Right Opinion

I Come to Bury Biden, Not to Praise Him

Ocasio-Cortez emerges as a one-woman Committee to Re-Elect the President.

Peggy Noonan · Jul. 20, 2019

Three small points we labor mightily to connect:

Joe Biden has me thinking about … Julius Caesar. The political class of Rome wanted Caesar gone and successfully dispatched him with 23 wounds. But the conspirators themselves came to unhappy ends — Caesar’s base hated them and chased them out of town! Nobody loves an assassin. The only political survivors were Caesar’s designated heir and the leaders who didn’t join the conspiracy.

That is the predicament of the 23 contenders for the Democratic presidential nomination who are not named Joe Biden. They want the front-runner gone. But they don’t really want to be the one who does him in. Pete Buttigieg doesn’t want you saying he has a lean and hungry look! Amy Klobuchar doesn’t want it said she really is mean. The safe course for them is to let someone else do it, then mourn, with poignant words, the end of an epic 20th-century career.

Kamala Harris got a boost from wielding her switchblade in the debates, but that’s a moment, not a sustainable primary lifestyle, and it left a mark, not a fatal wound.

So how are they thinking? If in time they feel they have to, they’ll do what Caesar’s foes did and all join together and take a stab. But again, that didn’t work out well. So for now they’ll make small feints on Mr. Biden’s statements and record, have their people be as poisonous as possible off the record, and wait for him to stab himself to death. Which in his previous presidential primary races he’s tended to do.

What they’re banking on is self-sabotage and deteriorating cognitive abilities, as Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez sweetly suggested in an interview with the New Yorker’s David Remnick: “I think there are some folks that are of a certain age where you can kind of question their capacity.”

Donald Trump, she said, is an example. And Joe Biden? “I think … his performance on the stage kind of raised some questions with respect to that. But I don’t want to say, just because someone is 79, they can’t or shouldn’t run for president.”

“Just because he’s 79.” Well done, missy.

And so to Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s public fight with Ms. Ocasio-Cortez and the three other members of “The Squad” — Reps. Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib and Ayanna Pressley. I gather many on the left are lauding their cool defiance, but to me they look surprised, flummoxed and resentful.

Shortly after being elected, Ms. Ocasio-Cortez seemed to think she had Mrs. Pelosi under control — she’s the future, after all, and Nancy’s the past and surely knows it. She curled her hand around the speaker’s arm in the famous Rolling Stone cover, as you might with a grandma to whom you enjoy showing particular warmth and who happens to have a big estate and no designated heir. Someone has to inherit it!

What do I suspect The Squad may know now that they didn’t know then? That grandma has been observing them and sees what others see. She doesn’t mind that they’re hot, aggressive and ideological, but they don’t confine their fire to outside the tent. They attack moderates as sellouts, racists, child abusers.

And no one who disagrees with them ever operates in good faith. There is a disrespect there. They’re tough, they’re bringing it, not winging it; but they’re so immersed in ideology that they never give a thought to mercy. With Ms. Omar and Ms. Ocasio-Cortez especially, it’s all identity politics and the accusing finger — you’re criticizing me because you’re greedy, misogynist, classist. And they always claim victimhood — they receive death threats and are called bigoted things, people are mean to them.

People are mean to everybody.

AOC especially is not without skill and talent. She is energetic, determined, verbally fluid, has a gift for acting, for seeming ingenuous. She weeps when she hears tragic testimony at committee hearings. She feels for everyone. Well, for some people. Not for Mrs. Pelosi. “I think sometimes people think that … we have a relationship,” she said, slyly, to Mr. Remnick. “I was assigned to two of some of the busiest committees… . Sometimes I wonder if they’re trying to keep me busy.” Oh Einstein, they may be!

The more serious Democratic Party problem with Ms. Ocasio-Cortez and Ms. Omar is not that their great talent seems to be for political manipulation, or that they constantly set fires, portray the universe as consisting of angels and demons, and put people off with their arrogance while exciting them with their ferocity — though all these things are true.

It is that in doing these dramatic things, and amplifying them through their impressive social-media skills, or compulsions, they have fully broken through and made their mark. In their fame and celebrity they altered the face and feel of the party into something that appears more radical, more hissing and accusatory, more hard-left.

Ms. Ocasio-Cortez’s success last June scared fellow Democrats across the country into thinking she is the future, that they must get aboard and get with her program, which many of the party’s presidential nominees have. She has very effectively changed the ideological shape of the Democratic Party with her de facto open-borders policy and other extremisms.

Mature liberals and moderates know this will come back to bite them.

She does this from a completely safe district. She can’t be primaried from the left. She feels a job security no Democratic moderate can feel. Nancy Pelosi said a glass of water could be elected in her district if it were a Democrat, and it’s true.

For all these reasons Ms. Ocasio-Cortez has been destructive to her party’s chances in 2020. She is a one woman Committee to Re-Elect the President.

The way I read it now, Ms. Ocasio-Cortez has been dunked on by a pro and schooled by Big Mama. If she were capable of observing, reflecting and absorbing, as opposed to aggressing, reacting and accusing, she could learn something.

She will not learn a thing. And, a prediction: AOC may look for richer fields back home in rising lefty New York, where mayoral candidates can’t possibly be too progressive and where the revolution will be won!

Here I quickly note what others often tell me: Nancy Pelosi is usually not very clear in public. You listen and walk away uncomprehending. When she takes questions from the press, she is almost never not confusing. Here is a favorite: “I don’t support it, but it’s not, you know — in other words, there is an emergency. There is a burning building. We have to put out the fire. I’m not having to have a conversation about the color of the buckets that the water is in.”

Observers tell me this is not inadequacy but strategy. Publicly she benefits from murk — it gives her a place to hide as she plans her next move. (Eisenhower was like this: He enjoyed vagueness; it maintained his freedom.)

But in private, Pelosi couldn’t be clearer. To her caucus’s progressives at the closed-door meeting Wednesday morning: “Some of you are here to make a beautiful pâté, but we’re making sausage.” “You got a complaint? You come and talk to me about it. But do not tweet about our members and expect us to think that that is just OK.” On attacks on moderates: “Think twice. Actually, don’t think twice. Think once.”

Really, this is a clever woman.


Reprinted with permission from peggynoonan.com.

Don't miss Peggy Noonan and other great columnists. Subscribe today!

Click here to show comments

It's Right. It's Free.