[ Its goal is to remake our economic system — and the Democratic
Party. Since the 2016 election, the left’s political and cultural
influence has ballooned. Membership in DSA grew exponentially during
the first years of the Trump administration.] [https://portside.org/] 

 THE YOUNG LEFT’S ANTI-CAPITALIST MANIFESTO  
[https://portside.org/node/19202] 

 

 Clare Malone 
 January 22, 2019
FiveThirtyEight
[https://fivethirtyeight.com/features/the-young-lefts-anti-capitalist-manifesto/]


	*
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	* 
	* [https://portside.org/node/19202/printable/print]

 _ Its goal is to remake our economic system — and the Democratic
Party. Since the 2016 election, the left’s political and cultural
influence has ballooned. Membership in DSA grew exponentially during
the first years of the Trump administration. _ 

 credit: Emily Scherer / Getty Images // FiveThirtyEight, 

 

A f

few months ago a friend wrote me an email with the subject line,
“What is Sean McElwee.”

This is the kind of question that occurs to a person who spends a lot
of time on Twitter. In 2018, McElwee’s tweets seemed to abound in
liberal cyberspace. He was best known for his jeremiads about
abolishing Immigration and Customs Enforcement — for much of the
past year, McElwee’s handle read as “we’re going to abolish
ICE.” The online racket attracted attention. MSNBC host Chris
Hayes interviewed
[https://www.nbcnews.com/think/amp/ncna908331] him, Sen. Kirsten
Gillibrand showed up to the weekly happy hour he throws, and he was
named to the Politico 50
[https://www.politico.com/interactives/2018/politico50/sean-mcelwee/] along
with the likes of Mick Mulvaney, Alan Dershowitz and one Donald J.
Trump. Quite a lot for a 26-year-old whose main gig is at a fledgling
think tank he co-founded, Data For Progress.

But still, what _is_ he? McElwee calls himself a “jackass of all
trades” but admits that trying to explain his value to those not
enmeshed in the online world of politics — potential donors to his
think tank, say — is difficult.
 

Sean McElwee is one of many young activists articulating a far-left
vision of the Democratic Party.
credit: Hayley Bartels for FiveThirtyEight
“I’m like Radiohead for donors — you can’t really explain why
I’m good but everyone knows that I’m good at it,” McElwee
shouted over the din of bar talk at one of his happy hours on a recent
evening in New York City. “The thing I try to say is, ‘Look, I
don’t know what to tell you, I wrote a report
[https://www.dataforprogress.org/green-new-deal/] on the Green New
Deal three months before the Green New Deal was a thing. I tweeted
about abolish ICE before abolish ICE was a thing. I fucking raised
$850,000 for down-ballot candidates from small dollar
contributions.’ I’m not sitting around telling you how the fuck I
do it, I don’t have time to do that.” (McElwee, it should be
noted, says “fuck” an awful lot.)

McElwee is one of a cadre of young left activists whose voices have
grown louder in the years following Hillary Clinton’s loss to Trump.
Many came of political age in the decade following the financial crash
of 2008, and many are disillusioned by a Democratic Party they think
has been ideologically hollowed out. They’ve organized outside the
traditional party apparatus — the Democratic Socialists of America,
the Justice Democrats — and worked to get representation in
Congress, pushing figures like newly minted congresswomen Alexandria
Ocasio-Cortez and Ayanna Pressley. Now they find themselves holding
greater purchase than ever before in the formal Washington political
process.

For a few years now, Democratic voters have shown they’re primed for
a leftward shift, and this rising group of activists and politicians
wants to push them even further. At the heart of the young left’s
project is a discomfort with the free market capitalist system under
which we live. It’s a system deeply ingrained in many Americans’
identities, though increasingly less so: 2016 was the first year since
Gallup started tracking the question that it found
[https://news.gallup.com/poll/240725/democrats-positive-socialism-capitalism.aspx] Democrats
had a more positive view of socialism than they did of capitalism.
 

credit:  FiveThirtyEight
This new group of activists wants to capitalize on that shift. And
they’re doing it by tweeting incessantly and acting impertinently
toward their fellow Democrats. Unlike bright young political things of
years gone by, their purpose is to confound the party’s leadership,
not earn their praise.

