The change of the House ruling party in the 2018 midterm elections marked a new direction for the Democratic party; younger and more diverse representatives are shifting the party to push a more progressive agenda. The most prominent newcomers are proving themselves to be of greater influence and change than current party leadership.
The election of Representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY 14th district), Ilhan Omar (D-MN 5th district) and Rashida Tlaib (D-MI 13th district) have put Democratic leadership between a rock and a hard place. Environmentalism, gun control, immigration, and other social issues are forcing the Democratic Party to take a more definitive and left wing stance on issues that can no longer be paraded in the center.
AOC, as Ocasio-Cortez has come to be known, has been the source of much buzz lately, as she has garnered more than a million followers on both Instagram and Twitter. Most of her popularity stems from her progressive ideas which closely align themselves with presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, a self-proclaimed Democratic-Socialist. Many disenfranchised progressives from the 2016 presidential election have placed faith in AOC as a force of change within the party.
One of AOC’s notable blunders was her handling of her proposed Medicare for all and her free college proposal. When asked how she would pay for these proposals she suggested a 70 percent income tax on those earning more than $10 million a year. An interesting solution, but politically she came off as ignorant and uninformed when presenting her idea to talk show host Trevor Noah. Her solution also caught the attention of Microsoft founder Bill Gates, who — without mentioning her name — deemed her plan too radical and “missing the point.”
Tlaib has also embraced the progressive positions of universal healthcare and free college. Tlaib goes as far as to critique Obamacare as “drafted by insurance companies,” breaking away from what the previous administration viewed as one of its greatest achievements.
Omar and Tlaib have also been quite vocal in their criticisms of Israel violating human rights and its growing expansion into the West Bank, contradicting their party’s pro-Israel leadership stance, further deepening inter-party conflict on foreign policy.
Omar recently drew attention for her statements on Twitter. In response to journalist Glenn Greenwald, Omar claimed that Americans’ defense of Israel was “all about the Benjamins baby.” When asked who was funding politicians in support of Israel, Omar responded with “AIPAC!”— a reference to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. Omar’s claims were quickly condemned by both Democrats and Republicans for playing into anti-Semitic tropes on Jews holding political power and influence.
Calls from both the right and the left to remove her from the House Foreign Affairs Committee were dismissed by House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot Engel (D-NY 16th district) who condemned Omar’s comments as “wrong and hurtful.” Engel argued that he would not push for Omar’s removal from the committee but that it was ultimately up the party’s leadership.
While these three women are testing the waters for ideological change, their popularity stems from addressing and appealing to issues that primarily affect youth, such as crippling college debt, pollution, and low wages — issues that some argue the Republican party refuses to address.
The growing divide within the party may seem like a perfect opportunity for Republicans to attack the Democrats “socialist” platform, but despite the many stumbles the new Democrats face, progressives are popular. The largest issue conservatives face is not socialism, but an inability to adapt to youth appeal. Not only will 2020 prove to be contentious within the Democratic Party, but along the entire American political spectrum.