John Kasich, the anti-labor, anti-choice former governor of Ohio who finished just a little better than last in the race for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination, is convinced that he knows how the Democratic Party should acquit itself in the 2020 presidential campaign. The self-proclaimed “conservative Republican” is equally convinced that he has much more to say to Democrats than the rising star on the party’s left, Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
Unfortunately, a lot of Democrats who are in charge of plotting and planning for the future of the party, seem to share Kasich’s view. While the Republican was accorded plenty of time to speak on Monday evening—in a key slot on the first night of the party’s first virtual convention—AOC has been accorded one minute to address the nation on Tuesday.
That was fine by Kasich, a relentless self-promoter who used a long five minutes to anoint himself as the Democratic Party’s Republican whisperer. On a night when Americans tuned in to hear former first lady Michelle Obama and Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders deliver powerful addresses about the need for structural responses to systemic injustices, Kasich endeavored to assure his conservative compatriots that Biden wouldn’t really implement the changes that are needed in a pandemic moment characterized by mass unemployment. “I’m sure there are Republicans and independents who couldn’t imagine crossing over to support a Democrat,” he chirped, in a gimmicky video that featured the former Fox News host standing at a (literal) crossroads. “They fear Joe may turn sharp left and leave them behind. I don’t believe that because I know the measure of the man.”
Kasich’s blurring of the message undermined the party’s appeal to disenchanted and disengaged voters, as did Kasich’s pre-convention positioning. Before the night kicked off, the Republican actually took a dig at AOC and the progressives—especially young progressives—whose ideals she raises up. “I think both parties have to have new ideas, and I think this country is moderate,” he claimed in an interview with BuzzFeed. “People on the extreme, whether they’re on the left or on the right, they get outsized publicity that tends to define their party. You know, I listen to people all the time make these statements, and because AOC gets outsized publicity doesn’t mean she represents the Democratic Party. She’s just a part, just some member of it.”
AOC responded, “Something tells me a Republican who fights against women’s rights doesn’t get to say who is or isn’t representative of the Dem party.”
The dismissal of Ocasio-Cortez, who has popularized the Green New Deal and who gave Sanders vital support at a key point in the fall of 2019, as “just some member” of the Democratic Party did not sit well with progressive delegates. “AOC is a role model for young women on how to stand up for oneself against bullies no matter how powerful they appear to be,” said Sanders delegate Zenaida Huerta, a Los Angeles County Democratic Party central committee member and leader of the convention’s Young Delegates Coalition. “AOC deserves a meaningful amount of time to address the young women she inspires. I look forward to nominating her for president someday.”
Progressives fear the party is making the same mistake that it always does in the great debate over whether to go for the elusive “swing votes” of disappointed Republicans or to seek to expand its base. That was what Democrats did in 2016 when they gave a major speaking slot to former Republican mayor of New York City Mike Bloomberg, who delivered an uninspired address that seemed to be primarily about setting himself up for the uninspired presidential campaign he briefly ran in 2020. Bloomberg will reportedly get another speaking slot this year, and three more Republicans—former New Jersey governor Christine Todd Whitman, former Hewlett-Packard CEO Meg Whitman, and 2010 California GOP gubernatorial nominee and former representative Susan Molinari of New York—joined the Monday lineup.
Sawyer Hackett, an adviser to 2020 Democratic presidential contender Julián Castro, noted that “in a year where Latino voters are poised to be the biggest non-white voting bloc, the Democratic convention will feature more Republican speakers than Latinx speakers.” Castro, a former Obama administration cabinet member, was not invited to speak this year; and another 2020 contender, Andrew Yang, was given a slot only after an outcry was raised over the lack of sufficient representation of Asian Americans on the convention stage.
When all is said and done, Democratic speakers will of course outnumber Republican speakers at what is after all the Democratic National Convention. And progressive messages will be heard. But why, ask progressive delegates, aren’t visionary progressives being given the time to amplify the ideals that will form the next politics of this country?
“Congresswoman Ocasio-Cortez is the future of the Democratic Party,” says Charlotte Clymer, a transgender activist and Biden delegate. “She has shown a remarkable ability to articulate a vision of our country that transcends party politics and resonates with a country crying out for leadership that will directly address the systemic inequality that has brought us to this point. Giving her 60 seconds isn’t just disrespectful; it’s incredibly shortsighted if we Democrats want to demonstrate to the country that our plan goes far beyond simply opposing Trump.” Clymer joined more than 525 delegates in demanding more time for AOC. They signed a petition, circulated over the last several days by the Young Delegates Coalition, which read:
We call on you to have Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez give the keynote address at the Democratic National Convention or, at minimum, have as much time to speak as is given to Republican John Kasich. AOC is one of the Democratic Party leaders who is most respected by young Democrats and progressives. She is one of three scheduled Latinx speakers and one of two under 50. Giving her 60 seconds to speak is unacceptable. Rep. Ocasio-Cortez must be given enough time to demonstrate respect for her and the constituencies she represents and to allow her to make the case for why and how we must unite to defeat Trump and move America forward.
Polling suggests that the American people are with the young delegates on this one. A CBS survey released on the eve of the convention asked Americans who they would like to hear address the convention. Former president Barack Obama, Michelle Obama, Biden, and California Senator Kamala Harris, the party’s vice presidential pick, topped the list. More than two-thirds wanted to hear Sanders and 63 percent were excited to hear Ocasio-Cortez. Just 38 percent were enthused about Kasich—the lowest number for any prospective speaker.
If past is prologue, AOC will do more with her minute than Kasich did with his time.
But Alan Minsky, the executive director of Progressive Democrats of America, has a point when he says, “By almost any discernible metric, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is the rising star in the Democratic Party. Among young Americans, her popularity is truly astronomical. The Democrats need young people to vote this fall. The Party would be much better served by giving her 60 minutes as opposed to 60 seconds to speak at the DNC.”