To this end, McElwee calls himself an “Overton Window Mover.”
It’s a high-minded allusion [https://www.mackinac.org/7504] to how
activists can influence the national conversation to make fringey
ideas seem less radical. He and the others have already opened the
Democrats’ window, and the winds of change that blow through it
might be more F5 tornado than gentle summer breeze.
 

McElwee’s weekly happy hour is a water cooler for young progressives
in New York City.
credit: Hayley Bartels for FiveThirtyEight
My stop at McElwee’s weekly happy hour for left- wing activists and
writers came just before Christmas. Twinkly lights brightened the
bar’s dinge, and I grabbed a beer that was astonishingly cheap for
New York City — one attendee told me that the “accessible” price
of the drinks was in keeping with the progressive ethos of the group.
Because he’s worried that right wing trolls might crash the weekly
gathering, McElwee asked me not to reveal the happy hour’s location,
but plenty of the city’s left-leaning activists and journalists know
about it. “A pretty high percentage of people got invited to the
happy hour via Twitter DM,” Eric Levitz of New York Magazine told
me.

McElwee’s attendees — over a dozen — were scattered in pockets
around the bar, some seated at a corner table, others hanging out
closer to the kegs. Apparently the New Republic and The Nation both
had parties that evening, McElwee told me later, so the turnout was
pretty decent, all things considered. The conversation spun from rifts
in the leadership of the Women’s March to the war in Yemen to how
one woman at the bar had to take the day off after Ocasio-Cortez was
elected because she had been overcome with emotion. (Many refer to
Ocasio-Cortez simply as “AOC,” putting the 29-year-old freshman
congresswoman alongside LBJ and FDR in the ranks of the politically
monogrammed.)

“These are really left people, not party hacks,” Rachel Stein, an
activist who works on local New York City issues, told me. The young
left is a loose confederation of like-minded activists organized in
like-minded groups rather than a monolithic movement with explicit
goals. Organizers work for both established and emerging left-wing
groups, but all share an ethos of pushing mainstream Democratic
politics in a more explicitly progressive direction. Women’s
marches, environmental protests at Standing Rock, and anti-racism
demonstrations might draw a similar set of figures from this young
left world.

Since the 2016 election, the left’s political and cultural influence
has ballooned. Membership in the Democratic Socialists of America grew
exponentially during the first years of the Trump administration,
thanks in part to the invaluable PR that was the Bernie Sanders
presidential campaign. At the same time, the “dirtbag-left”
[https://www.newyorker.com/culture/persons-of-interest/what-will-become-of-the-dirtbag-left] comedy
and politics of Chapo Traphouse, a popular podcast, helped shape a
certain shared sensibility among a socialist millennial set. (An
excerpt from the Chapo hosts’ new book reads, “Capitalism, and the
politics it spawns, is not working for anyone under 30 who is not a
sociopath.”)

Many young left activists think the time has never been more right,
the culture never more ready, to move left-wing politics into the
mainstream. “This moment has radicalized liberals and electoralized
radicals,” Maurice Mitchell, the 38-year-old new director of the
Working Families Party, a New York-based progressive-left organization
with close ties to the labor movement, told me.

A few days before the happy hour, I’d hopped a bus to mid-Brooklyn
to meet with Waleed Shahid, communications director of the Justice
Democrats, a group of Bernie Sanders campaign alumni recruiting
progressive candidates to Congress. (New York City’s five boroughs
are home to a number of the young leftists.) Shahid is even-keeled, if
intense, and a card-carrying member (literally) of the Democratic
Socialists of America. “My joke is that unlike Barack Obama, I am a
Muslim socialist,” he said. He graduated from college in 2013 and
worked for the Sanders campaign in 2016, followed by stints with
Ocasio-Cortez and Cynthia Nixon.
 

Protest movements like Occupy Wall Street, Black Lives Matter and the
Climate March have spent years trying to push Democrats — and the
U.S. at large — further to the left.
Emmanuel Dunand/AFP/Getty Images, Joshua Lott/AFP/Getty Images,
Citizens of the Planet/Education 
Credit: Images/UIG via Getty Images  //  FiveThirtyEight
“I come from this loose network of basically millennials who were a
part of all the different social movements that erupted under
Obama,” Shahid told me. It was a group that had voted for the
Democratic president but found themselves disappointed by many of his
policies. “The people I learned organizing from were people from
Occupy Wall Street, the Dreamer movement, People’s Climate March,
350.org, Black Lives Matter — that whole world which was all 22-32
[years old], mostly.”

