AOC Faces Criticism for Being the One to Symbolically Nominate Bernie Sanders at DNC

On night two of the 2020 Democratic National Convention, Democrats formally chose former Vice President Joe Biden as their candidate

Bernie Sanders

On night two of the 2020 Democratic National Convention, Democrats formally chose former Vice President Joe Biden as their candidate for president. In a symbolic and traditional gesture, US Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez nominated the second-place finisher in the primaries, US Senator Bernie Sanders. While an expected nomination, the choice of popular AOC to nominate the also popular Sanders has raised concerns that the gesture is likely to fuel disunity in a time when the Democrats most desperately need unity. 

What do Sanders and AOC mean to the Democratic Party?

Until recently, self-described Democratic Socialists like AOC and Sanders would have been persona non grata in the formal conventions of the Democratic Party. Considered fringe contributers to the platform, and often described as radical, AOC and Sanders have managed to force a place for themselves amidst the liberals and moderates who majority comprise the Democratic Party. 

When Sanders chose to vie for the nomination for the presidency in 2015, his campaign was seen as quaint but unlikely. Critics suggested he was too radical to appeal to voters, but a massive grassroots campaign rose around the popular Senator, and pressure from his supporters helped to open Democrat discussions on platform policy to a broader range of ideas. Although Sanders eventually lost the nomination to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Sanders’ campaign left a mark on the face of the Democrat platform. The Senator also left a mark on the election. Supporters of Sanders, so-called, “Bernie bros,” were outspoken and ardent even after Sanders had thrown his support behind Clinton as the nominee. Party infighting led to more division as camps sprang up between those who would continue to vote on principle and choose Sanders as a write-in (or not vote at all), and those who were choosing to vote along party interests and choose Clinton. Some critics suggests that the Bernie Bro phenomenon was in part a contributing factor in President Donald J Trump being elected, as Democrat votes were divided. 

With 2020 on their minds, when Sanders announced his intention to seek the nomination again in 2019, a collective intake of breath at the DNC led people to wonder if Sanders’ presence in the race would again divide Democrats, who had been slowly getting in line behind the party platform, united by their dislike and mistrust of Trump. By 2019, Democratic Socialists like AOC and Sanders had a few years to share their platform of demi-socialism, and voters were becoming more comfortable with the previously unthinkable ideas like universal healthcare, funded by a single payer, and the kind of radical reforms that are commonplace in many European countries. So when Sanders’ campaign started, he hit the ground running. Already familiar with Sanders as a potential presidential candidate, voters were enthusiastic about the range of options offered by Democrats in the primary season. Now-potential-Vice-President Senator Kamala Harris, Vermont Senator Sanders, former VP Biden, and Senator Elizabeth Warren were among the most popular contenders heading into the debates.  

This time, Sanders again made an impressive showing in the primaries. Second only to Biden, Sanders’ presence in the main party platform again prodded hidebound Democrats to begin discussing reforms and more progressive ideas, simply by virtue of being part of the national dialogue. 

But Sanders’ revolutionary appeal couldn’t overcome Biden’s reliable record of appealing to moderates, and Biden ultimately claimed the title of nominee, leading Sanders to withdraw himself from the race before the DNC.

While Sanders was busy juggling presidential campaigns and his place as the only openly-Democratic Socialist Senator, AOC was making marks of her own in the Democrat Party. Often taking on big dog opponents like Trump and Congressmen who saw her freshman position in the House as easy pickings, AOC built a reputation for herself as a strong fighter and an outspoken advocate for progressive ideals. 

DNC 2020 appeared to have unity in the bag

When the DNC arrived, it seemed as though the Democrats had managed to nail unity as a theme. Democrat giants like Michelle and Barack Obama, and surprising guests like Republicans John Kasich and Colin Powell turned up to speak passionately about the need to elect Biden. United by their desire to see Trump unseated in the presidency in November, the DNC appeared to be a freight train aimed directly at smashing through the election.

But then came the nomination heard round the world

DNC procedure requires all democrats who pass the delegate threshold in the primaries to receive a nomination at the convention. This is to acknowledge the votes of those whose candidate lost to the winner, as a way to extend an olive branch and show respect to party voters as a whole. 

But AOC’s seconding of the nomination initially made by former president of the United Auto Workers, Bob King, did anything but soothe ruffled feathers. 

Some saw her 60-second speech as a snub to the progressive wing of the party. Republicans at the convention were given far longer to speak, and progressives eager to be reassured that their platform wouldn’t disappear under centrist/moderate candidate Biden were worried by the briefest of nods given to one of their most vocal representatives.

On top of that, the choice for AOC to deliver the nomination raised eyebrows. With AOC and Sanders representing a party divide, the pair of them teaming up for this nomination made it feel like an elbow to progressives to continue maintaining distance from the party platform. With divided voters a real concern, anyone else could have seconded the nomination and respected the convention tradition. 

In the speech nominating Sanders, AOC talked about his fight supporting progressive ideals. The young representative’s speech read, “Good evening, bienvenidos, and thank you to everyone here today endeavoring towards a better, more just future for our country and our world. In fidelity and gratitude to a mass people’s movement working to establish 21st century social, economic, and human rights, including guaranteed health care, higher education, living wages, and labor rights for all people in the United States; a movement striving to recognize and repair the wounds of racial injustice, colonization, misogyny, and homophobia, and to propose and build re-imagined systems of immigration and foreign policy that turn away from the violence and xenophobia of our past; a movement that realizes the unsustainable brutality of an economy that rewards explosive inequalities of wealth for the few at the expensive of long-term stability for the man and who organized an historic, grassroots campaign to reclaim our democracy. In a time when millions of people in the United States are looking for deep systemic solutions to our crises of mass evictions, unemployment, and lack of healthcare, and espiritu del pueblo and out of love for all people, I hereby second the nomination of Senator Bernard Sanders of Vermont for president of the United States of America.”

AOC misses chance to heal rift, but upholds progressive ideals

By speaking passionately about progressive ideals, and snubbing an opportunity to bridge the gap between the progressive wing of the party and their official nominee in Biden, AOC lost an opportunity to further party unity. AOC responded to criticism with a tweet saying, “If you were confused, no worries! Convention rules require roll call & nominations for every candidate that passes the delegate threshold. I was asked to 2nd the nom for Sen. Sanders for roll call. I extend my deepest congratulations to @JoeBiden

– let’s go win in November.”

For better or for worse, it’s ‘game on’ Election 2020

Whether you love or hate Ocasio-Cortez’s nomination of Sanders, the Rep’s speech did secure some valuable firsts for the party. Progressive policies were discussed, some for the first time at a convention, and AOC and Sanders showed that they were present and involved in the process moving forward. Whether this will inspire progressives to remain apart from the party and divide votes, or encourage unity by giving different groups within the Democratic party a place at the table remains to be seen. For now, Biden is the party’s nominee and it will be up to the Democrat officials to find a way to bring everyone into the fold if they hope to oust Trump in November.