Hope and AOC

John Ellis
8 min readDec 11, 2019

1. Keep Hope Alive.

What’s the one thing that seems to be missing from the Democratic presidential campaign? Hope.

We are experiencing a scientific revolution that is arguably the most exciting, promising and important development in human history. We now control the evolution of all living things, including ourselves. The tools we have at hand are transformative. Diabetes will likely be cured in five years. In a decade or so, humans will be immune to all viruses, genetic diseases will be eliminated and the aging process may even be reversed. Brain science is advancing by leaps and bounds. Even in our everyday lives, things will be dramatically better; the common cold will be no more.

The combination of global brainpower, open-source platforms, super-high-speed computing and artificial intelligence has advanced scientific knowledge at something approaching Mach 2. Bring quantum computing on line in 10–15 years and those advances will occur at the speed of light.

Much of this extraordinary scientific and advanced technological work is being done in Democratic bastions (Harvard/MIT, Stanford, University of Washington, Cal Berkeley, Silicon Valley, etc). You would think that (say) Sen. Elizabeth Warren would be talking about what is going on in her neighborhood, her home address zip code, all the time. You would think she would be saying something like this:

Here’s what’s happening at George Church’s lab at Harvard and here is what the brain scientists are working on at MIT and when I’m president I’m going to take vast sums of money and throw it at these people and all the others like them, all around the country, and all around the world and say: “speed it up.” Whatever they need is my healthcare policy. Because the work they are doing is going to transform our lives and the lives of everyone on the planet. And we have to accelerate that work or we will have failed tens of millions of people here in the US and hundreds upon hundreds of millions of people around the globe. Jack Kennedy promised a man on the moon by the end of the 1960s. I promise I will do everything in my power to enable the elimination of disease by the year 2030.

That’s a big message, no? Something to fire up the base (to say nothing of the venture capital community, which would see its start-up pipeline super-size in the blink of an eye). Something to put in front of people in every precinct across America who struggle with these diseases, whose lives are encumbered and diminished by disease, whose hopes for a better life have been and will continue to be shattered by disease.

Keep hope alive, she might say. The calvary is coming,

Instead she’s selling a tale of woe about private health insurance to an electorate that quite likes its private health insurance coverage, thank you very much. Medicare For All means, to those already covered by Medicare, less Medicare for me. Medicare for All to those not yet eligible for Medicare coverage, means you don’t get to keep the coverage you prefer. It’s a hopeless message.

The two most recent successful Democratic presidential campaigns were explicitly hopeful. At the 1992 Democratic National Convention, Bill Clinton was cast as “The Man from Hope (Arkansas)” in the biographical film that was shown just before he gave his acceptance speech. A little town called Hope, read the script, that’s where Bill was from. It was a good film. And it worked.

Barack Obama’s campaign mantra was “Yes We Can.” Yes we can do whatever it was that he was promising to do. He and his supporters were “fired up and ready to go.” They were on the march, emboldened.

Hope is what gave both of those campaigns positive energy. That positive energy fed on itself and in the latter case made history; electing a black man, whose middle name was Hussein, president of the United States of America.

The Democrats will never defeat President Trump if hope is not embedded into their message.

The Bernie Sanders Revival.

Not so long ago, many if not most observers of Democratic presidential politics (myself included) had started work on their pre-bits for Sen. Bernie Sanders. (Pre-bits are obituaries written and published prior to the actual death of the subject.) Sen. Warren was ascendant, Sanders was sliding down the private and published poll results. The race was being recast as a battle between the liberal candidate (Warren) and the pragmatic choice (Biden, or perhaps Buttigieg, or perhaps someone else — a player to be named later, which turned out to be Michael Bloomberg).

Then Mr. Sanders had a heart attack, which his campaign sought to cover up, until every medical doctor in America said: “he obviously had a heart attack.” Three days after the fact, Sanders finally fessed up, although he did his best to minimize the whole affair. It was a minor heart attack, he said, never mind the stent. He was back on the campaign trail shortly thereafter.

But what a metaphor! We pre-bit writers scurried to our keyboards. The story would write itself.

Then Rep Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez‎ (D-NY) happened. Given Sanders’s “condition,” the scribes had anticipated that AOC (as she is known) would jump aboard the Warren Express and bring with her cadres of Democratic socialists and activist-organizers. Her endorsement of Warren would have been the final paragraph of the pre-bit; the next generation of left-wing Democratic leadership siding with the intellectual Warren, leaving the rabble-rousing Sanders for dead.

But that’s not what she did. She endorsed Sanders, not Warren.

She gave NBC News her rationale for doing so: “For me, it wasn’t even about helping the senator. It was a moment of clarity for me personally in saying, What role do I want to play?” Ocasio-Cortez told NBC News. “And I want to be a part of a mass movement.”

She told The Intercept: “It was less about personalities and more about values, more about strategy, more about not just, Are we going to defeat Donald Trump? But how are we going to defeat him? And so that’s a process that I think every American needs to go through. I’m proud to be part of this movement.”