That so many young Democratic agitators have come to their politics
through movements tied to America’s racial strife has distinctly
flavored their approach to the country’s economic system. “I
recognized that the best way to respond to the white nationalist
populism was to develop a multiracial left populism,” Mitchell told
me as we sat in his Brooklyn office. In a rich turn of irony, the
progressive party is housed in JPMorgan Chase’s Brooklyn outpost,
the bank’s name emblazoned above the threshold. While the lobby was
festooned with Liberace-inspired reindeer decorations for Christmas,
Mitchell’s office was stacked to the ceiling with file boxes, one of
which was labeled “crap.”

Maurice Mitchell, is the leader of the Working Families Party, a
progressive organization founded by a coalition of left-leaning
voices.
credit: Reuters/Jonathan Bachman  //  FiveThirtyEight
Mitchell, 38, is the first person of color to head the Working
Families Party. “The aging Jewish radical can take you only so
far,” outgoing director Dan Cantor told
[https://www.nytimes.com/2018/04/09/opinion/working-families-party.html] The
New York Times when Mitchell’s appointment was announced in April
2018. Mitchell spent years as a community organizer on Long Island and
most recently worked at Blackbird, a communications firm he co-founded
that is closely allied with the Movement for Black Lives. By
Mitchell’s telling, he’s spent most of his career at the outskirts
of Democratic politics, sometimes in opposition to its elected
officials, living “somewhere in that place apart.”

Trump’s election, though, had made the Democratic mainstream more
receptive to ideas once thought to be liberal pipe dreams. “We’re
in a moment of political realignment and it’s disorienting,”
Mitchell said.“People are looking for solutions, and people
instinctively understand — even people working in centrist think
tanks — that the solutions of the past will not take us out of this
moment of realignment and will not take us into the future.”

What’s difficult, Mitchell said, is that while the culture is primed
for a shift, the details still have to be ironed out.

“It starts off by recognizing that this economy is insufficient for
all of our needs, for all of our people having dignity — and then we
have to transition, we have to figure out how to transition while we
still live under neoliberal capitalism,” he said. “That’s the
work that we’re doing.”
 

Alexandra Rojas is the executive director of Justice Democrats, a
group of Bernie Sanders campaign alumni working to recruit more
diverse working class candidates to run for Congress.
credit: Reuters/Jonathan Bachman  //  FiveThirtyEight
Alexandra Rojas, Justice Democrats’ 23-year-old executive director,
was 13 years old when the financial crisis of 2008 hit. She recalls
nothing of Washington’s deliberations over bank bailouts, only
difficult conversations with her parents about scaling back.
McElwee’s memories of the historic moment are similarly fuzzy. “I
thought it was weird there was an organization called ‘Bear
Stearns,’” he said. That childhood naivete was shed over the next
decade, and the events of those years left an indelible impression;
Rojas, McElwee and so many of their activist agemates were shaped by
an early exposure to the potential dangers of the free market.

Much of the Democratic Party’s present identity crisis has its roots
in the worldwide crash of financial markets late in George W. Bush’s
presidency and at the beginning of Barack Obama’s term of office.
Complicated financial products crumpled the U.S. housing market, and
widespread unemployment, foreclosures and homelessness followed. While
banks and investment firms failed, none of their heads were jailed for
wrongdoing.

At the time, Democrats were divided over how to deal with the crisis.
Elizabeth Warren — then a Harvard professor — made her first full
step into Washington politics as chair of the Congressional Oversight
Panel for the Troubled Asset Relief Program. Warren devotes a large
portion of her 2014 book, “A Fighting Chance,” to her memories of
the crisis — namely, that the government was far too credulous of
the banks’ requests. “Now Treasury was giving $20 billion
in _additional _TARP bailout funds to Citibank, _plus_ a $306
billion taxpayer guarantee.”

