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Op-ed: MacParland shouldn't need AOC to make a fallacious election argument

Updated: Sep 8, 2021


Photo from the National Post's Twitter: https://twitter.com/nationalpost


Kelly MacParland published two articles on AOC in the National Post, one online titled "Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez loses her grip on reality" on November 11th, and a nearly identical one in the print edition the next day titled "AOC's revolution over before it began." For simplicity's sake, this response does not distinguish between the two.

 

Kelly MacParland’s recent front page article in the National Post fails to make any substantive argument or original contribution to the discourse surrounding the recent presidential election, instead relying on readers’ distaste for rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to obscure an argument that fails to hold up under scrutiny.

The core of MacParland’s argument is that the 2020 presidential election was as close as it was because the Trump campaign was able to scare voters with “forecasts of a socialist putsch.” In particular, she points out that Florida went to the Republicans because of Cuban, Venezuelan, and Nicaraguan voters there who favoured Trump. These voters feared the Democrat promises for an “economic model that sounded worryingly like the ones they fled.”

MacParland deserves credit for not treating the “Latino vote” as a monolith, while the Democrats approach to campaigning was not nearly as nuanced. Democrats failed to account for the immense diversity among Latino communities, and assumed they could campaign to Cuban Americans the same way they could campaign to first-generation Mexican-Americans. Their belief that immigration policy was sufficient to attract a monolithic Latino vote was not rewarded.

The Democrats also assumed that the non-existent “Latino vote” was a sure thing, while Trump campaigned hard for their support. Once again, MacParland deserves credit for reminding her readers that the GOP’s inroads among Cuban and Venezuelan voters in Florida was in part thanks to “vigorous courting of Hispanics.” Yet for all her nuance in referring to Latino communities, and despite her acknowledgement of the concerted effort Republicans made to win those communities over, her question is still framed as “How did the Democrats lose Latinos?” as opposed to “How did Trump win Cubans, Venezuelans, and Nicaraguans?”

The answer, according to her, is socialism. It was not that the Democrats completely ignored the diversity of Latino voters, and then took those voters for granted. Rather, it was the “pledges of lifetime guaranteed jobs and free college tuition,” neither of which were in Joe Biden’s platform, which scared them away. Despite the inconsistencies in assigning AOC’s pet policies to Biden’s unpopularity, Trump’s appeal to these Latino communities was that Biden would raise taxes, and these voters are understandably inclined not to support self-described socialist.

Does this mean AOC’s “revolution” is “over before it began?” Does a moderate Democrat only winning by a narrow margin necessarily mean that a leftist Democrat can’t win? Political viability is not directly proportional to one’s position on an imaginary political spectrum, peaking in the center. Trump has proven this. Some voters would be lost to the Democrats were they to push left. Others, likely, would be gained.

In Florida, where Biden won 48% of the vote, the minimum wage was raised to fifteen dollars with 60% of the vote. The fifteen dollar minimum wage was supported at the federal level by Biden and not Trump, yet it outperformed Biden by twelve points. Perhaps then the issue is not that the Democrats are perceived to be in favour of unpopular leftist policies, but that they are not perceived to be in favour of popular ones.

While Biden supported the fifteen dollar minimum wage in the general election, it was a policy he inherited from his colleagues to the left. It didn't really matter that he supported it, he was not associated with it. This may be the Democrats broader issue: they are not associated with much of anything. Biden’s campaign messaging was mostly on rebuilding what Trump destroyed, and “getting the car back on the road.” His appeal could easily be boiled down to “not a fascist,” which is effective, but not necessarily compelling.

One may believe, as I do, that the 2020 general election was not the one where Democrats should have started to take risks. Their bland, uncompelling candidate may have been the one America needed. Going forward, however, they will need to start making a case, instead of making a plea. Especially if proto-authoritarians are the new normal for the Republican party, “I’m not a fascist” will become an increasingly tired and ineffective plea.

The time has never been better for a change in the Democratic party, towards policies that are broadly popular instead of empty centrist rhetoric. As Sen. Sanders’ primary campaign demonstrated, this version of the Democratic has support among key demographics: Some Latino communities (such as in Nevada), Midwesterners, and young people.

It is at this point in writing that I began to question where AOC fits into MacParland’s article at all. The election was a referendum on Trump, and his challenger was Biden. Why does his failure in Florida reflect poorly on her beyond an indirect and contentious connection via socialism? In reality, MacParland’s argument about Florida and the Democratic party does not require Cortez at all.

MacParland spends a portion of the article quoting AOC on where she thinks the Democrats’ difficulties originated (ineffective campaigning). She spends no time refuting AOC’s claims, instead making a completely separate argument about the impact of perceived “socialism,” which is supposed to be AOC’s fault. Despite never explicitly disagreeing with Cortez’s diagnosis of some of the problems in the Democratic party, MacParland goes as far as to say that she has “lost her grip on reality.”

I believe that AOC is not mentioned in this article to help MacParland’s shaky argument, but to obscure it. Like her references to “identity politics” and swampy universities, “AOC” is a buzzword meant to rile up a conservative readership that already dislikes her. It’s Fox-esque: Obscure a flawed argument based on faulty assumptions by tying it to a critique of a figure that is unpopular with your intended audience. Fox has spent years invoking Obama’s name to this effect, and has begun using AOC to do the same. For the National Post, this is a new addition, to fit in alongside weekly Trudeau takedowns.

The use of AOC’s face and name on the front page to make an argument that, beyond its flaws, has very little to do with her is a distinct step in the wrong direction for the National Post.

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