As I’ve traveled around, speaking about my book on how extremists hijacked the Republican Party, I have been hearing from Democrats who are worried that the same thing is happening to their party. They have good cause for concern. The Democrats, to be sure, are not nearly as far left as Republicans are far right. But they are moving to the left, with the number of Democrats who describe themselves as liberal having doubled from 25 percent in 1994 to 51 percent in 2018.
There is nothing wrong with being liberal — I’m a classical liberal myself — but there is an uber-progressive wing in the Democratic Party that is becoming more vocal and influential. It is, in many ways, the mirror image of the far-right populists who have taken over the GOP. Indeed, it’s often hard to tell the extremists apart. Anti-vaccine activists come from both the far left and the far right — and while most of those who defend President Trump’s dealings with Russia are on the right, some, such as Glenn Greenwald and Stephen F. Cohen, are on the left.
Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (Hawaii), a Democratic presidential candidate, shows the crossover appeal of extremism. With her isolationism and history of homophobia (which she has disavowed), she has become the left-winger whom right-wingers love. She has become notorious as Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s No. 1 fan in the United States — she claims that this mass murderer, whom she met in Damascus, is not our enemy, and she has defended him against charges of using chemical weapons.
This is going too far for other Democrats, but Gabbard has more company in opposing the Trump administration’s move, in concert with U.S. allies, to topple the Maduro regime in Venezuela. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) and academic luminaries such as Noam Chomsky warn against the United States “interfering in Venezuela’s internal politics.” They have nothing to say about the pro-Maduro interference from Russia, China and Cuba.
Omar has gained notoriety for suggesting that the Israel lobby pays off Congress to support the Jewish state (“It’s all about the Benjamins baby”). A fellow freshman, Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.), tweeted that supporters of Israel “forgot what country they represent.” These are classic anti-Semitic tropes. To their credit, Democratic leaders strongly condemned Omar’s hate-mongering, and she apologized. This is a welcome contrast to the GOP, which took years to condemn Rep. Steve King’s (R-Iowa) racism and still won’t condemn President Trump’s. But Tlaib hasn’t apologized, and neither she nor Omar has disavowed their support for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, which seeks to delegitimize Israel.
Democrats are going to have an even harder time separating themselves from the Green New Deal introduced by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.). It addresses an urgent problem — global warming — but does so with an impractical, indeed fantastical, approach. It promises to upgrade every single building in the country and to achieve “net zero” emissions within 10 years — without using nuclear power. (Even Sweden isn’t trying to achieve “net zero” until 2050, and it relies heavily on nuclear plants.) As if that overambitious goal weren’t enough, the legislation also guarantees everyone in the United States “a job with a family-sustaining wage,” “adequate family and medical leave,” “paid vacations,” “high-quality health care,” “higher education,” and “affordable, safe and adequate housing.” A fact sheet released along with the bill even promised to build “high-speed rail at a scale where air travel stops becoming necessary” and to provide “economic security for all who are unable or unwilling to work.”
No price tag is attached to this far-left wish list, but Noah Smith, a former finance professor, estimates in Bloomberg Opinion that it would cost $6.6 trillion a year — “more than three times as much as the federal government collects in tax revenue, and equal to about 34 percent of the U.S.’s entire gross domestic product.” The sponsors of the Green New Deal have not suggested how this ginormous sum could possibly be financed. Instead, they link to articles about Modern Monetary Theory, a fringe view that suggests that running up massive deficits doesn’t matter. This is kooky stuff, but the Green New Deal has been endorsed by four of the leading Democratic presidential contenders (Cory Booker, Elizabeth Warren, Kamala D. Harris and Kirsten Gillibrand).
Defenders of the Green New Deal claim it’s merely laying out ambitious goals with the details to be determined later. That’s one way to look at it. My own view is that this is the left-wing version of Trump’s farcical promise that he would build a border wall and make Mexico pay for it. This isn’t policymaking; this is fantasyland. The Green New Deal is tailor-made for Trump’s demagogic — and false — attacks that the Democrats are trying to turn the United States into another Venezuela. Indeed, Trump is already making this argument on the stump.
Democrats need to be careful: They have a heaven-sent opportunity to win back the White House and Senate in 2020 and become the majority party for a generation to come. This is an opportunity they can easily squander if they turn themselves into the far-left caricatures that Trump and Fox News would like them to become.