There’s been a lot of buzz about Netflix’s documentary “Knock Down the House” that follows the insurgent campaigns of four progressive Democrats who primaried incumbents in 2018. The most famous face in the documentary is also the only one who won her race: Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-CortezAlexandria Ocasio-CortezOvernight Energy & Environment — Presented by the American Petroleum Institute — Democrats address reports that clean energy program will be axed Democratic retirements could make a tough midterm year even worse Sinema's no Manchin, no McCain and no maverick MORE (D-N.Y.).
It’s hard to not find AOC compelling, even if you disagree with her on policy, which I do often. Central to a successful political career is having a good story and grit, and AOC has got that in spades. Plus, when you see the lack of effort former congressman Joe Crowley put into the contest you find yourself even more in her camp.
That said, the biggest takeaway from “Knock Down the House” for me was that AOC is the only winner of the documentary, a trend that we saw on election night, when progressive Democrats did substantially worse than moderate Democrats in a wave election by any historical standard.
So why is AOC’s face plastered all over your screens/browser/any other place you might consume news?
Well, there’s the compelling part ,and she has serious social media savvy. But the answer is the media — both right and left — that are obsessed with her, for drastically different reasons. The right wants you to think all Democrats are socialists, and the left recognizes her appeal and the marketability of the “political phenomenon” narrative.
The reality in Washington is, though, that Democrats’ power comes from the center. The much-hyped Progressive Caucus, which includes high-profile members such as AOC and Rep. Ayanna Presley (D-Mass.), has at least 95 members, but still fewer than the 101 who make up the New Democrat Coalition (NDC), a group of moderates that delivered us the House. In fact, 35 of the districts Democrats flipped from red to blue were NDC districts.
The NDC holds positions much like you think they would. “The Green New Deal is aspirational; what we plan to do is offer tangible, achievable things, not just a resolution,” NDC climate change task force leader Rep. Elaine Luria (D-Va.) said soon after the release of the GND. Incrementalism is foundational to their approach to climate change. Congressman Sean Casten (D-Ill.), who won his 2018 election on a climate change platform, added: “Doing energy and environmental policy really requires you get the expertise of the folks who have been down in the trenches” — an implicit knock on the GND.
Health care is another area where the NDC is leading while all the buzz is focused on “Medicare for All,” which hasn’t been brought for a vote. This month, two NDC-sponsored health care bills passed the House. One focused on restoring the Navigator program, which assists families in hard-to-reach communities to enroll them in affordable coverage. The other bill brings more affordable generic prescription drugs to the market sooner. Opposition remains in the Senate to sweeping legislation that Republicans see as an ObamaCare bailout, but the NDC wins are indisputable and reflective of where the American public is on health care: supportive of smart fixes to ObamaCare, which enjoys a 47 percent favorability rating in the Real Clear Politics average.
Another way moderates are signaling their opposition to the AOC model is the group of five Democratic women with military or intelligence backgrounds who won in 2018 and have created a joint fundraising committee. All members of this group are also part of the NDC. Their Service First Women’s Victory Fund will allow them to share the costs of fundraising and split the proceeds and, critically, keep the dark world of corporate political action committees out of the conversation.
These arrangements aren’t uncommon, but this type of language is: “There’s been an overwhelming focus on a small number of members in our caucus who did not flip seats, who did not help win the House, who are doing what is right for their districts, but who don’t represent our districts, or at least my district,” Rep. Elissa Slotkin (D-Mich.) told reporters when the new fund was announced. There was far less media coverage of this important statement than AOC’s latest tweet.
It is impossible to know every story and the details of every alliance. The Democratic Party is full of moderates, especially the freshman class that has been branded “AOC’s class” since the day after the election.
As a Democrat, I believe it is our responsibility to be absolutely defiant in the face of broad-stroke “socialism” talk. Feel free to use any of the examples above, and I’ve got plenty more for a rainy day.
Jessica Tarlov is head of research at Bustle Digital Group and a Fox News contributor. She earned her Ph.D. at the London School of Economics in political science. Follow her on Twitter @JessicaTarlov.