McConnell on AOC: This is the first time in my career that I thought the essence of America was being debated

Point taken, although plenty of conservatives thought the essence of America was being debated during the ObamaCare process 10 years ago.

And a lot of right-wing populists thought the essence of America was up for grabs three years ago. “Flight 93 election,” etc.

But yes, as older Americans who remember the Cold War die off and are replaced in the population by younger people who think “socialism” is what those cuddly Scandinavians do, as though it’s some subset of hygge, the Overton window will begin to shift left again. Some lessons must be learned, and re-learned, the hard way. Which is why righties are so eager to focus on Venezuela right now.

We’re entering a new political era. The issues are bigger, they’re far outside the mainstream, and they’re reminiscent of an earlier time. And the stakes are higher.

One of the first to recognize this was Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. “I can pretty safely say this is the first time in my political career that I thought the essence of America was being debated,” he tells me in an interview.

“I never thought we [would be] debating things that were debated in the ’30s, both communism and socialism,” Mr. McConnell says. Those ideologies were “largely discredited at a time when Americans could have found these arguments pretty appealing in the middle of the Great Depression.”

I mean, we … did have a very statist left-wing president during the Depression, who was quite popular as I recall. (And, true to form, did eventually put innocent people in camps.) I’m not sure touting the 1930s as an era in which Americans resisted the siren song of centralized power is as potent a deterrent as Cocaine Mitch thinks. For fark’s sake, so rosy are the memories of Roosevelt-era America that the new progressive hobbyhorse is called the “Green New Deal.”

McConnell’s following a strategy by speaking in such dire terms, though.

For the first time since the midterms, Republicans find themselves playing offense as they push “socialism vs. freedom” as an opening 2020 message

The Green New Deal introduced by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has become a powerful symbol of the issue that President Trump teed up in his State of the Union address when he said: “[W]e renew our resolve that America will never be a socialist country.”…

Republicans are loving the moment but are rightly wary: They know it could change quickly — either because of something Trump says or new facts that emerge from investigations by special counsel Robert Mueller or House Democrats.

I was surprised yesterday to see Kamala Harris say on camera that she’s not a “democratic socialist” rather than maintain strategic ambiguity, although I probably shouldn’t have been. It’d be pointless for her to define herself that way now. That’s Bernie’s thing, and if she tried to mimic it she’d be viewed as a poseur. Even the very left-wing Elizabeth Warren is sufficiently wary of being seen as a pretender that she’s made a point of defining herself as a capitalist in interviews. They know better than I do where the balance of Democratic opinion lies; if they’re eager not to be pigeonholed as “socialists” it can only be because they see it in their electoral interests, even in a primary, to steer clear.

The eventual nominee (unless it’s Bernie) will also steer clear in the general election, of course, not wanting to give Trump-skeptical swing voters a reason to treat him as the lesser of two evils. I don’t think McConnell’s even thinking about the general election, in fact. He’s wringing his hands about socialism to try to further elevate Ocasio-Cortez as a political opponent knowing that (a) she’s a dope, and will continue to say dopey things that give even Democrats pause, and (b) treating her ideology as representative of all Democrats is a way to set them at each other’s throats about which direction the party should take. It’ll be years before AOC causes as many problems for Republicans as she does for her own party. McConnell’s just trying to leverage that.

Via the Free Beacon, here’s none other than Barney Frank pronouncing the Green New Deal a loser. He’s not sold on “socialism” being a winning brand either in a national election.

Jazz Shaw Jun 22, 2021 6:01 PM ET