Who Should and Shouldn’t Be Next Leader of the Progressive Movement
by Sunjay Muralitharan, August 7, 2021
There is almost unanimous agreement that Senator Bernie Sanders stands as the current leader of the progressive movement. His ability to run competitive presidential campaigns in the 2016 and 2020 Democrat primaries despite constant opposition from the neoliberal establishment pretty much cemented him in this leadership role. However we need to address the elephant in the room, Bernie is turning 80 this year and some of his recently questionable political decisions (removing the hold on state nominees that he imposed in response to the state department giving Boeing permission to sell $735 million of bombs to Israel since Biden vaguely promised he would give Gaza humanitarian aid, praising Biden for including prescription drug reform and a reduction in the minimum age for Medicare in the White House Budget even though Biden never did this, etc) have shown that his age is catching up to him.
This begs the question when Bernie inevitably steps down from his role in Congress who will carry on his legacy as the new leader? In this article we will dive into the most likely picks for this leadership role, and why they should or should not take up this task.
Alexandria Ocasio Cortez: Should not
Photo: CBS News
Probably the first person to pop into your head when you hear the words “successor to the progressive movement” is Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio Cortez, commonly known as AOC; this comes as no surprise considering her massive name recognition and social media presence. She has a whopping 12 million Twitter followers and the third-highest viewership for an individual gamer on twitch in her Among Us debut stream.
However, being a social media icon and twitch streamer does not ensure that AOC qualifies for this lofty leadership role, and outside of her massive name recognition AOC does not have much going for her. She is an ineffective lawmaker, struggles to unify the left, and is extremely polarizing. The Center of Effective Law Making ranks her as the 230th most effective Democratic House representative, to put that into perspective there are only 240 Democrats in the house. Her low ranking is due to her poor legislative record: of the 21 bills she has proposed in the 116th Congress, not one of them has passed the house or even been considered by committees. In other words, her bills have come nowhere close to becoming laws.
In addition, AOC herself is an extremely polarizing figure. Part of this seeming polarization is due to depictions of her by rightwing and neoliberal establishment media as some fearsome socialist who will destroy America. Obviously, these are lies, considering how ineffective she is at lawmaking she could not “destroy America” if she ever wanted to. However, AOC herself has contributed to her polarising nature; for example, she has once called for canceling those who have worked with Trump.
“Is anyone archiving these Trump sycophants for when they try to downplay or deny their complicity in the future? I foresee decent probability of many deleted Tweets, writings, photos in the future,” said AOC on Twitter.
Whether you believe AOC is at fault for her seemingly polarising demeanor, it is difficult to deny that it will make it difficult for her to unite the left; and as of now, she falls quite short in this regard. Last year, she decided to distance herself from the Bernie campaign after they decided to publicize Joe Rogan’s endorsement of Bernie. She claimed that she did so due to Rogan’s past comments on the LGBTQ community; while some may agree with her decision, distancing yourself from a major progressive figure due to an endorsement of a popular podcaster is not the best way to unite the left. But that’s not all, 16 months after her victory in 2018, AOC only endorsed 2 of the 12 justice democrat candidates in their primary elections. If AOC can’t unite the left now, why should we think that she can unite the left in the future?
Ro Khanna: Should
Congressman Ro Khanna may be the smallest name on this list, but he is definitely one of the most qualified to be the next leader. For those of you who don’t know, he’s a Justice Democrat and former co-chair of Bernie’s presidential campaign just like many of the more high profile candidates discussed on this list. However, his skills as an effective lawmaker and uniting figure who can work with anyone regardless of their political ideology make up for his seemingly low profile.
The Center of Effective Law Making ranks him at #32 out of 240 Democrats in Congress, putting him far higher than the likes of the high profile “squad”: AOC (230th), Ilhan Omar (214th), Rashida Tlaib (92nd), and Ayanna Pressley (217th). This comes as little to no surprise since Khanna, when he was in the 116th Congress, has managed to get 3 of his bills to become law, another 3 to pass through its chamber of origin, and many others that have been considered by Congressional committees.
The reason for this great record is due to his ability to work with a diverse group of politicians, a skill that most left-leaning politicians do not possess. Whether it's working with Republican Nancy Mace to bolster cybersecurity, neoliberal Tim Ryan to get more stimulus checks to the American people, Republican Matt Gaetz to end endless wars (before he was exposed to be a sex trafficker after this Khanna quickly distanced himself from him), Khanna has a clear willingness to work with any politician to accomplish the goals of the progressive movement; which is an essential skill of the leader of the movement.
Elizabeth Warren: Should not
Photo: The Nation
Alongside Bernie Sanders, Warren stands as one of the most influential progressive figures today. Her 2020 presidential campaign garnered the 3rd most delegates of any candidate and her polling numbers were competitive from the start of the race. Most people remember her for her fiery debate performances and comprehensive plans. While she isn’t a Justice Democrat, she still supports many progressive policies, or “plans” as she calls them, like ending the electoral college, expanding social security, and ensuring healthcare is a human right.
With her large name recognition and seeming intelligence, Warren could have very well be the next leader of the progressive movement. However, a single high-profile smear attack against Bernie himself has left a bad taste in the mouth of many progressives, and it's unlikely that she will be able to win them back. Warren and Bernie had agreed to remain civil with one another during the presidential primary to prevent division among the progressive movement, but Warren broke this agreement. "I thought a woman could win; he disagreed," she claimed referring to a private conversation with Bernie all the way back in 2018 regarding whether or not a woman could win the presidency.
Now whether or not this accusation is true, it definitely loosened the unity in the progressive movement and hurt both candidates. After this attack, many Bernie supporters decided not to back Warren if Bernie happened to drop out, vice versa. This event was not the sole reason for Biden’s win, but it certainly helped. In other words, at a time where progressive unity is the most crucial, Warren threw it away in pursuit of her selfish desire to be president resulting in another loss for the progressive movement against the neoliberal establishment. If she is unable to put aside her pride to help further the goals of the progressive movement, then Warren is not fit to be the next leader of the progressive movement.
Nina Turner: Should
Photo: The Guardian
Of all the politicians on this list, Turner is the only one who has never served in the federal government. Currently, she is the frontrunner in the congressional race in Ohio’s 11th district; before running for Congress, she served as an Ohio state senator and was a co-chair of Bernie’s presidential campaign. She too is a member of the Justice Democrats like many of the others on this list.
For what she lacks in experience, she makes up for with her fiery passion. As of now most progressives in Washington have not been using their power to their full extent; they tend to favor “internal bargaining” to push their agenda instead of firmly standing their ground and refusing to vote for bills if their agenda does not get represented. This “internal bargaining” has yet to get anywhere since policies with the overwhelming support of the American people, like a $15 minimum wage, weed legalization, Medicare for All, student loan relief, etc, are hardly even being considered.
Turner, unlike the rest of the Justice Democrats, is not the type to take this lightly. We know this because she wants to get stuff done. When forcing the vote for Medicare for All was at the forefront of political discourse, Turner expressed full support for it. While this may not seem like a big deal, all the members of the squad stood against this idea, clearly showing us that they do not share Turner’s fiery passion.
“This is right and it is politically correct to say that you are going to save the American people. I don’t understand what is the problem,” said Turner when asked about whether or not she supported forcing the vote for Medicare for All.
Turner’s passion for making a difference is what makes her the ideal leader for the progressive movement. If her passion spreads to AOC, Ro Khanna, Ilhan Omar, and the rest of the progressives in Congress then many progressive goals can become a reality. We need a firm progressive leader who is willing to stand their ground just like how Bernie has for decades, and Nina Turner is that leader.