(Opinion) Since 2016, quite a few progressives have been able to use Bernie Sanders's retired campaign to catapult themselves into political stardom. For those who were brave enough to pioneer what eventually turned out to be a massive movement that forever changed the direction of political discourse on issues like foreign policy, single-payer healthcare, and campaign finance reform, there was a hefty price to pay.
Former Ohio State senator Nina Turner, for example, was unable to return to Ohio politics after refusing to back down to the Democratic establishment after she unexpectedly switched her endorsement from Hillary Clinton to Bernie Sanders, because she felt like getting Senator Sanders (I-VT) elected was far more important than whatever security or political capital she could garner by regaining her senate seat or many of the other positions she's suited to fill. For that sacrifice, the DNC rewarded her by disallowing her to nominate the man she spent that prior year campaigning for at the Democratic National Convention and while constantly berating her with racist and sexist smear attempts.
We can look at Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI02), who when asked about having any fear of a potential retaliatory political assault at the hands of, then, presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, she responded with, "The Clintons don't scare me". Rep. Gabbard gave up her seat as Vice Chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee after she saw the way the DNC was treating Sen. Sanders. She constantly called out the rigged debate schedule and decided to endorse Sanders over Clinton. This decision came at a hefty price. Not only did Gabbard give up what would have likely been an easy road to the White House, but the founders of CAA/UTA talent agencies also vowed to use every ounce of their Hollywood and political network to crush the Hawaiian congresswoman's career. Indeed, they did their best to follow through on that promise as we saw through the treatment of Congresswoman Gabbard throughout her entire 2020 presidential run. Before Gabbard stood up to Clinton, she was often referred to as the future "anointed queen" of the Democratic Party.
Briahna Joy Gray, former national press secretary for the Bernie 2020 campaign and former senior editor for politics at The Intercept is another great example. Not only did Briahna have the "audacity" to support Bernie Sanders over Hillary Clinton in the 2016 primary election (Black women were not allowed to support anyone but Clinton if you didn't know), but she also became a surrogate for Jill Stein's 2016 campaign in the general election. This means she actively campaigned for a third party insurgency against Clinton because she felt Dr. Stein represented the best hope for people to get the human-centered policies they deserved. When Sen. Sanders's 2016 press secretary, Symone D. Sanders, "abruptly" stepped down at the height of Sanders's 2016 campaign, she walked right into a job at CNN. And later, she was selected senior advisor for Joe Biden's 2020 campaign; which I'm sure is totally unrelated. However, Ms. Joy Gray was not embraced as warmly by establishment Democrats nor mainstream media. She was also a victim of racist and sexist smear tactics, similar to those used against former Sen. Turner. When she challenged narratives being pushed by the mainstream media regarding Sanders's 2020 efforts, she was called "childish", "immature", "inexperienced", and seldom engaged on the substance of her arguments.
All in all, these three women managed to stay afloat and continue to make a name for themselves despite the constant backlash they received from making one life-changing decision to back Bernie Sanders when no one else with any real political clout would do so. If these weren't some of the most brilliant women in politics, they would have likely been crushed by the barrage of establishment attacks thrown their way. When people have to sacrifice something you cherish in order to fight for a cause they believe in, they become invested in protecting that cause. They will fight the toughest battles to defend the sanctity of that cause. Otherwise, why put yourself in a position to lose everything to support a cause you half-heartedly believe in with no intention of seeing it through until the end?
I know what you're thinking, "Why did Niko dedicate three paragraphs to explain the sacrifices of three women in a piece that is supposed to be about AOC?" And I assure you, there is a valid reason. The reason I outlined the political retaliation experienced by those who made a bold decision in 2016 knowing it could tank their careers, is because I needed to make a necessary contrast between that group and another group of "Berniecrats". There was another group of people who's political stardom was largely contingent on their connection to Sanders's movement. These people were nowhere to be found in 2016. These people made none of the sacrifices the women above were bold enough to make when the country needed them the most. But, they reaped all of the political and financial benefits that subsequently followed for "Berniecrats" who were willing to ride the coattails of who eventually became the most popular politician in the country. And although I could rattle off a list of names that fit this description, no one fits this description more than the "progressive firebrand" Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY14).
When she defeated former Rep. Joe Crowley, the progressive movement rejoiced. If a bartender from The Bronx could defeat the man who was next in line to be Speaker of The House, then maybe we really did stand a chance to take the White House in 2020 with progressive policies and hard work. Ocasio-Cortez, or AOC, was loud, unapologetically progressive, and even went as far as calling herself that naughty word feared by U.S. Democrats and Republicans alike - "Democratic Socialist". Today, her name is already being tossed around as the Democratic Primary frontrunner in 2024. Then, she will be old enough to run for President. Yes, AOC is everything progressive leftists could want in a politician. Or, so many people may think.
