The American left is having a moment. Their movement is attracting new recruits. Their activists are becoming candidates, and their candidates are becoming officeholders. Public and private-sector institutions are acquiescing to their demands at a rate more rapid than we’ve seen at any point in recent memory. The Democratic Party’s standard-bearer is committed to the most ideologically liberal agenda in the party’s history. Yet, despite all this success, the default dispositions to which the left is predisposed are rage and despair.
The latest target of their ire is the Democratic Party’s nominating convention. Specifically, the left is upset because the party has failed to anathematize Republicans and welcomed members of the GOP to the convention.
Night one of the convention featured a variety of GOP-affiliated speakers: Former Rep. Susan Molinari, former New Jersey Gov. Christine Todd Whitman, former California gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman, and former Fox News Channel Host and Ohio Gov. John Kasich. None of these Republicans could be said to have particularly strong ties to the GOP in the Trump era, and their defection in support of Biden may contribute to the Democratic Party’s prime directive of winning elections. But if you’re of the view that the party isn’t worth supporting in the absence of a left-wing ideological makeover, inclusivity is no virtue.
“The left is mad,” Vox.com dryly observed. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez lashed out at her party’s convention for hosting Kasich, in particular. “An anti-choice, anti-worker Republican does not get to decide who represents the Democratic Party,” she said in a statement. Of course, it’s the other way around; the Democratic Party is saying it is representative of him—no show trials, confessions, or acts of contrition required. And that is what has irritated the vanguard of the revolutionary left more than anything.
As it turns out, night one’s inclusive lineup wasn’t a perfunctory gesture. Night two of the convention continued to elevate Republicans—only the good ones, of course. Chuck Hagel, Colin Powell, and Cindy McCain all made appearances, and the evening featured a video montage celebrating the life of John McCain and his friendship with Joe Biden. Of course, some voters might know Chuck Hagel and Colin Powell less for their Republican affiliations than their more recent roles as Obama’s secretary of Defense and Barack Obama surrogate, respectively. And as for John McCain, the convention went to great lengths to reduce the late senator’s life down to his personal affability, war-hero status, and vote against the GOP’s Obamacare replacement bill. This patina of bipartisanship was regarded by the left as not just an insult but a threat.
“If this convention was held in person, those people would be booed off the stage. Each and every one of them,” Bernie Sanders delegate Zenaida Huerta told the Washington Post. “It’s like inviting vampires into your house.” Marveling that any Republicans were allowed speaking roles at the convention, Jacobin editor David Sirota said sarcastically, “How could you possibly not feel super excited and enthusiastic about the Democratic campaign?” Politico’s Ryan Lizza summed up the left’s frustrations succinctly: “The coalition that has assembled around the candidacy of Joe Biden is so broad that it is ideologically incoherent.”
What progressives are doing here is pathologically masochistic. They are writing themselves out of their own success story.
Nominating conventions are not comfort food. They are not fan service for partisan voters who are already committed to the ticket on display. They no longer serve as opportunities to nominate a candidate or adopt a platform—all of that work is done in advance. So, to the extent they serve any purpose at all, it is as a spectacle that generates earned media for the benefit of uncommitted or peripheral voters.
What’s more, cross-party endorsers are a regular feature of the modern nominating convention. Republicans and Democrats alike are keen to feature lawmakers who’ve jumped their party’s ship in favor of the opposition’s nominee. Only a profound sense of insecurity would have led Republicans to think their party was being overtaken by Zell Miller in 2004 or Joe Lieberman in 2008. These displays are traditionally greeted as triumphs—the surrender of former ideological enemies in acknowledgment of a superior cause. Why won’t progressives take the win? Because victory is not enough.
In the 60 seconds allotted to Rep. Ocasio-Cortez (in the formality associated with seconding Bernie Sanders’s failed nomination to the presidency), she had the honor of making the argument that Democratic voters soundly rejected during the primaries. The America she still hoped to create would “recognize and repair the wounds of racial injustice, colonization, misogyny and homophobia, and to propose and build reimagined systems of immigration and foreign policy that turn away from the violence and xenophobia of our past.” There is no room for continuity in this vision of America—it requires a clean break with the past. That past involves Republicans, surely, but Biden, too.