Rashida Tlaib is the Left's Way Forward

August 10, 2018


The left—particularly the new-school, say-it-loud-and-say-it-proud democratic socialist left inspired by Bernie Sanders’ 2016 primary run—has a tendency toward maximalism. And it’s only natural: The progressive project, as both its subscribers and Fox News scaremongers alike would tell you, is revolutionary, seeking to fundamentally remake the relationship Americans have with their government and that the government has with the economy. If you believe that world is possible, it follows that there must be millions across the country who are hungry for your message, passive non-voters who, once activated by a strong progressive voice, will sweep your tribunes into the halls of power.


That was the thinking going into Tuesday’s Democratic primary elections, with a fair amount of light and heat around one in particular: the gubernatorial primary in Michigan between Gretchen Whitmer, Abdul El-Sayed and Shri Thanedar. El-Sayed, a 33-year-old physician and first-time candidate vying to become America’s first Muslim governor, carried the endorsement of both Sanders and New York socialist wunderkind Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, earning a string of speculative features about the man a Guardian headline even referred to as “the new Obama.”


Unfortunately for his backers, Sayed went down in flames on Tuesday, failing to carry a single county in a nearly 22-point loss to Whitmer, an experienced former state Senate leader. But in Michigan’s 13th Congressional District, where the former Rep. John Conyers Jr. resigned the seat he’d held for more than a half-century after facing allegations of sexual misconduct, another Sanders-backed candidate scored a primary victory that might prove more ultimately instructive: Rashida Tlaib, a former state legislator who ran on a platform of “Medicare for All,” a $15 minimum wage and tuition-free college.


No Republican plans to oppose Tlaib in November. Her presumptive district includes Detroit, the state’s most populous city and the engine of its economy, and the seat she will almost certainly inherit carries a longstanding symbolic importance due to her predecessor’s civil rights leadership. It’s an impressive, prominent position Tlaib will assume, especially considering she will be the first Muslim woman ever to sit in Congress, and just the second Palestinian-American—after her fellow Michigander, Republican Rep. Justin Amash.


So why, then, the breathless hype cycle around Sayed’s quixotic campaign, when another true-blue progressive had a far greater chance to make her mark on the national stage? 


For all their criticism of the Democratic Party establishment, the left’s fervor for doomed figures like Sayed and Maryland gubernatorial candidate Ben Jealous echoes that party’s history. For years, Democrats have struggled with a top-down, executive-focused approach to electoral politics that has left them with their smallest representation in Congress since the Truman administration—and now, thanks to Donald Trump, no White House to protect them. Meanwhile, Republicans poured enormous resources into taking over governor’s mansions and state legislatures across the country, confining Democrats’ statewide power to a few coastal enclaves and the odd urban-dominated hub like Illinois.


Tlaib, on the other hand, represents the most logical path for the left to claim its seat at the table, both within the Democratic Party and in national politics: a candidate unabashed in her progressivism, politically skilled enough to implement it, and, most importantly, savvy enough to identify a constituency ready for her brand of unapologetic socialist politics. Tlaib is just as passionate as Sayed and Ocasio-Cortez, but far more poised and knowledgeable—and that makes her far readier to make her mark on Washington.


Read More: https://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2018/08/10/rashida-tlaib-michigan-progressive-democrats-219346

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