Analyzing a politician's true intentions can be tricky. But generally, you figure out if a politician is an ally, who makes mistakes, or a bad actor, who sometimes does good things to be showered with the praise that comes with the appearance of looking like she, or he, is on the side of the people, by analyzing their patterns of behavior and the context of those patterns.
Who Is AOC Loyal To?
I think most people would classify a "good progressive" as someone who allies themselves with the policies that help people the most. They would also agree, that person should be willing to stand by and fight for the people who push those policies as well. Well, it might break your heart to hear this. But AOC does not fit that description.
Let's take a quick look back at the women discussed above, and AOC's relationship, or lack thereof, with them. AOC has been known to be very, VERY, vocal when it comes to defending herself against Republican attacks (attacks that are often just plain weird and increasingly creepy). She was vocal when she was defending herself against House Speaker Nancy Pelosi as The Speaker has constantly condescended and belittled her throughout her term in Congress. However, does AOC keep that same energy when it comes to defending other progressive allies or "Berniecrats"? Let's review.
As I stated above, Briahna Joy Gray and Nina Turner were the victims of some of the most vitriolic and disgusting attacks a black woman (or anybody for that matter) could experience. Given that AOC is known to use her status as a woman of color as a defense against these types of attacks for herself, one would assume that she would be just as eager to defend these progressive, black, female, Berniecrats, of whom was also a part of the very same presidential campaign she belonged to in 2020. Rep. Ocasio-Cortez obviously knows how it feels to be attacked not based on the substance of one's argument, but because of the gender and race a person is born. To this day, there is no tweet or interview where AOC challenges the liberal media's treatment of Bernie's former national press secretary nor his former national co-chair. Even when Dr. Jason Johnson made abhorrent comments referring to Joy Gray and Ms. Turner as "misfit black girls", AOC, who is known to roar like a proud lioness when defending herself, was as quiet as a mouse when it was time to defend her fellow progressives and campaign colleagues.
Enter, Tulsi Gabbard. Rep. Gabbard was, and is, a progressive powerhouse who's presidential run was widely anticipated by current and former Sanders supporters alike. Her 2016 sacrifice combined with policies such as the Off Fossil Fuels Act, Securing Ameria's Elections Act, Fairness In Media Act, No More Presidential Wars Act, Stop Financing/Arming Terrorism Acts, Universal Basic Income, and more, garnered her a cult following (ironic pun intended). Couple all of that with her stance on whistleblower protections and civil liberties, her love of Mixed Martial Arts and Capoeira, and her "no bullsh*t" approach to politics, Tulsi Gabbard was indeed a force to be reckoned with in the 2020 Democratic Primary election. In fact, even AOC found Rep. Gabbard to be an inspirational figure in the progressive movement. Ocasio-Cortez campaigned on getting some of Tulsi's legislation passed, and even responded Tulsi's congratulatory tweet with, "Let's change the world *together*". Unfortunately, the Democratic Primary made Gabbard, another progressive woman of color, the target of blatant sexism, racism, xenophobia, and religious bigotry. And once again, AOC was silent as another progressive woman of color was being dragged through the mud by people who've now become the freshmen congresswoman's biggest cheerleaders.
Maybe Ocasio-Cortez didn't have a personal connection with the women above that is sometimes needed to find the bravery to stand up for someone fighting for the same ideals as you. Maybe, if a progressive colleague that she also considered a friend was being attacked by establishment Democrats like the women above, then she'd muster up the courage to come out swinging for them as unapologetically as she comes out swinging for herself?
