Radical young Democrats such as Ilhan Omar are rising, while stars from the golden age of Democratic centrism are losing the big-ticket Millennial audience.
It’s been decades since the cover of Rolling Stone showed how the times, they are a-changin’. But the March issue of the Boomers’ rock bible did just that, by promoting a supergroup called Nancy Pelosi and the New Voices of the House.
Pelosi, still reaching for Clintonian high notes in her eighth decade, leads the Democratic majority in the House. She also does a mean duet with Chuck Schumer, who lowers the tenor of the Senate as leader of its Democratic minority. Chuck and Nancy, as Donald calls them, have received the ultimate accolade, an invitation to perform at the White House. But these stars from the golden age of Democratic centrism are losing the big-ticket Millennial audience.
Enter the New Voices, stage left. They’re an all-female vocal trio, close-harmonising on the phone-friendly socialism of the younger Democratic crowd. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is a perky and fact-free Hispanic environmentalist from the people’s republic of Brooklyn. She promises universal healthcare, open borders, and a “Green New Deal” to rebuild or refit every building in America. Ocasio-Cortez can’t explain where the money will come from, but she insists that she’s a policy realist. “We set a goal to get to net-zero, rather than zero admissions,” she explained, “because we aren’t sure that we’ll be able to fully get rid of farting cows and airplanes that fast.”
You may say that she’s a dreamer, but she’s not the only one. Jahana Hayes, a former National Teacher of the Year, is the first black woman to be elected to Congress for Connecticut. The same House intake included Ayanna Pressley, the first black woman to be elected to Congress for another allegedly “liberal” state, Massachusetts. The rules of rainbow coalition-building meant that Pressley failed the Rolling Stone audition. And, in a rare case of the Democrats rewarding individual attainment rather than collective attributes, Hayes deserves the spotlight.
Hayes is a conscientious mother of four and an expert on America’s failing schools. Having overcome a drug-addicted parent and teenage pregnancy, she is living proof that the dream of upward mobility is not yet dead. But Hayes is overlooked by the media and taken for granted by the party managers. In the Supremes, reedy-voiced Diana Ross overshadowed Mary Wilson, a better singer. The star of the New Voices is the reedy-voiced, tone-deaf Islamist Ilhan Omar.
“Israel has hypnotised the world, may Allah awaken the people and help them see the evil doings of Israel,” Omar has hinted on Twitter. She also has some mind-bending tricks of her own, and knows how to pull off the complex rhetorical backflip of the anti-Zionist paradox: “Drawing attention to the apartheid Israeli regime is far from hating Jews.”
The first black Muslim woman in the House, one of the first two Muslim women, and the first black representative from Minnesota, Omar came to the US as a refugee from Somalia. After she won the heavily Somali 5th District of Minnesota in last November’s midterms, Pelosi and the party managers gave her a seat on the House Foreign Relations Committee (HFRC). In late January, Omar admitted that the “hypnotising” line was “anti-Semitic . . . unfortunate and offensive”, and apologised, claiming that she used it “unknowingly”. Two weeks later, she showed that anti-Semitic conspiracy theories are foundational to her concepts of global affairs and American politics.
After her apology, Kevin McCarthy, a Republican from California, called for Congressional “action” against Omar and the other female Muslim newcomer, Rashida Tlaib, who also specialises in maligning American Jews and Israel. The hard-left anti-Zionist Glenn Greenwald jumped in on Twitter: “It’s stunning how much time US political leaders spend defending a foreign nation even if it means attacking free speech rights of Americans.”
“It’s all about the Benjamins, baby,” Omar replied. She was quoting the rapper Puff Daddy. Though Mr Daddy has yet to take a position on the two-state solution, we can infer that he is a realist in foreign policy as in domestic: he has outsourced production of his Enyce clothing line. Omar’s next tweet clarified any doubt as to what she was inferring: “AIPAC!”
Everyone started shouting at once, online and off. “I don’t believe that in any way Representative Ilhan Omar meant to disrespect our Jewish brothers and sisters,” Abdul Basit, chairman of the Minnesota chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), said the next day. “She was specifically talking about the impact that lobbyists have in this country when determining their own interest.”
But she wasn’t. Omar was specifically talking about the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee. AIPAC does not donate to elected officials. If its failure to block Obama’s Iran deal is anything to go by, its lobbying bark is less than its legislative bite. Last year, AIPAC spent $3.5 million on lobbying, which made it the 157th biggest donor in Washington DC. But Omar believes that America supports Israel not for a mass of reasons strategic, economic, evangelical and sentimental, but because AIPAC bribes American politicians.
As Jewish Democrats circulated the draft of a letter condemning Omar, Nancy Pelosi immediately issued a statement: “Congresswoman Omar’s use of anti-Semitic tropes and prejudicial accusations about Israel’s supporters is deeply offensive.” Pelosi called on Omar to apologise “immediately”.
