Terry H. Schwadron
July 14, 2019
Whatever you want to make of this continuing dispute between House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and “The Squad” centered around four first-year congresswomen of color led by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, we can all agree that so far, this seems like the worst way on both sides to handle conflict.
Worse yet, they generally are on the same side and disagree really only about tone in their common concerns about Donald Trump’s administration and the Republican resistance for their programs.
Still cross-tweets, cross-statements in the press, overly personal attacks don’t much seem the best route to inclusion, dignity or even supremacy in the House, if that were the ultimate goal. You do wonder why they aren’t just meeting up, or proud that they are part of a bigger-view party that can include multiple points of view.
For whatever passes as the record here, both the speaker and the Squad are each right, not only on the specific issue of contention, but in the more general view towards serving as governmental opposition: The Speaker is more interested in holding a Democratic front together than in perfect tone in opposition to a Trump White House; the four linked congresswomen are pressing for a more pure progressivism in all House resolutions, legislation and statements.
It’s this week’s version of the tried, true and trite distillation that Perfection can be the enemy of the Good.
AOC of New York, Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, Rashida Tlaib of Michigan and Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts were the only Democrats to oppose a settlement over funds to provide a supplemental $4.6 billion for expansion of humanitarian treatment at border detention centers. They felt the House version was much better in guaranteeing the White House spends the money as intended and not to support wider attacks on illegal immigration.
Curiously, the Speaker is in wild agreement, but she lost her confrontation with a Senate that refused to go as far as the House. It was better than nothing to ensure that the government had enough money to ensure humanitarian treatment, she ruled.
But this dust-up is not limited to that single issue. There are fault-lines over the environment and approaches to climate change, health care, race issues, even impeachment proceedings.
The Squad sees itself as victimized by Pelosi the bully; Pelosi sees the four as overreaching based on popular support in social media, and lacking a tangible and growing following in the House itself. Pelosi sees keeping a House Democratic, even if it means bending to allow more moderate voices from districts that might otherwise vote Republican and pro-Trump. Each of the four congresswomen are from fairly safe Democratic districts and want to push the party to the left in terms of policy.
In any event, how to handle divergent voices is a test for leadership. Good leaders actually invite a certain amount of intellectual dissent, as a tools towards distilling the best policies or positions for compromise. Speaker Pelosi is quick to note that “Diversity is our strength,” adding quickly, “Unity is our power.”
For AOC, however, multiple attempts by the Speaker to quell dissent from The Squad comes across as disrespectful of women of color, and overlooks the fact that these four represent millions in their districts and beyond. They are the inheritors of the Democratic Party, which they want to redefine for the times.
It all comes off like the Old Guard holding onto its own power base, blindly rejecting the Young Turks, a Shakespearean theme as oft-visited in politics as it is in sports, science, race relations, economics and technology.
So, Speaker Pelosi, if you’re presenting yourself as the adult here, please find a way to open yourself to inviting these fierce women into the decision-making tent. Make them feel as the inheritors. You are of an age where you need to be thinking seriously about how to transition power — and to someone(s) who are not over 70 years old.
It’s what feels so strange about the presidential race altogether, as has been pointed out many times already. We have a president and lead candidates who are, well, aging, like me. We don’t hold all the good knowledge and experience, and we should be able to help a younger crowd inherit the reins.
AOC and Squad members, perhaps you should be just a tad more cautious in posting words that can come back to hurt you and the causes for which you stand. Perhaps you can temper the language without losing the fervor.
Let’s keep our eyes on the goal here — a more perfect union that makes it possible for the rest of us living here to enjoy a more respectful, prosperous, equal and fair society.
What happens to each of you politically should not get in the way.