I think most would consider Congresswoman Ilhan Omar (D-MN05) and AOC "friends" who've shown reasonable loyalty to each other since entering Congress and becoming two members of the famous progressive popstar group, "The Squad". I think most also consider Rep. Omar a progressive. And I'm sure it goes without saying that she's not only a woman of color, but a black, Somali-born, religious minority, and refugee as well. So it may come as a surprise to many that AOC was nowhere to be found when Ilhan Omar was being attacked by BOTH Democrats and Republicans for a tweet she put out implying that Israel's lobby spends a perverted amount of money in Washington D.C.; which is 100% true considering AIPAC spends the most money on DC lobbying. Ilhan Omar was being called an antisemite by everyone from Chelsea Clinton to Donald Trump. For almost a full 72 hours, progressives everywhere anxiously awaited AOC's firey defense of her fellow "Squad" member. I mean, let's be honest. The environment was ripe for AOC to do her "anti-establishment thing". She's always on twitter so we know she saw the backlash. She was being tagged 100's of thousands, if not millions of times. If she didn't catch the news on twitter, she at least saw the horrible coverage of the spat on Fox News or CNN. And Ilhan is her FRIEND. AOC never showed up that day. In fact, it was only days later, after Omar apologized and Trump would not refrain from sending his right-wing MAGA army after her, that AOC "came to the defense" of Rep. Omar by basically saying "Omar apologized, so we should accept her apology and move on," rather than stating what most progressives outside of the D.C. establishment and even Bernie Sanders himself felt about the situation - Ilhan Omar said nothing wrong and she did not need to give an apology. The only other Democratic presidential candidate to come to Omar's defense, besides Bernie Sanders, was Tulsi Gabbard. Of course, AOC did her same song and dance. She used this as an opportunity to attack Trump and somehow make the issue about herself, while not once treating her Democratic colleagues with the same contempt. In short, AOC left her friend Ilhan Omar hanging.
Progressives were not happy with the way Ocasio-Cortez handled the situation.
We can even look at AOC's bizarre stint with the Bernie Sanders 2020 campaign for more examples of what can only be characterized as self-serving and selective loyalty. AOC is a Justice Democrat, a group once inspired by Bernie Sanders 2016 campaign. In fact, AOC herself said in an interview with Stephen Colbert that her personal run was inspired by Bernie Sanders. So it may, once again, come as a surprise that it took the Bernie-inspired freshmen congresswoman nearly 10 months and a minor heart-attack to endorse the progressive 2020 Democratic Primary front-runner. Although many people celebrate her endorsement as "endorsing him when he needed it the most", to anyone with experience in public relations, it looked more like the plot of a cheesy script from an early 2000's feel-good political movie. Bernie was given the "all clear" by doctors, so there was nothing to lose from her endorsing Sanders. But she did have everything to gain because the narrative that had been put out by mainstream media made it seem as if Sanders was one bleep away from flat-lining, despite that not being the case at all. Even still AOC made sure to hedge her bets. She spent the 10 months prior to endorsing Sanders using her massive platform to boost Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) almost as much as she boosted Sanders. AOC's fundraising team even sent out an email a week or so after she endorsed Sanders to raise money for Elizabeth Warren. I don't think that's exactly what we had in mind when we said we wanted to elect progressives who were team players. Warren was very much so on thin ice after she left Bernie Sanders and the progressive movement with our collective jaws on the ground as she endorsed Hillary Clinton, only to later admit she knew the primary was rigged the entire time. Warren wasn't a threat to beat Sanders. But, AOC legitimized Warren's formerly delegitimized "progressive bona-fides" and ensured that Warren was indeed a threat to make sure Sanders lost. And Sanders felt the effects of AOC's disloyalty on Super Tuesday where he lost multiple states by less than the margin of votes Warren garnered, including in her home state of Massachusetts and Vermont's neighboring state of Maine. Warren's totals snatched many states right out of Sanders's grasp and handed them right to Joe Biden.
In this time frame, she referred to Nancy Pelosi as "mama bear", which was inexplicable considering Pelosi is emblematic of the very politicians AOC was put in Washington D.C. to challenge and defeat. Not to mention, Pelosi has religiously demeaned AOC and "The Squad" throughout their term in congress. She also began boosting Julian Castro's debate performance on twitter, just days after endorsing Sanders. In addition to propping up Castro and Warren, she also fundraised to keep Cory Booker in the race, despite the fact he ran a very similar campaign as Sanders and knowing that it could potentially hurt the Vermont Senator's chances of clinching the nomination if Booker did indeed pick up steam from one of AOC's coveted "retweets" or shoutouts. In fact, after the first Democratic Primary debate, Ocasio-Cortez said a positive word about almost every candidate who claimed to be progressive except the only candidate on the stage that night who actually was progressive, endorsed Bernie in 2016 and most of his policies, had policies that AOC herself ran on, and the only candidate didn't try (and fail) to speak Spanish in order to his-pander to the Latinx audience watching from home on the Univision that night. And that candidate was Tulsi Gabbard. It may not have been as noticeable if Tulsi Gabbard was not the most googled candidate in the country that night, and was the trending topic on twitter for the next 24-48 hours after effectively ending Tim Ryan's campaign during their exchange over the war in Afghanistan. This peculiar dismissal of a fellow progressive while propping up centrist politicians (who've only called themselves progressive because Bernie Sanders's 2016 success made it so that you cannot run for president without at least nominally advocating for the policies progressives demand) lead me to the only logical conclusion anyone with political experience can reach - AOC wants the Democratic presidential nomination in 2024. Not only does she want the nomination, but she clearly wants to be the first female president, and the youngest and Tulsi Gabbard was the ONE significant obstacle standing the way of achieving that goal.
