Liz Peek: Obama stiffs Ocasio-Cortez as Democrats weigh whether she hurts or helps them in November

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has been jilted by President Obama. The former president recently announced 81 endorsements of candidates running in the midterm elections. Ms. Ocasio-Cortez, toast of the progressive movement, did not make the cut.

Mr. Obama’s foreign policy maxim “Don’t do stupid stuff” may apply. Embracing the 28- year-old Latina supernova who is running for Congress to replace long-time Democrat leader Joe Crowley in New York’s 14th district carries risks. Already she has made gaffes that expose a tenuous (at best) understanding of important issues like unemployment and the history of capitalism; she pleads ignorance on foreign policy matters. She also ruffled feathers among House members whose caucus she hopes to join by suggesting that Crowley might try to undermine her chances.

Her rookie errors have not deterred most members of her party and the media who, like toddlers with a shiny new toy, cannot get enough of the young self-professed Democratic-Socialist. (She originally described herself as a Socialist until a helpful someone attached the D-word.)  Her surprise upset of a senior Democrat considered a contender to boot Nancy Pelosi as House Speaker shocked the media, which responded with over-the-top coverage meant to atone for their earlier neglect of the race. (The New York Times, for instance, ran but one piece about Ms. Ocasio-Cortez in the lead-up to the primary ballot, a disturbing miss by the hometown newspaper.)

The real story is that a smug and entitled incumbent lost to an attractive, energetic challenger who rallied supporters with an aggressive social media campaign. Also, the demographics of the Queens-Bronx district had changed markedly during Crowley’s 20 years in the seat. It is now majority-minority, 50 percent Hispanic, and the incumbent is white.

Ocasio-Cortez won decisively, 57-42, but the margin was a little more than 4,000 votes. Only 13 percent of Democrats turned up.

In any event, since her win, and her likely election to Congress come November in the heavily Democratic district, Ms. Ocasio-Cortez has become the toast of the town, not to mention the entire country. Which goes to show just how desperate Democrats are.

Democratic National Committee chief Tom Perez declares that Ocasio-Cortez “represents the future of our party”; Democrat Congressman Ro Khanna, D-Calif., calls her a “harbinger of [a].. new progressive movement”.  The New Yorker’s David Remnick suggests she offers the nation a “glimmer of hope.”

Enthusiasts whisper she could be presidential material.

But can she sell her agenda to the nation? No, and especially not to the blue collar workers, formerly reliable Democrat voters, who defected to elect President Trump.

There is no doubt that Ocasio-Cortez has inspired excitement, partly because she is female, Latina, telegenic and feisty, and partly because standard-bearers like Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer have Democrats hungry for new leadership.

She also embraces the increasingly vocal progressivism that animated Bernie Sanders’ campaign, and that has arguably moved Democrats to the left. She hates pipelines, wants to abolish ICE, advocates for Medicare-for-all, free college and guaranteed employment.

But can she sell her agenda to the nation? No, and especially not to the blue collar workers, formerly reliable Democrat voters, who defected to elect President Trump. Perhaps that’s why President Obama has, for now, withheld his endorsement. He, like other Dem leaders, may think the party is spiraling out of control, or at least out of the mainstream.

Obama may think that recent (bipartisan) studies putting the price tag for Bernie Sanders’ Medicare For All Act at $33 trillion (with a “t”) over its first ten years renders the proposal moot. Or they may be worried that mandating a big hike in the minimum wage will accelerate job-killing automation.

Or, those party elders may be reviewing research and polling by center-left think tank Third Way, which suggests that Americans want opportunity, not handouts. In an online survey, most respondents embraced traditional American values like hard work, and 75 percent said they wanted the government to present an “opportunity agenda for the Digital Age so that that everyone, everywhere has the opportunity to earn a better life.”

When asked, “What is the more challenging problem affecting the U.S. economy,” only 36 percent of those surveyed chose “income inequality,” while 44 percent selected “opportunities to get ahead.”

Similarly, asked to choose between “policies that spread opportunity to more people and places” and “policies that address income inequality,” 46 percent chose the former and only 25 percent the latter.  A plurality said they would vote in favor of a candidate whose platform included, “Creating one million new apprenticeship positions, giving every American who works a private retirement account on top of Social Security and eliminating all federal taxes on the first $15,000 of income each year” – all work-friendly proposals.

Also, the poll found that more people wanted to see ObamaCare strengthened and made more user-friendly,“ as opposed to single-payer health care, as well as a minimum wage geared to regional differences as opposed to a one-size-fits-all national wage.

The polling was a follow-up to a study by Third Way of the 2016 election, reviewing how Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump fared in counties across the country distinguished by economic circumstances. It found that President Trump won regions described as “Opportunity-Falling America” while Clinton dominated in “Opportunity-Rising America.” Those divisions were based on whether counties had more new businesses starting up or more failing. The conclusion reached by the authors of the study, and by the strategists at Third Way, is that Americans want to make it on their own, and will vote for the candidate who promises to provide jobs and opportunity, as President Trump did.

President Obama may yet come around to giving Ocasio-Cortez a boost. Democrats are struggling to find a message that can top record-low unemployment and rising wages. The progressives making promises that cannot be kept may be their best bet, and Ocasio-Cortez is emerging as their top spokesperson.  But, as former Senator Joe Lieberman said recently, “If her win makes her into…. the new face of the Democratic party, the Democratic party’s not going to have a very bright future.”