Not a Socialist in the House

An observation that the so-called leftists in Congress are of the most meek kind and not actually liberal in the tradition of FDR is not hyperbole. A February 14, 2022 article in the New Yorker: “Is Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez An Insider Now?” demonstrates how lacking there is of a left analysis of the US government in the mainstream media. Those identified as leftists in government would be correctly placed just to the right of center of many post-World War II Western European republican democracies. Any government anywhere around the world was targeted by mayhem of the most lethal kind if its leaders dared to show anything even slightly left following World War II. McCarthyism here was the equivalent response domestically to the US government’s international mayhem. Banishment, execution, or losing one’s ability to earn a living were the typical remedies to radicalism here. Unionists, teachers, and professors would endure the brunt of that repression.

The last mildly liberal president was Lyndon Johnson whose Great Society was pissed away during the murder of millions of people in several contries of Southeast Asia.

The now-famous AOC “electrifies crowds” in Texas, according to the Guardian (February 20, 2022). Here, however, in the Northeast, it seems that many traffic lights in metropolitan areas have at least one, and often more than one person, begging for money close by. This, begging, in the wealthiest nation state in the world that has plenty of socialism for the power elite, and in particular for military interests and the military itself. In 2007-2008, under Bush then Obama, financial interests made out like bandits while ordinary people lost out and often lost out big on big-ticket items like their homes.

The Bernie Sanders political philosophy that includes legislative initiatives such as the Green New Deal and Medicare for All are hardly left issues, but tinkering around the edges of the most moderate reforms to the system of governance in the US, and now most of these endeavors have not seen the light of day given the increasing rightward moves of the government under the minority rule of neoliberals and the extreme right. When Bernie talks about breaking up the banks, he’s not calling for public ownership of banks, or banks working for the public good, but rather splitting banks into commercial and investment entities within the capitalist system. The elimination of Glass-Steagall was the right’s (and Bill Clinton’s) answer to even moderate regulation of the banking industry. Extending Medicare to include dental care and vision care is hardly a Marxist proposition. Canceling student debt, which Biden has not done (he’s postponed payment of student debt) is not the stuff that calls for going to the barricades. They, the Democrats, won’t soon be calling for the ownership of the means of production by the masses. The masses, or at least those who would support fascists as an answer to their worsening economic situation, don’t even like the Democrats since they were abandoned by that political party during the ascent of Ronald Reagan. We teeter at the edge of an environmental Armageddon while the far right and neoliberals move forward with limiting the vote, and make racism and populism on the right their causes célèbre, and war making and war profiteering the order of the day. Try to mention NATO encroachment in Eastern Europe and Russia vis-à-vis Ukraine and the tar and feathers will certainly follow. Insurrection is a welcome clarion call for the right, while many on the so-called left can’t attack antifascists enough, as if they had any power at all.

The New Yorker interview begins with an apology by the Congressperson for the Biden administration, an administration that gets just about nothing done. “There are some things that are outside of the President’s control, and there’s very little one can say about that…” What a nonstarter as inflation is at its highest level in nearly half a century! Nowhere in the piece is there any analysis of the current standoff at the eastern border of Ukraine with its big bonus for military and financial interests and the extension of the tired and lethal realpolitik that the US has followed since the end of World War II. Forget Russia’s security concerns vis-à-vis NATO, or  that the US intervenes wherever and whenever it sees fit with hardly a whimper from Congress or from many on the streets. At this writing, the celebration in the mass media of militarism in Eastern Europe is all the rage. The US can pounce on Afghanistan, Iraq, Venezuela, Syria, Libya, and Yemen, to name just a few, but with Russia, hardly a superpower despite its nuclear arsenal, and the hand wringing in the circles of the power elite in the US and its allies is unending. The “newspaper of record” has been particularly vociferous in its drumbeat toward war in Ukraine. Recall the lead-up to the 2003 war in Iraq?

The infrastructure plan and the Build Back Better Act are a near and almost total failure respectively under the Biden administration. It’s either the naysayers among the Democrats, among them Manchin and Sinema, or the far right Republicans who want nothing to do with even the most moderate tinkering around the edges of the US structure of power, profits, and militarism. The so-called free market is where these characters want decisions made and the Congress, courts, and executive branches are there to rubber stamp that agenda. Failure to rubber stamp is a guaranteed ticket to the exits and streets. They, the power brokers in both parties of the duopoly, will primary a candidate or officer holder out the door to show just how little room there is in the US political system for dissent. Look to Ralph Nader, who dared to challenge the system of presidential electoral politics, and was exiled to the “provinces” for his bold actions. There is little need for consumer protection and fair play and good government when greed and authoritarianism rule the day.

Following Ocasio-Cortez’s handwringing about both infrastructure spending and social policy spending is her observation that “I think there’s a very real risk that we will not…” in response to whether or not the US will have a democracy ten years from now. The US is about as far from being a republican democracy in the present as it has ever been. Look to the Democrat who leads the party in the House, who the Congressional representative is afraid to confront.

Wearing a tax the wealthy clothing item while out on the town may be a cute idea, but the US hasn’t taxed the wealthy in any substantial way that is even remotely fair since before the presidency of “The Great Communicator,” Reagan, 34 years ago.

Here’s David Remnick’s question in the New Yorker interview about the power structure in Congress and Nancy Pelosi in particular:

When you are asked questions about whether or not Nancy Pelosi should stay as Speaker, when you’re asked questions about the rather advanced ages of Steny Hoyer, Jim Clyburn, and Chuck Schumer, does it make a difference? You’re saying it’s structural. It’s not generational.

It’s both. The reason we have this generational situation that we do is also, in part, due to our structures. The generational aspect of things is absolutely pertinent to the kind of decision-making. There is this world view, this appeal, of a time passed that I think sometimes guides decision-making.

The Congressperson concludes her criticism of Pelosi with a kind of generational nonsense. Nancy Pelosi had a net worth of $58 million in 2009. The House is the most representative branch of Congress and Pelosi’s wealth is astounding.

The point in all of this is that Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is not a socialist or a democratic socialist, or any other kind of socialist. Socialists routinely run for positions of power in the federal government, but not since Eugene Debs has any socialist won as many votes in a presidential election. For Representative Ocasio-Cortez, or for Senator Bernie Sanders to call themselves and be called socialists is fine, but they aren’t. Wearing catchy phrases to a gala calling for a fair system of taxation is a great publicity routine, but nothing much will come of this behavior, just as not much came from either of Senator Bernie Sanders’ two runs for the presidency in 2016 and 2020. They, those of the power elite, won’t let them into the party of wealth even as the most moderate of reformers.

Howard Lisnoff is a freelance writer. He is the author of Against the Wall: Memoir of a Vietnam-Era War Resister (2017).