In 1975, when he was elected president of the Maryland State Senate, Steny Hoyer was 35, the youngest person to ever hold that job. Years earlier, he had served as vice president of the Young Democrats of America.
As a rookie newspaper reporter in the Annapolis statehouse a couple of years later, I recall Hoyer as Kennedyesque — youthful, handsome, and charismatic.
These days Hoyer is decidedly on the other side of the young-old divide. A longtime member of the U.S. House from Maryland, Hoyer is party whip under Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, and was prominently mentioned in a recent New York Times editorial headlined: “Make Way for Young Democratic Leaders.”
Pelosi, 78, and Hoyer, 79, were criticized for clinging to power. “At this point,” opined the Times, “the caucus leadership has gone from stale to downright ossified.”
To be sure, Democrats should be the party of the future, bursting with energy and ideas and embracing our blossoming multiculturalism. Demographic shifts are certain as white birth rates fall. Future voting patterns are likely to disappoint Donald Trump devotees, whose goal has been to preserve white male domination, which is why they make voting difficult for political opponents whenever they can.
As the Times points out, though, the optics of that future-focused Democratic Party are hard to sell when the most prominent Democrats seem more connected to the past than the future. It is the same complaint you hear in Madison, where our mayor and state senator seem to have been around forever.
And you know what? I wholeheartedly agree and applaud what appears to be a flood of passionate younger candidates, especially women and people of color. And best wishes to candidates whose districts will support ardently progressive positions, which includes our 2nd Congressional District in Wisconsin.
What I reject is the suggestion that this generational shift should also bring ever more extreme policy prescriptions in races throughout the nation.
In part, I think that tendency is fueled by an understandable and boundless revulsion at Trump and his enablers. But here is my question: Do you really think there are enough voters who favor truly far-left prescriptions to make up for the centrist voters likely to be turned off by these litmus tests for ideological purity?
Yet a leap to the left is suggested by some pundits in the wake of the stunning U.S. House primary victory by insurgent Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, 28, over heavyweight Democratic incumbent Joseph Crowley.
Ocasio-Cortez was a Bernie Sanders organizer and is a self-described democratic socialist. She won in a New York City district that was demographically friendly — 50 percent Latino, 40 percent Spanish-speaking, 75 percent people of color.
But that highly localized geography didn’t deter some from calling for a full-throated national embrace of far-left spending promises such as the ones she made in her primary campaign.
After winning, she was asked if she’s guilty of a “dishonest progressivism” not unlike “dishonest Trumpism,” for supporting government job guarantees, free college education and Medicare for all without saying how she would pay for all of it.
“It’s not like they expect improved and expanded Medicare tomorrow,” she countered, speaking about her supporters. “But we need to name our star so we can chart a course.”
But that’s the rub, isn’t it? Don’t Democrats criticize the GOP as irresponsible for its deficit-exploding tax plan? How would we pay for all of this added spending? Doesn’t that play into the tax-and-spend liberal stereotype?
U.S. Sen. Tammy Duckworth, an Illinois Democrat, seems to think so. In a recent television interview, she said winning in New York City is different from winning in the Midwest. Asked if Ocasio-Cortez represents the future of the party, Duckworth said: “I think it’s the future of the party in the Bronx.”
She added: “I think that you can’t win the White House without the Midwest and I don’t think you can go too far to the left and still win the Midwest.”
Ocasio-Cortez countered: “I think that we’re in the middle of a movement in this country. … That movement is going to happen from the bottom up. That movement is going to come from voters.”
Excuse me, but aren’t the folks who provided Hillary Clinton a popular vote majority in 2016 also “voters”?
There are tons of such people who would do just about anything to interrupt the nightmare of Trump and a Republican-controlled Congress, and fear that extreme far-left positions might play right into GOP hands.
If one thing is clear these past two years, it is that many of the older white men who support Trump still despise Clinton and her supporters. Heck, they still enjoy chanting, “Lock her up!”
But it’s the attacks on Clintonism from the left that have become especially old.
Yes, the Democratic Party needs new and more diverse leaders — most anyone devoted to progressive outcomes would stipulate to that.
But what gets tiresome is this narrative that candidates like Ocasio-Cortez somehow feel more aggrieved about Trump’s America than others who are apparently dismissed as namby-pamby pragmatists.
In fact, in today’s blood-sport politics, it may be those just a bit left of center who are the most unfairly criticized. They are caricatured by the right and then — and this still happens in 2018 — are attacked by what might be called the Bernie Sanders left.
The last time I looked, it was not the Hillary Clinton voter who helped create this American catastrophe. It was, to a large extent, the “never Hillary” crowd. People like actress Susan Sarandon, who claimed there was no difference between Clinton and Trump, or Green Party candidate Jill Stein, who drained critical votes from Clinton. And yet both still deny any responsibility.
And, oh, let’s remember those poor Bernie backers who, you know, just didn’t feel it in 2016, so they sat the election out — and gave us Trump.
Now, we’re told, they are the ones — not the rest of us — who claim to possess a unique passion and vision and that others should fall in line.
On that, I’ll take a pass. ￼