There was a fundamental divide in how Democrats approached solving the
crisis. Dodd-Frank, the legislation that would eventually pass in
response to the crash, took an incremental approach to industry
reform. But there was a faction that favored broader, more systemic
structural reforms of the system. The more incrementalist reform won
out under Obama, thanks in no small part, some thought, to lobbying by
the heads of investment banks.

“Elizabeth Warren shouldn’t be the outer bound; we should have
some people who are much more radical,” Krugman said.

“The financial industry has so much clout and so much influence, not
just because of the money but because they’re smart people,
they’re persuasive, they have great tailors,” Paul Krugman, the
2008 Nobel laureate in economics told me over coffee on a recent
afternoon in Manhattan while wearing a tidy, if not tailored, outfit
featuring a scarf and zip-up sweater. “I had a little bit of
experience trying to persuade Obama and associates of taking a harder
line on the bailouts,” he said_. _But Krugman didn’t prevail.
“Jamie Dimon [chairman and CEO of JPMorgan Chase] cuts a really
impressive figure, even though in fact he’s dead wrong about many of
the crucial issues.”

Krugman called the emerging clutch of young activists’ skepticism
about capitalism useful, and a necessary counterbalance to the
lobbying and financial strength of Wall Street. Though in some
aspects, he said, the far-left movement hasn’t reached intellectual
maturity. “The truth is there aren’t a lot of technically adept
people from that [far-left] position, which is not because there
couldn’t be, but because they haven’t been a factor — it’s all
new.” He continued, name checking his fellow Nobel laureate, “If
you’re having meetings in which Joe Stiglitz and I are the farthest
left voices, that’s a limiting spectrum and it would be helpful if
there were people beyond.”

In part, that’s because before the financial crisis, American policy
makers, including Democrats, didn’t do much about income inequality
or widespread financial system reform. Mike Konczal, an economic
fellow at the Roosevelt Institute, a left-leaning think tank,
characterized past Democratic attitudes toward financial reform as
mostly centered on workers increasing their skills and education.
Democrats in the Bill Clinton era were still near-uniformly bullish on
capitalism. “The system more or less worked fine, it was just a
matter of getting people access to the system,” he said. “There
wasn’t a big problem with the economy itself, it was just that some
people were excluded from it.”
 

Many of the young leftists were emboldened by Sen. Bernie Sanders’s
Democratic primary campaign in 2016.
credit: Win McNamee / Getty Images  //  FiveThirtyEight
In the last decade, the far left has found the problems too great to
ignore. The Occupy Wall Street movement kicked things off a few years
after the financial crisis but was plagued by a perception that its
demands to end income inequality were too vague and the organization
too decentralized. But in recent years, progressive politics have
found more precise policies and voices in figures like Warren and
Sanders. Rojas, the director of Justice Democrats, dropped out of
community college in 2015 to work for the Sanders campaign. She said
she’d had experience working three or four minimum wage jobs just to
make rent. “I saw my dad suffer during the financial crisis,” she
said. “I’m someone who comes from a family that really loves work
and is hard working but has also experienced a capitalist system
that’s run amok.”

The rising far-left Democratic activists are necessary counterpoints,
Krugman told me, pushing new ideas to the masses. “Banking is on the
one hand a deeply technical issue, but on the other hand it’s too
important to be left solely to the technocrats,” he said.
“Elizabeth Warren shouldn’t be the outer bound; we should have
some people who are much more radical.”
 

The Democrats’ freshmen class in the House is filled with young
progressives like Reps. Ayanna Pressley, Rashida Tlaib, Ilhan Omar and
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
credits: Joseph Prezioso / AFP / Getty Images, Tom Williams / CQ Roll
Call, Stephen Maturen / Getty Images, Cheriss May / NurPhoto via Getty
Images  //  FiveThirtyEight
With its incessant tweets and Instagrams, the young left has in
essence begun a long session of political exposure therapy with the
Democratic mainstream, popularizing ideas that many people have never
heard of before or ones that would have been laughed down at first
mention not so long ago.

