Barron: Moderates Like McAdams Are Crucial to Democratic Majority, Ocasio-Cortez Is Not


Columbia Law

Utah Representative Ben McAdams swearing in.

By Morgan Barron, Opinion Writer

Rep. Ben McAdams is not the “coolest” politician on the Hill. His social media accounts are underwhelming when compared with that of his his famous colleague, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. His online presence is approachable and reminiscent of a friendly neighborhood dad — in that his kids probably get more likes on their Instagram posts and he is never highlighted on late night shows for epic and combative Twitter takedowns. However, while his social media presence is not that of a renowned firebrand, McAdams still plays an important role.

McAdams had a “D” next to his name while running for a seat in a heavily Republican-leaning district, UT-04, yet over 1,000 Utahns — many of whom were college students — volunteered to knock doors and talk to constituents about McAdams’ resonant “message of bipartisanship” during his congressional campaign last fall. Perhaps some support was due to SwingLeft identifying UT-04 as a potentially vulnerable Republican seat, but as for myself, I chose to volunteer for his campaign because of McAdams’ strong service as Salt Lake County Mayor. For six years, he crossed party lines to address important issues ranging from homelessness in the Salt Lake Valley to criminal justice reform.

Since his arrival in D.C., McAdams has continued to fight for everyday Utahns by voting to lower the cost of prescription drugs, urging Congress to invest in electric buses to help improve Utah’s air quality and hosting five town halls with his constituents in the first 100 days of his term. His efforts have matched by other recently elected moderate democrats who have been working to lower the cost of health care, looking for an infrastructure deal that will benefit their districts and responding to the needs of their constituents. The election of McAdams and other moderate democrats was also important on the national scale, as regaining democratic control of the House was dependent on flipping Republican seats during the 2018 midterms.

Despite the good he is doing for Utah and the United States, McAdams became a political target after voting with 26 other moderate democrats for a gun control amendment which would mandate reporting undocumented immigrants who try to purchase guns to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. According to people present who were not authorized to comment publicly, Ocasio-Cortez of New York later said these democratic colleagues could find themselves “on a list” of primary election targets, insinuating she was willing to utilize her political star power to back more liberal primary challengers to replace her current colleagues. Not only are more liberal candidates unlikely to run viable campaigns in districts like UT-04, Ocasio-Cortez’s threat to replace those who vote opposite to her is autocratic and reminiscent of Nixon’s enemy list.

Ocasio-Cortez has been turned into some sort of political superhero by some on the left. Indeed, Devil’s Due Comics captured this perception by having Ocasio-Cortez star in a comic book titled, “New Party, Who Dis?” However, this former bartender turned progressive icon does not represent every congressional district in America, even those that are currently held by democratic representatives.

John Anzalone, an Alabama-based democratic pollster, told the Washington Post, “[It is a] myth that Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez somehow represents the narrative of democratic primary voters in the country … half of them identify themselves as moderates or conservative.” Congressmen and women who represent safe democratic districts like Ocasio-Cortez have the voter support to propose ambitious progressive policies and to mention the prospect of providing “economic security for all who are unable or unwilling to work” during a such a policy rollout.

But this is not a luxury afforded to many currently serving in Congress. In fact, more than 30 democratic freshman representatives were elected by districts that supported the Trump presidential campaign two year earlier. Defending these seats in 2020, which includes UT-04, is imperative to the democrats’ chances of keeping control of the House.  

Ocasio-Cortez is smart, confident and outspoken, but it appears she has begun to buy into the media’s superstar persona of herself. This has led her to make herself the focal point of policy she supports instead of the issues themselves, which has contributed to mistakes such as the bungle of the Green New Deal rollout.

Centrism is rarely sexy, keeping moderate democrats from snatching headlines or trending on Twitter. But democrats like McAdams are responsible for the current party control of the House and will be vital to sustaining a democratic majority in 2020. Ocasio-Cortez may appear to be the anti-Trump. Deeming her fellow caucus members “the enemy” could play a key role in re-electing Trump in 2020 and appears to be a play right out of his book. She may not agree with her moderate peers’ voting record, but they are continuing to quietly deliver on promises and their effort on behalf of their constituents should be respected by any democrat.

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