“I unequivocally apologise,” Omar tweeted three days’ later. “I am grateful for Jewish colleagues who are educating me on the painful history of anti-Semitic tropes. My intention is never to offend my constituents or Jewish Americans as a whole.” She then equivocated about the “problematic role of lobbyists in our politics, whether it be AIPAC, the NRA or the fossil fuel industry”. She forgot to mention CAIR, a front group for the Muslim Brotherhood, for which Omar raises funds in Pelosi’s home state of California.
Three weeks later, Omar did it again. “I want to talk about the political influence in this country that says it is OK to push for allegiance to a foreign country,” she told a public meeting in Washington, DC in early March. House Democrats from New York responded with a draft resolution warning against the “dangerous consequences of perpetuating anti-Semitic stereotypes” and “hateful expressions of intolerance” against Jews. Pelosi promised to bring it to a vote, but then discovered that she has lost control of the House Democrats.
The Congressional Black Caucus, many of whom are shameless about their racial solidarity with Louis Farrakhan, refused to condemn anti-Semitism alone. James Clyburn — black Democrat, Farrakhan supporter, House majority whip — said that the Holocaust was a long time ago, but Omar’s experience as a child refugee was “more personal”. Pelosi had to cut Omar some slack.
The resolution was so diluted that even Ilhan Omar voted for it. Anti-Semitism was condemned in the same breath as “anti-Muslim discrimination”, the spurious category of “Islamophobia” endorsed. Omar went unmentioned but “white supremacists” were accused of persecuting a hierarchy of victimhood: “African Americans, Latinos, Native Americans, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders and other people of colour, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs, the LGBTQ community, immigrants, and others.” The party had rallied around Omar, not the Jews who have been the mainstay of its donors and liberal centrism. White people had become the source of Omar’s Islamist racism — and Jews, listed separately from “people of colour” — were on the white people’s side. “I don’t think our colleague is anti-Semitic,” Pelosi said afterwards. “She has a different experience in the use of words, doesn’t understand that some of them are fraught with meaning that she didn’t realise.” Omar, who came to the US as an eight-year-old, is a college-level graduate of the American educational system, but she apparently cannot understand English as it is spoke; Jamana Hayes has a point.
Omar is also a product of the Obama-era restructuring of the Democrats’ ethnic alliances, and the anti-Semitic whispering campaign that accompanied the Iran deal. The Jews are degraded, and Muslims promoted. The alliance with Israel is dismissed, the deal with Iran defended. Out with the Clintonites and the capitalists, in with the permanently aggrieved and actually existing socialism.
Omar is an intersectionalist’s fantasy made flesh. A black Muslim woman immigrant, she hates capitalism and Israel, calls Donald Trump less than human, and believes that Jewish money is corrupting American politics. She isn’t exactly enamoured of the nation that has given her refuge and then promoted her to high office, either. But patriotism, like plastic surgery, is for older Democrats.
As a black, female Muslim anti-Semite, Ilhan Omar strikes all the wrong notes for Democrats of Pelosi’s generation. But she’s music to the ears of the young leftists who chorus their approval of the New Voices on social media — and also to the old leftists who, having endured the long centrist winter, are rewarded with the Democrats’ regression into boomer fantasies. A third-worldist supergroup is on the cover of Rolling Stone, and the left-Islamist pin-up Linda Sarsour and her bodyguards from CAIR are Mau-Mauing the halls of Congress, shoving reporters aside while Sarsour and Rashida Tlaib confer on how to protect Ilhan Omar. Polls for the Democratic nominee for 2020 place Joe Biden, for whom time stopped in 1992, only slightly ahead of Bernie Sanders, for whom time stopped in 1968.
The young radicals now burrowing into the Democratic Left are the twins of the angry whites who have fallen out of the Republican Right. They are dialectical materialists because they have grown up amid the Hegelian disaster of America in the 21st century: the failure of G.W. Bush’s wars, the shock of the 2008 crash, the rise of Donald Trump. Their common cause with Islamists such as Omar and Tlaib is more than an alliance of electoral convenience. As in Europe, the Left and the Islamists are friends because they have existential enemies in common: the abstractions of capital and American power, and their physical symbols, the Jews and Israel.
Thoroughly embedded into the party’s roots by the digitised sectarianism of Obama’s campaign of 2008, the Democratic young guard has launched a permanent revolution against their centrist party managers. Omar’s supporters, encouraged by older leftists such as Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, faced down centrist managers like Pelosi and HFRC chairman Elliott Engel. Their defence of Ilhan Omar is their first Congressional victory and a watershed in American politics. American Jews are not going to dissolve their ties to the party overnight, especially with a Trump-led Republican Party as the alternative. Still, the Democrats are being “Corbynised”.
To retain her position, Pelosi has fed her party’s most loyal supporters and donors to the crocodile. But she has not regained control over the party. The base is stirred up for Bernie Sanders. The young tribunes are promising to launch impeachment proceedings against Trump after the Mueller Report. Combine that with the public bearding of the Democratic leadership in the Omar fiasco, and Trump has a good chance of retaining the White House in 2020 — if he can be bothered.