It hasn’t gone over well with some factions of the party. In an exit
interview following her November 2018 loss, Democratic Sen. Claire
McCaskill said
[https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2018/12/30/ocasio-cortez-fires-back-after-mccaskill-calls-her-bright-shiny-new-object/?utm_term=.2d11ed172b21]she
wished Ocasio-Cortez well, but called her “a bright and shiny new
object who came out of nowhere.” She advised her to “stick to
issues we can actually accomplish something on,” saying, “the
rhetoric is cheap. Getting results is a lot harder.” Speaker of the
House Nancy Pelosi has been more measured, but in the wake of
Ocasio-Cortez’s primary upset, she tamped down suggestions that the
surprise election was indicative of a radical shift in the party.
“Nobody’s district is representative of somebody else’s
district,” Pelosi said
[https://www.cnbc.com/2018/06/27/nancy-pelosi-shoots-down-theories-about-upset-election-in-new-york.html].
“It should not be viewed as something that stands for everything
else.”

That hasn’t stopped Ocasio-Cortez from using her ever-growing
national platform to push for new candidates like herself all over the
country. In November she announced
[https://www.politico.com/story/2018/11/17/ocasio-cortez-throws-support-behind-campaign-to-primary-democrats-1000529] that
she would support Justice Democrats’ effort to primary Democratic
members in the 2020 election, a move that’s seen as highly unusual,
if not uncollegial. Maneuvers like that haven’t universally endeared
her, even to sympathetic members of the party. In the weeks following
the November election, one anonymous staffer from the Progressive
Caucus told
[https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2018/11/alexandria-ocasio-cortez-confounds-house-democrats/576307/] the
Atlantic, “She’s so focused on truly Instagramming every single
thing that, aside from the obvious suspects in her friendship circle,
she’s not taking the time to capitalize on building relationships
with members as much as she should.” (Recently,
Ocasio-Cortez helped lead a Twitter class
[https://twitter.com/AOC/status/1085729475508154368] for members of
the Democratic caucus.) In a recent Politico piece
[https://www.politico.com/story/2019/01/11/alexandria-ocasio-cortez-democrats-establisment-1093728],
Rep. Emanuel Cleaver said, “I’m sure Ms. Cortez means well, but
there’s almost an outstanding rule: Don’t attack your own people,
we just don’t need sniping in our Democratic caucus.” Corbin
Trent, Ocasio-Cortez’s spokesman, told FiveThirtyEight that the
freshman would stay the rhetorical course and continue to support
efforts to primary Democrats. “Most of her time is spent sniping
Republicans and white supremacists — very little time is spent in
intraparty conflict. It’s a mountain out of a molehill.”

“Politics is a swamp of confirmation bias,” Mitchell said.

Perhaps the policy activists care most about promoting in the next
year is the Green New Deal
[https://na01.safelinks.protection.outlook.com/?url=https%3A%2F%2Ftheintercept.com%2F2018%2F12%2F05%2Fgreen-new-deal-proposal-impacts%2F&data=02%7C01%7CClare.Malone%40fivethirtyeight.com%7Cedf178d10f7b4946b97408d65c5dc4cf%7C56b731a8a2ac4c32bf6b616810e913c6%7C1%7C1%7C636797955138012271&sdata=X36BIU1PsY%2BXSyUWnRPl5KLdGTEeWTJ%2FExz5N%2BzYQYM%3D&reserved=0].
It’s a plan that’s been pushed by a group of high-profile new
Democratic legislators, Ayanna Pressley, Rashida Tlaib, Ilhan Omar and
Ocasio-Cortez, who proposed creating a new congressional committee to
develop a detailed plan. As of now, the policy specifics are vague,
but the plan’s broad goals are to fund a “massive investment in
the drawdown in greenhouse gases,” explore renewable energy sources,
and train Americans in new, more sustainable jobs. Recently, Elizabeth
Warren endorsed the idea of a Green New Deal, which Ocasio-Cortez
was quick to point out
[https://twitter.com/AOC/status/1080266821129986050] on Twitter.
(Cory Booker and Sanders have also voiced support.)

Krugman is also bullish on the young left’s centerpiece policy.
“If the Green New Deal means that we’re going to try to rely on
public investment in technologies and renewables and things that will
make it easier for people to use less fossil fuel, that’s a pretty
good start,” he said.

The policy that has him more worried is single-payer health care, a
centerpiece of Sanders’s campaign that many likely 2020 candidates
have already come out to support. “That’s a huge amount of money
— you can’t just do that by running up the deficit. You’d have
to be collecting a bunch of new taxes, which is a reason for
concern,” he said.

