheid, colonization and ethnic cleansing, with the biggest US aid donation in its history. This, even after eight years of Israeli crimes against humanity that killed thousands of Palestinians and left them suffering considerably more than when he lamented their plight on the campaign trail in 2007.
But right now what the Democratic party — and America — needs is more Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and less Barack Obama. True progressive change requires true progressives, and more of the same old War n’ Wall Street crowd just won’t do.