It’s less than 50 days until the Sept. 13 primaries and we are entering political silly season. Democratic candidates vying for their party’s nomination are tripping over themselves to reinvent or redefine who they are and what they believe. It is hard not to think that much of this is a reaction to the shocking success of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, capturing an unthinkable upset in the 14th Congressional District primary.
The problem is this. Ocasio-ism is not a thing. Ocasio-Cortez didn’t win due to some elaborate Democratic Socialism playbook that can be recreated in other parts of New York City. She won because she did herself. She was authentic, hardworking and showed genuine concern for her future constituents. That coupled with undeniable political talent was her success.
If you want to take something away from her victory, it shouldn’t be trying to adapt her campaign stump speech passage and verse. It should be emulating her authenticity by articulating how you feel, and what you think is wrong with your district. And tell your personal story, not some superficial tale about how you have always been a Democratic Socialist at heart.
In recent weeks, we have seen many traditional Democrats try and suggest that their true selves are uber-progressives and secret supporters of the Democratic Socialists of America for years. This has manifested itself in an aggressive anti-IDC posturing, suggesting members of the now-defunct Independent Democratic Conference are more closely aligned to MAGA hat wearing Trumpistas then they are to the working class ideological narrative outlined by Ocasio-Cortez.
Jessica Ramos (challenging former IDCer Jose Peralta) and John Liu (in a rematch with former IDCer Tony Avella) are candidates who appear to have been emboldened by Ocasio-Cortez’s success and tried to paint their opponents as vastly out of touch with “true” Democratic principles and the “energy” of the party.
The most egregious example is happening in a heated primary in North Brooklyn, where 27-year-old Colombian-born challenger Julia Salazar has played up her strong ties with the DSA in her campaign against Martin Malave Dilan, yet this week it came out that she was a registered Republican when she lived in Florida roughly a decade ago. Her campaign has spun this by suggesting her political ideology has evolved. If true, she should talk openly about her path, instead of ushering this away as not a big deal. Voters would likely repay her authenticity.
Jumping on the phantom Democratic Socialism bandwagon may not a bad political play in a vacuum, but it misses the larger point. You have to be you.
Liu was the city Comptroller, one of the most powerful people in the city. It’s laughable to suggest that he is an outsider challenging a long-time incumbent when that incumbent has never held a position half as influential as Liu did for eight years. While in his position of power, Liu spent no political capital on trying to rid the state of the IDC. It wasn’t a priority for him as it is now.
Ramos’ campaign is different. She has been fairly consistent in her vision for the district, even before the Ocasio-Cortez upset. But she’s definitely seized on the opportunity to tie herself to the future congresswoman at every chance she gets, while simultaneously suggesting Peralta is caught up in a secret and corrupt game to gain power and influence, when really he is just playing traditional politics. Liu and Ramos may benefit for overselling these differences to voters come September. But we caution them, and other candidates that voters are smart and can spot fake outrage.