Krugman has been thinking about other ways to fiddle with the market
system, though.

“I’ve been trying to do a little exercise with myself. I think
with the fall of communism, we’d say central planning, government
control of production doesn’t really work. But actually that’s not
totally true,” he said. “What I try to put together is what could
plausibly actually not be capitalist, actually not be markets —
maybe 20-25 percent of the economy.” Things like health care,
education, and utilities are all in the mix.

“We’re all going to fucking die of climate change,” McElwee
said. “We have to accelerate, accelerate, accelerate.”

McElwee and I had dinner at a midtown Chinese restaurant on the same
day that Ocasio-Cortez had tweeted
[https://twitter.com/AOC/status/1073685921156005888] one of his Data
For Progress visualizations showing the rise in the number of tweets
mentioning the “Green New Deal” since the summer of 2017. “Never
underestimate the power of public imagination,” she wrote. It had
been retweeted nearly 3,000 times and garnered 17,000 likes. Was the
virality of the tweet and the promotion of a once-obscure policy idea
some kind of success in and of itself, I asked.

“What is success? It’s power, it’s having a vision of the world
that’s different from the status quo and enacting that vision,”
McElwee said in between bites of scallion pancakes. At well over 6
feet tall with a uniform of puffy jackets and baseball hats, McElwee
gives the impression of an overgrown teenage boy, fervent but with
flashes of seeming self-awareness for his big talk. “And if three
years from now Data for Progress has not enacted its vision, has not
exercised itself upon the world and its ideas on the world, then we
will have failed and we should stop doing this.”

Wasn’t that self-imposed timeline a little quick for broad political
change to happen, I asked.

“We’re all going to fucking die of climate change,” McElwee shot
back. “We have to accelerate, accelerate, accelerate.”

A trademark of the young left movement is its urgency of mission.
This, coupled with a deep disdain for establishment politics, has made
the dissemination of their gospel of change — particularly online
— sharp-elbowed and disdainful of naysayers. “You don’t win over
these people, you crush them,” McElwee told me of Republicans the
first time we met. “I don’t make friends with Republican
operatives. I don’t try to reach across the aisle. I think they’re
bad people and I don’t want to be associated with them and you’ll
never find a picture of me shaking hands with David Frum or
something,” he said, referring to George W. Bush’s former
speechwriter who is now a staff writer at The Atlantic.

Now that some of the left’s candidates have found themselves in
office, agitation from inside the party is a tactic that will be put
to greater use. After her election, Ocasio-Cortez attended a sit-in at
Pelosi’s office over climate change. Tlaib unsuccessfully asked the
Democratic leader to put her on the powerful House Appropriations
Committee — an assignment that typically goes to seasoned members.
(Tlaib and Ocasio-Cortez have both
[https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2019-01-16/ocasio-cortez-is-poised-to-join-panel-that-oversees-wall-street?srnd=premium] been
placed on the Financial Services Committee.) And on the first day of
the 2019 House session, Ocasio-Cortez and Rep. Ro Khanna of
California said
[https://www.cnn.com/2019/01/02/politics/alexandria-ocasio-cortez-democratic-rules/index.html] they
would vote against Democrats’ rules for the new Congress because
they included a measure that necessitated any spending be offset by
spending cuts or revenue increases. For progressive politicians
pushing massive government-funded programs like Medicare for all and
the Green New Deal, the rules are not seen as bureaucratic minutiae,
but as sabotage.

When I asked Shahid if the new left movement was going to be the
Democrats’ version of the House Freedom Caucus, his answer was
unequivocal: “Yes, it is.”

He had another historical example in mind, too: Thaddeus Stevens and
the Radical Republicans, a group of abolitionists who stridently
pushed for Lincoln’s Republican Party to abolish slavery.
“Politics is still the art of compromise, you still have to pass
legislation,” Shahid said. “But the idea is on whose terms is the
compromise?” Every transformative president, he said, had found
himself pushed into radical new policies by movements. (Ocasio-Cortez
said something similar in a 60 Minutes interview
[https://www.cbsnews.com/news/alexandria-ocasio-cortez-the-rookie-congresswoman-challenging-the-democratic-establishment-60-minutes-interview-full-transcript-2019-01-06/] that
aired a few weeks after Shahid and I talked.) Abraham Lincoln had the
abolitionists at his throat, Franklin Roosevelt had labor unions
pushing for the New Deal, and Lyndon Johnson had civil rights leaders
prodding him toward reforms of racist laws.

