The socialist mackerel

Yes, it’s yet another blogger’s post about Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez, the 20-something socialist who defeated a powerful New York City Congressman in the Democratic primary, who will therefore surely win the general election.

The strange thing is that when she won, everyone lost their minds and acted as though it’s 1.) new, though Bernie Sanders has been representing the idea of socialism in the Federal government at a much higher electoral level– the statewide office of U.S. Senator– for many years, and 2.) a recipe for a popular mandate for a national platform along those lines, though it was decided by 4,000-and-some votes out of 27,744 cast, in a safe-blue NYC district with 214,750 registered Democrats.  It would be narcissism to the nth degree to imagine that that can be assumed to be a cross-section of Democrats in that district, much less of America.

The Democrats have been floundering, policy-wise, for something like a couple decades, if not more.  What do they stand for?  More of the same.  More government, more wealth redistribution, more identity politics, more support for the cheap-moral-outrage component of their base that gets off on cracking the whip of ism-accusation.

This has actually been the case for a while.  The Democrats won the 1992 election due to Ross Perot, who got something like 20% of the vote, mostly from the Republican side, they won the 1996 election as incumbents, they won the 2008 and 2012 Presidential elections not due to a general belief in their platform, but largely due to a combination of anger at the Republicans for Iraq and the Great Recession, plus black people turning out to vote in racial self-interest (if not flat-out racism) for the first black President of the United States.  It’s true that to be young, idealistic, eloquent and black, as Obama was, was an appealing set of characteristics for a candidate right then– but again, they had nothing to do with the freshness of the ideas.  The Democrats would surely have won some of those Presidential elections even without those factors, simply because people get fed up and it’s rare, historically, for one party to hold the White House for three or more successive terms.  Irritation and boredom are not ideas, though.  Perhaps the lesson is that elections rarely turn on fresh ideas, or that in national politics, the low-hanging new-idea fruit gets picked quickly.

So they seem to be returning to “heirloom varieties” of ideas.  In a way, it’s not surprising that on the Left socialism has surged in popularity.  As has been pointed out by others, Ocasio-Cortez and most of her cohort were born around or after the fall of the Soviet Union; they barely have a memory of the 20th century and none of its awful socialist failures.  They were also born, I might add, after the “state capitalist” overlay was put in place in various ostensibly socialist countries, like Vietnam and China, which led them to prosperity while retaining the name of socialism and “prove” that socialism can work.  They came of age, too, after the rise of the technocrats at Google, Amazon, Tesla and the like made the precedents of the past seem distinguishable– if they’d just had social media they could have made it work!– and therefore no barrier any more.  And finally, their party, the Democrats, are out of power and searching for hope and renewal.  The rise to attention of base-pleasing ideas is what happens when a party parts its intellectual and policy mooring by thinking it has no need of the moderates that anchor it.

Yes, those annoying buzz-kill, anchoring moderates prevent the party from going anywhere, but they also prevent it from being blown onto the rocks in a high wind.  So let’s continue with a maritime metaphor shift and think of socialism not as a sort of ideological cultivar, but as a mackerel in the moonlight.  It glitters attractively from a distance.  But it stinks.   The Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle– the popular part, anyway– is that shining light on electrons to discover where they are makes them move, ruining the inquiry.  Socialism is like an economic version of that.  Socialism seeks to seize economic value and redistribute it to poor people– but the problem is that economic value created by free enterprise requires freedom to exist.  Seizing it usually ruins it.  Socialism today would be particularly nasty because so little of Western economies is based on natural resources.  When the economy is more like Venezuela’s, based on something that exists irrespective of human effort, or with only a relatively small effort, like oil, socialism can, like spending an inheritance, seem temporarily workable until the price of oil collapses.

As noted, Ocasio-Cortez is not even new in having parted moorings from reality (assuming she was ever so tethered).  What she is that Bernie Sanders is not, is physically attractive, young, female and Latina.  The Democrats are hoping for a renewal not of Leftist economic ideas, but of a renewal of identity-politics turnout that will hopefully translate to the national level.  That won’t work.  Identity politics has never yet emerged in generations, very weakly in gender, and even if it did among Latinos in America, which seems questionable, the places where they are concentrated include only one swing state, Florida…where Fidel Castro’s socialism is still hated.