But AOC IS consistent on policies, right...?
Well..Sort of. Her message seems consistent on the surface, but her work in the legislature seems to be sporadic and calculated. For example, she claims to be fervently antiwar. However, when it was time for progressive legislators to call out both Democrats and Republicans on their hawkish aggression toward Venezuela, AOC infamously stated, "I'm going to defer to caucus leadership." As most of you reading this probably well know, caucus leadership includes the likes of Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi who backed the leader of the Venezuelan opposition's failed coup attempt, Juan Guaido. Democratic leadership has supported all of Trump's efforts to overthrow the democratically elected government of Venezuela. AOC knew this. But she told reporters what they wanted to hear in order to keep her career from being put in jeopardy so early in her term.
The week Tulsi Gabbard introduced a bill to end the U.S. war in Syria, AOC had been very vocal on twitter about how irresponsible the U.S. has been in handling the conflict there. And once again, AOC is an "antiwar" progressive, right? So you can understand why I was shocked that AOC did not co-sponsor the legislation that would have effectively put an end to the Syrian War. AOC also failed to support legislation called the "No More Presidential Wars Act", which was also introduced by Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (Tulsi had a busy couple of years). This legislation was a hot topic of discussion because of Trump's authoritarian approach to dealing with both Syria and Iran. In fact, Congress felt it was so necessary that Gabbard was able to get it put into the NDAA through a bipartisan effort. Unfortunately, Tulsi doesn't have AOC to thank for that achievement considering AOC did not co-sponsor the bill with everything she claimed we needed to hold the President accountable, given the recent explosive events with adversarial nations at the hands of Donald Trump. The Democrats later removed the No More Presidential Wars Act after Trump would not sign the bill, and there was not a single word uttered by AOC on the matter, despite AOC constantly asserting that we needed legislation to hold Trump accountable in case Trump commits an act of war without approval from congress. A goal that the passing of Gabbard's bill would have achieved.
Let's look at AOC's climate change advocacy. Ocasio-Cortez is given credit for introducing the "Green New Deal" resolution to congress. What is never discussed, however, is that Dr. Jill Stein, former GP Presidential candidate, popularized the branding of the GND and Howie Hawkins, 2020 GP Presidential nominee, wrote the original policy. What is never discussed is that AOC took the Green Party's branding, and never once gave them credit for inspiring her legislation. What is never discussed is that AOC's GNC had no teeth and wasn't even aggressive enough for Sanders nor Gabbard, two politicians often considered to be champions of climate and environmental justice, to support it when Congress voted. What is never discussed is the fact that AOC's bill does not ban fracking, fossil fuel use, deal with nuclear waste, and, by all indicators, could end up being a corporate giveaway with a very high human cost. What's also never discussed is that AOC pledged to support the OFF Fossil Fuels Act, which is considered to be the most aggressive climate change plan ever written. However, she has not said a word about the legislation since arriving in Congress, despite the fact that the OFF act was endorsed by over 400 climate and environmental organizations (GND cannot boast this) and would easily help AOC achieve the goals she outlines in her GND resolution and then some. The only conclusion one could draw from this, once again, is that she broke her pledge to get the OFF Act passed because it was introduced by former Presidential Candidate Tulsi Gabbard (Again, seeing a pattern here?). At the CADEM Convention, I had the pleasure of briefly interviewing Rep. Tulsi Gabbard and she confirmed to me that AOC had not reached out to her to include the OFF Act in the GND despite Gabbard making several attempts to reach out to her. Given the fact that AOC is considered a "champion" on climate justice, progressives should find it unacceptable that she may have shrugged off the most revolutionary climate change legislation in history, which she previously pledged to get passed, simply because a person she considers to be a political (at least in her own mind) may get credit for passing the legislation instead of her.