“Maybe we can make Joe Biden into a Lincoln,” he said.
 

So whom do young leftists want as their 2020 candidate? And what role
will their movement have throughout the campaign?

“I want the left to really think seriously about the fact that the
core of our strategy right now is if we endorse the right person, they
will owe us,” McElwee told me. The left, he said, should take a page
out of big businesses’ book and not care what candidate is
ultimately chosen. “Knowing what the fuck you’re talking about,
having the right contacts with the right staffers who you need to call
to make sure the right amendment is passed at the right time —
we’re much worse at that. We don’t actually have that capacity
built up.” For an idealist, McElwee has a tendency toward
Machiavellian realism.

McElwee said he could live with a Biden or a Beto O’Rourke as the
Democrats’ presidential nominee, which is heresy in some progressive
circles. Shahid voiced a more common progressive view of O’Rourke,
comparing him to Emmanuel Macron, the young centrist president of
France. “He says beautiful things, but what does he believe in?”

Mitchell, for one, was put off by the rumblings of support for
O’Rourke coming from Obama World. “It’s outrageous. What
O’Rourke did was pretty amazing, but he lost by more than 200,000,
and Stacey [Abrams] and Andrew [Gillum] lost by a hair. So how is his
loss a signal that he’s a rising star and Stacey and Andrew’s
losses are definitive losses — they need to regroup and figure
things out? Somebody needs to explain that to me.”

A recent poll
[https://www.desmoinesregister.com/story/news/politics/iowa-poll/2018/12/16/iowa-poll-caucuses-2020-joe-biden-bernie-sanders-beto-orourke-elizabeth-warren-register-cnn-democrat/2312541002/] of
Democrats in Iowa, a largely white state that holds the nation’s
first caucuses, put Biden, Sanders and O’Rourke in the lead.
Mitchell thinks that figures of the Democratic establishment are too
eager to cede the party to centrist figures who appeal to a particular
slice of the electorate.

“Basically what they’re saying is the Democrats need a white man
that can talk to other white men and not scare this imagined centrist
voter away with too much radical talk about totally restructuring our
economy,” Mitchell said. “Politics is a swamp of confirmation
bias.”

Regardless of who the party nominee turns out to be, it seems
inarguable that the young left’s ideas will filter their way into
the race. Shahid told me he thought that one strategy is for his
ideological cohort to staff presidential campaigns. Justice Democrats,
however, will focus on the next batch of congressional campaigns.
“The biggest achievement we’ve gotten outside Ocasio was building
a pipeline for candidate recruitment that actually reaches working
class people,” Rojas said.

McElwee said his plans are mostly to stick to the issues. Right around
the new year, his Twitter name changed to read “we’re going to
pass AVR” — automatic voter registration — and a new website
popped up promoting a new project to pass AVR in New York state. The
Daily News had a piece
[https://www.nydailynews.com/news/politics/ny-pol-automatic-voter-registration-avr-now-mcelwee-20181230-story.html] on
it, and McElwee’s feed was a litany of retweets of progressives
cooing over the initiative. McElwee had told me that if he ever
stopped seeing what the next new thing was, he’d get out of
politics, lose 40 pounds, and try to sell his method as the next big
fad diet. As he downed the last of his sake and finished my soup
dumplings, it seemed clear he wasn’t in that headspace just yet.

“I’ll clearly support whoever the nominee is,” McElwee told me.
“I think all of these people can be moved. They’re pieces on a
chess board that’s so much larger than them. And I want to be
helping move those chess pieces.”

UPDATE (3:11 P.M., JAN. 22, 2018): This article has been updated to
reflect Rojas’s revised recollection of how many jobs she had to
simultaneously work to make rent. Rojas said she had four jobs at
most, not four or five.

_[Clare Malone is a senior political writer for FiveThirtyEight.
@ClareMalone [http://@ClareMalone]]_

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