Sen. Bernie Sanders (I., Vt.) and Rep.-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D., N.Y.) are making an effort to lay out their priorities ahead of the 116th Congress. Given that Sanders is a top contender for the presidential nomination in 2020, and Ocasio-Cortez is the party's star for the 2018 election cycle, theoretically their words should be taken seriously. But Sanders and Ocasio-Cortez are offering nothing new. They try to mask everyday politician-speak as serious calls for action.
Sanders and Ocasio-Cortez call for improved health care, higher wages and overall economic prosperity, and they act as though those aren't the very things every politician hopes to achieve. Last week, Sanders wrote in the Washington Post that Democrats should "[pass] an agenda that reflects the needs of working Americans — centered on economic, political, social, racial and environmental justice." Yawn. Doesn't that sound exactly like Barack Obama circa 2008, or Hillary Clinton in 2016? That is nothing more than typical political jargon that almost anyone — certainly any Democrat — could use as a throwaway line. And for her part, in true millennial style, Ocasio-Cortez went to Twitter on Friday to profess, "All I want is for people to have healthcare. I want kids to go to college." In my 35-plus years working in politics, I have yet to meet a politician who opposes health care or kids going to college.
And their calls for Medicare-for-all, free college tuition, and reshaping, if not eliminating Immigration and Customs Enforcement are just slogans. They are not policies. In June, Sanders reminded voters that he voted in 2002 against the formation of the Department of Homeland Security, which oversees ICE. Sanders said that Democrats should focus on "restructuring the agencies that enforce our immigration laws, including ICE." Ocasio-Cortez has taken Sanders' already-radical view on immigration to another level by calling for the abolition of ICE altogether. I hope there is a vote on her proposal to abolish ICE in the House of Representatives.
That reminds me, I saw something bumping around on the Internet over the Thanksgiving weekend, something like: If capitalism is bad and socialism is good, why aren't the caravans headed for Venezuela? It's a lot closer than the United States. Exactly where is the socialist model they hope to imitate? I am eager to hear what the new democratic socialists have to say.
Given what we have heard thus far from Sanders and Ocasio-Cortez, the Democrats still don't have an agenda, and they certainly don't have a coherent economic message. Considering that hostility towards the president is what drives many of their voters and fuels the intensity of their activists, Democrats are unlikely to become anything beyond the anti-Trump party. I don't expect much legislating in the Democratic-controlled House, and I certainly don't expect any meaningful bipartisan bills to pass both chambers. If Sanders and Ocasio-Cortez represent the Democrats' leading voices, then all we should expect is more shallow rhetoric, more platitudes, and the partisan pursuit of Trump.
Ed Rogers is a contributor to the Washington Post Opinion section, a political consultant, and a veteran of the Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush White Houses and several national campaigns. He is the chairman of the lobbying and communications firm BGR Group, which he founded with former Mississippi governor Haley Barbour in 1991. @EdRogersDC