We can even look back as recently as March when AOC was caught lying about "not supporting" the CARES Act, the legislation that gave *some* American's a couple of thousand dollars to pay for necessities during the quarantine brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic while giving over $4 trillion in grants to corporations. She claimed that she did not vote for the bill, but it was reported that only Rep. Thomas Massie voted against the bill. The recording of the floor vote substantiated those reports. Not only did AOC lie about "not supporting" the CAREs Act, but, according to Matt Stroller, she knew that the legislation was going to be a corporate bailout weeks in advance and did not warn the people once. She, instead, used the opportunity to grandstand regarding the terrible contents of the bill on the House floor an hour or so before she ultimately voted for the bill. She didn't even join Massie in his attempt to hold legislators accountable for their votes by demanding a roll-call vote, instead of the voice vote. Independent journalist and comedian Jimmy Dore does a fantastic job of detailing the entire situation in the video posted below. It should also be mentioned that AOC called for UBI in early March, although she was not the only, nor the first, congressperson to do so. Once again, Tulsi Gabbard was ahead of the curve and introduced UBI legislation on the premise that a massive quarantine was imminent and that Congress should prepare to help its constituency from economic ruin. AOC was silent as Gabbard asked for co-sponsors. Mitt Romney introduced similar universal payment legislation that he, himself, admitted was inspired by Tulsi Gabbard's original legislation introduced in the House. In less than 24 hours, AOC went out of her way to celebrate Mitt Romney's (A Republican) UBI legislation while completely ignoring Rep. Gabbard's UBI legislation. Legislation that was absent of AOC's John Hancock, even as she pretended to be supportive of Romney's legislation, once again inspired by the legislation she refused to mention or endorse. (For the 50th time, are you starting to see a pattern?)
Whether it's a lack of conviction in regards to defending her progressive allies, lack of principles when it comes to championing ALL progressive policies, not just the ones introduced by people she does not deem a political threat, or a lack of a moral compass when it comes to doing the right thing when no one is watching instead of making the most politically expedient move when everyone is watching, there is one thing for certain. AOC is loyal to somebody, but it isn't progressives. I'm not quite sure she's loyal to the Democratic establishment either. She clearly isn't loyal to her allies. AOC only seems to fight unapologetically for one person, and that's AOC. Which makes AOC a different kind of dangerous. She has the left under a spell that has caused even the most intuitive thought leaders to ignore all of the indicators that we have used to dispel fraudulent populists from the movement in the past. She receives mostly love and adoration from liberal mainstream media and is really only smeared by the GOP. Love and adoration no genuine progressive has ever received from msm in such copious amounts. She gives a speech filled with moral platitudes, and every major publication begins calling her the 2024 Democratic Primary front-runner. She's only been in congress for less than 2 years, and the establishment seems to uplift her as if she's been one of the most effective legislators of the decade. The Justice Democrats were caught taking dark money after turning itself into a Super PAC, with not a single complaint from the JD who ran on stopping this type of unethical campaign finance. She's endorsed Ed Markey, despite his votes on the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars, the 94 Crime Bill (that he refuses to address), his silence regarding Trump hiring mercenaries from a firm piloted by Betsy DeVos's brother who've been kidnapping innocent protestors off the street with no reprimand, and takes the same corporate money that Joe Kennedy rightfully gets backlash for taking. After saying we should primary every Democrat who suggests Kavanaugh has a right to due process because we should "believe all women", she immediately pivoted when it was time to explain her hypocrisy after Biden was credibly accused of committing sexual assault by former legislative aid Tara Reade. When probed further on the issue, she actually said, "Well, Tara Reade didn't say "Don't vote for Biden'". But in actuality, Tara Reade vowed never to participate in a national election again. She also explicitly stated that she will not be voting for Biden in early April of 2020, despite AOC telling the world that Reade did not condemn voting for Biden in early May of 2020. As you well know, AOC did end up endorsing Joe Biden anyway, despite the credible accusations. An endorsement that has not been substantively justified by anything more than Biden being a fellow Democrat. It was a move that the right has used to significantly damage the legitimacy of the #metoo movement. Even independent journalists have told me that they have soured on her, however, they can't actually report her shortcomings because it will literally affect their bottom line. That is likely the reason you may have not heard any of this until reading this piece.
I ask you this: If AOC isn't held accountable by the establishment while being completely and totally protected by the progressive movement (the enemies of the establishment) despite a clear display of pathologically selfish and self-serving behavior, what's to stop her from becoming the next Barack Obama? The progressive movement needs to take a hard look at itself. If I'm not mistaken, we've seen this movie before. Well-meaning politicians who's egos go unchecked have their ambitions used by the establishment to become the most dangerous weapon against everything we fight for. And if we're not careful, we'll continue to cheer for our own demise. AOC 2024...
"When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time. People know themselves much better than you do. That's why it's important to stop expecting them to be something other than who they are" - Maya Angelou