We should have seen it coming. Bernie commands an army. By mid-September, more than 1 million people had contributed to his campaign. Those people are networked to at least 20 or 30 like-minded people across the entire country. That army comprises a huge base of financing and political support for someone “of the movement” in future Democratic primary elections; local, state and national.

And the army isn’t just about the “movement.” Their connection to Sanders was and is personal. They’re loyal to him. Loyalty is as highly-valued amongst Sanders supporters as it is amongst US Marines. They’re not transactional people. And they will be loyal to those who stood by their man when his campaign was in existential distress.

Which no doubt figured into AOC’s political calculation. Money plus an army of political supporters plus a generous amount of goodwill is an irresistible combination.

AOC’s endorsement marked the beginning of the Sanders resurgence. That resurgence was greatly enhanced by Warren’s fumbling of her Medicare for All positioning. Bernie was all in. Warren was in and out, but still in, sort of. She tumbled down the rankings. Sanders regained his footing.

“Bernie is back” is now the story-line. Some veteran operatives and scribes in Iowa tout him as the likely winner of that state’s Democratic caucuses in late January. There is universal agreement that his “digital campaign” is by far the best in Iowa and in New Hampshire as well. Perhaps most interesting, there has been an apparent uptick in Sanders support among Hispanic Democratic primary voters in Nevada. (I say apparent because the sample size is small). My friend Arnon Mishkin, who heads up the Fox News Decision Desk operation and can read the faintest signals of a poll as well as anyone, attributes the uptick to AOC.

No one will be writing her pre-bit any time soon.

Postscript #1:

Charlie Cook, the founder and editor-in-chief of Washington’s best political newsletter (The Cook Political Report), emailed Monday morning to point me to this column by The Wall Street Journal’s Greg Ip. The headline reads: “It’s Not The Economy Anymore, Stupid.” The thrust of the article is as follows:

Polarized politics mean that voters’ views of the economy are increasingly shaped by their party preference, rather than the other way around. And for some key voting blocs, noneconomic issues such as immigration, race relations and Mr. Trump himself have superseded economic concerns in determining their vote. Thus, absent a serious recession or spectacular boom, the economy may have little bearing on how Americans vote next year……

(T)here are signs economic trends’ sway over presidential contests has weakened. Political scientists John Sides, Michael Tesler and Lynn Vavreck, authors of “Identity Crisis: The 2016 Presidential Election Campaign and the Battle for the Meaning of America,” have found that from John F. Kennedy through George W. Bush, consumer confidence and presidential approval were positively correlated. But that correlation disappeared under Barack Obama and has been absent during Mr. Trump’s three years in office. His approval rating has remained both unusually stable, and low relative to consumer confidence. “His approval numbers are 15 points lower than where you’d have expected them to be,” said Mr. Sides, who teaches at Vanderbilt University.

One reason is that “partisan divides have put people into parallel universes when it comes to understanding and interpreting the economy,” said Jonathan Rothwell, principal economist at Gallup. Republicans consistently rated economic conditions more poorly than did Democrats when Mr. Obama was president. Those attitudes flipped almost overnight with Mr. Trump’s election. In August, 84% of Republicans were satisfied with the economy compared with just 36% of Democrats, the largest such spread since years five and six of George W. Bush’s administration, according to polls conducted by NBC News and The Wall Street Journal.

​It’s a dramatic change. I’ll have more to say about it down the road apiece.​

Postscript #2:

One last dance with the UK election:

The Conservatives are going to win. The size of the victory is debated, but the smart money is now certain of a Tory majority. The YouGov Election Centre has just now given this sentiment a huge helping of supportive data, which you can access by clicking here.

Here’s the prologue: “These are seat estimates for each of the 632 Parliamentary constituencies in England, Scotland and Wales, based on YouGov’s MRP model on 10th December. Each day, we conduct at least 10,000 interviews with registered voters from the YouGov panel. These estimates include 105,612 interviews conducted over 7 days up to and including 10th December. Based on analysis of key demographics, past voting behavior, and the likely turnout among different demographic groups, we use this data to estimate voting in each constituency. As this is a national model, it does not always account for specific local factors that may shape the vote in some seats.

Here are their final “seat estimates” based on the data above:

Conservative​-​43% (339 seats)

Labour​-​34% (231 seats)

Liberal Democrats​-1​2% (15 seats)

SNP​-​3% (41 seats)

Northern Ireland (18 seats)

All Others (2 seats)

​We’ll see. I’m still not convinced. But bitter-enders are duty-bound to stay until the bitter end.

Political News Items will be back on Saturday to talk about the results, among other things.


P.S: Because the previous (late November) YouGov MRP model showed a Tory blow-out, yesterday’s more modest margin, while still comfortable, put markets on edge. Bloomberg reports this morning:

The pound fell on concern Johnson may fall short of a majority, throwing British politics and the country’s future relations with the EU into fresh turmoil. “We can’t currently rule out a hung Parliament,” said YouGov’s Chris Curtis. “There are 85 seats with a margin of error of 5% or less.”

Bitter-enders are staying put.



John Ellis

Founder and Editor, News Items. Political analyst. Founder of and contributing editor to Bird News Items. Former columnist for The Boston Globe.