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Alan Chartock: Democrats on the edge

The Democratic penchant for forming circular firing squads is well-known and it is showing not only in the House of Representatives, but in the New York State legislature.

The Democrats in both the House of Representatives and the state Senate are risking it all and to some extent, they are being aided and abetted by the news media, who know a story when they see one. We all know that any story that involves a fight or a contest has the potential for good copy and there is no hotter story on the American political scene than Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

When the Democrats took over the House of Representatives, they won a slew of new seats. Most of these were moderate, swing seats in competitive districts and certainly not self-identified Democratic Socialists. But a few seats did go to progressives, and Ocasio-Cortez was one. What a candidate. She did a little dance outside her office in reaction to Republican nonsense and that little dance was seen around the world! She doesn’t take any garbage and when Trump insults her, she gives it right back to him. Her problem is, now, that seems to be alienating significant groups in the American electorate.

Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn.

In the beginning, a small group of progressives presented a threat to Nancy Pelosi’s assumed speakership. Pelosi prevailed by making a series of deals and promises that obviously involved some committee assignments, like that of Ilhan Omar to the Foreign Affairs Committee. Unfortunately, Omar made what many people are calling an anti-Semitic trope, and not for the first time. That made a lot of people crazy because they interpreted her words as implying that American Jews were incapable of giving full loyalty to the United States but owed primacy to Israel. She cited the Jewish group AIPAC. Frankly, as a Jew, I had a hard time with what she said. I have been assiduous in my belief that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is leading Israel in the wrong direction. I am not alone in that. Public opinion polls show some disparity between American Jewish voters and contemporary Israeli policy.

When asked about Omar’s penchant for perceived anti-Semitic remarks, top Jewish leaders in the Congress, like Eliot Engel, the chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, refused to exonerate Omar. However, it is feared that Omar will not be removed from her prestigious committee assignment unless things get worse. In the meantime, Republicans are having a field day with Omar’s remarks. Obviously, many American Jewish voters are loath to agree with Donald Trump’s negative assessments of Omar. Just for the record, Jews comprise around 2 percent of the American population.

The fact is that AOC has vigorously defended her contemporary, Omar. This has exacerbated the tension between the old- and new-style Democrats. This tension and possible infighting has created a potential schism that the Republicans can use to alienate voters. The Democratic penchant for forming circular firing squads is well-known and it is showing not only in the House of Representatives, but in the New York State legislature, where the newly elected state Senate is picking unnecessary fights with the governor—like the debacle that lost Amazon to New York City. When you get power and you are not used to it, you have to be particularly careful about what you do and say because of your instincts. I get that Andrew Cuomo is suspected by the new Democratic majority of having kept the Republicans in power. I also get that the age-old instinct to get even is pretty powerful. But, hey, in the case of both the Congressional Democrats and the new majority in the New York State Senate, the greater good will surely be met if they stay in power. They have just emerged from the wilderness of oppression under their Republican colleagues (tormentors.)

Let’s face it: If they retain power and continue to pass good legislation, we will all benefit. Let’s just hope that they take a course in anger management and road rage before they continue their present ways.

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