WASHINGTON – I was feeling on edge.
Writing a column that sparks an internecine fight among the highest-profile women in the Democratic Party is nerve-wracking.
So I went to the gym. The instructor inside the little screen on my bike had some wisdom for me: You climb the mountain to see the world. You don’t climb the mountain so the world can see you. I only wished AOC was there to hear it as well.
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez ensorcelled me from the start. I loved the bartender-makes-good Cinderella story, the shake-up-the-capital idealistic dreams, the bravado about how the plutocrat president from Queens wouldn’t know how to deal with a Puerto Rican girl from the Bronx.
And I imagined the most potent feminist partnership in American history: Nancy Pelosi as sensei, bringing her inside game, and AOC, the Karate Kid with a wicked Twitter game.
But instead, the 79-year-old speaker and the 29-year-old freshman are trapped in a generational and ideological tangle that poses a real threat to the Democrats’ ability to beat Donald Trump next year.
Pelosi told me, after the AOC Squad voted against the House’s version of the border bill and trashed the moderates – the very people who provided the Democrats the majority – that the Squad was four people with four votes. She was talking about a legislative reality. If it was a knock, it was for abandoning the party.
That did not merit AOC’s outrageous accusation that Pelosi was targeting “newly elected women of color.” She slimed the speaker, who has spent her life fighting for the downtrodden and who was instrumental in getting the first African American president elected and passing his agenda against all odds, as a sexist and a racist.
AOC should consider the possibility that people who disagree with her do not disagree with her color.
The young lawmaker went further, implying that the speaker was putting the Squad in danger, asking why Pelosi would criticize them, “knowing the amount of death threats” and attention they get. Huh?
AOC pulled back and said she wasn’t calling Pelosi a racist. But once you start that ball rolling, it’s hard to stop. (You know how topsy-turvy the fight is when the biggest defenders of Pelosi, who has endured being a caricature of extreme liberalism for decades, are Trump and the Wall Street Journal editorial board.)
The AOC crew threw down the gauntlet in a recent opinion piece in The Washington Post by The Intercept’s Ryan Grim. He wrote that when Pelosi and other Democratic mandarins try to keep the image of the party centrist, they are crouching in “the defensive posture” they’ve been in since the Reagan revolution.
Corbin Trent, a spokesman for AOC and co-founder of Justice Democrats, the progressive group that helped propel her, told Grim: “The greatest threat to mankind is the cowardice of the Democratic Party,” with the older generation “driven by fear” and “unable to lead.”
Message: Pelosi is past her prime.
Except she’s not.
And then there’s the real instigator, Saikat Chakrabarti, AOC’s 33-year-old chief of staff, who co-founded Justice Democrats and Brand New Congress, both of which recruited progressives – including AOC – to run against moderates in Democratic primaries. The former Silicon Valley Bernie Bro assumed he could apply Facebook’s mantra, “Move fast and break things,” to one of the oldest institutions in the country.
But Congress is not a place where you achieve radical progress – certainly not in divided government. It’s a place where you work at it and work at it and don’t get everything you want.
The progressives act as though anyone who dares disagree with them is bad. Not wrong, but bad, guilty of some human failing, some impurity that is a moral evil that justifies their venom.
Chakrabarti sent shock waves through the Democratic caucus when he posted a tweet about the border bill comparing moderate and Blue Dog Democrats – some of whom are black – to Southern segregationists in the ’40s.
Rahm Emanuel told me Chakrabarti is “a snot-nosed punk” who has no idea about the battle scars Pelosi bears from the liberal fights she has led.
“What votes did you get?” Emanuel said, rhetorically challenging AOC’s chief of staff. “You should only be so lucky to learn from somebody like Nancy who has shown incredible courage and who has twice returned the Democratic Party to power.
“We fought for years to create the majorities to get a Democratic president elected and re-elected, and they’re going to dither it away. They have not decided what’s more important: Do they want to beat Trump or do they want to clear the moderate and centrists out of the party? You really think weakening the speaker is the right strategy to try to get rid of Donald Trump and everything he stands for?”
In the age of Trump, there is no more stupid proposition than that Nancy Pelosi is the problem. If AOC and her Pygmalions and acolytes decide that burning down the House is more important than deposing Trump, they will be left with a racist backward president and the emotional satisfaction of their own purity.
Maureen Dowd is a columnist for The New York Times.