So a California-educated scientist, the daughter of two scientists, won her election and is about to become Mexico City’s first Jewish mayor. From the predictable conspiratorialist know-nothings to the north, Claudia Sheinbaum is just a yes-woman for the leftist president-elect Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO), who in turn is just a puppet for the government of Venezuela and “we all know what happened there.” Just a matter of crazy Mexicans doing something crazy, perhaps a mess that Uncle Sam will have to clean up, the right-wing ideologues of the USA might say.
Say WHAT? Dr. Sheinbaum shared, with other member of a scientific group, the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize for her contribution toward knowledge of climate change. She served as the municipal environmental director, and as head of one of the more humble Mexico City neighborhood governments. As a local activist she has for years been studying, explaining and advocating with respect to the many serious problems of the city whose voters just chose her. She takes on the daunting task of being mayor of arguably the world’s biggest city, a job that Mexico’s president-elect AMLO used to have.
So a 28-year-old community organizer and proud democratic socialist crushed a 10-term incumbent who was on track toward being speaker of the US House of Representatives in the Democratic primary for the 14th congressional district of New York. Nancy Pelosi, 50 years the senior of the next congresswoman, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, chalked it up to an odd district, and perhaps a miscalculation of ethnic identity politics, rather than welcoming a newcomer into the fold that has to include a lot more people to make a Democrat the next speaker and curtail an ongoing national disaster.
Ms. Ocasio, not surprisingly for somebody who took on an incumbent in a Democratic primary, says that it does matter which sort of Democrat a person is. The global leadership of Democrats Abroad, an organization which went 2-1 for the 2016 presidential primary candidate whom Ocasio supported, Bernie Sanders, is dominated by Hillary Clinton’s corporate way of thinking. On the global level Democrats Abroad has pretty much avoided mentioning Ocasio’s name. To them, too, which sort of Democrat matters.
But Tom Perez, who supported Hillary and heads the Democratic National Committee, hailed Ocasio as “the future of our party.” So is the DNC chair a turncoat? Has he gone out of his mind? Is it some sort of pan-Hispanic thing?
Ocasio worked her way through college in jobs that millionaires’ and billionaires’ kids don’t have to take. As a university student she was an aide to the dying Senator Ted Kennedy. She knows climate politics both from an academic and activist perspective, and as somebody whose grandfather died in Puerto Rico in the devastation of Hurricane Maria. She is of a generation swindled by “free market” ideologues, sold cant about the great future that globalization on corporate terms has in store if they only wait. Too often they have been told that their salvation is in dynastic politics, in voting for some scion of a privileged family who is roughly their age. Nancy Pelosi and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee may figure that those identity buttons ought to work, but the millennials don’t want to hear it. In any given race where the Democratic candidate offers a patched-up version of 1990s politics in the general election, the incidence of young voters staying home or casting protest votes will rise.
Must be rich? Or must have gone to an Ivy League school? Or must be the child of a politician? Or must be committed to failed policies like the War on Drugs? The sorts of imperatives that Nancy Pelosi and the DCCC have been trying to impose on the Democratic Party this year are recipes for dull, uninspiring conformists at a time when the country needs something and somebody way different.
Tom Perez well knows that under the big tent of the Democratic Party he needs to make comfortable spaces for different factions. He also well knows that the septuagenarian generation and the global economic order many of them sold a few decades ago have to change or get out of the way. Plus, he listens to his kids and he can tell where the enthusiasm is.
There is more to it than just that, in the USA and everywhere. The neoliberal experiment in global economics has failed most people in most places. In few places is it a viable political program. Socialists in many countries who resigned themselves to its inevitability have been run out of office. Those conservatives who were partners with socialists in the failed old consensus now have their own woes. New ideas, new faces, new balances of power, new calculations to revise things that have gone wrong — these are the agendas of emerging leaders who matter. It’s not just the socialists.
Those who can’t deal with a new paradigm are unqualified to lead in today’s world. It’s a world in which socialism has an honored place among other contending philosophies. Those socialists who know the failures that the movement has encountered along the way and can think of better approaches are the ones likely to thrive. Those liberals and neoconservatives whose minds are stuck in Cold War stereotypes are going to have a hard time dealing with socialists in the Democratic Party and are also going to have a hard time getting elected to public office. The world has changed. Economies have changed. Political paradigms have changed. Even if human nature is not much different from Biblical times, adjustments must be made.
Looked at that way, Claudia Sheinbaum Pardo is something akin to the New York City mayors who led the community past the crooked days of Tammany Hall machine politics and into more upright and pragmatic urban policies. Looked at that way, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is something of a throwback to a generation of socialist-influenced labor Democrats who came into Congress in the mid-1930s and passed the New Deal.
“Socialist” is an honorable label and an increasingly attractive one for young people in the USA. In Panama, however, the local affiliate of the Socialist International is the PRD. That aging child of the dictatorship may win the 2019 elections but under its current leadership has few positive things to offer Panamanians of any age.
Neither the Mexican, US nor Panamanian prospects for socialism are all that unique in the world, even if each country is different. Smart voters will look at the broad forces and alliances inherent in party and ideological labels to make well informed judgments on who is best set to govern them. But the wiser ones will look beyond the labels at the policies, histories and characters of candidates, especially in primary elections.
Bear in mind