Nobody has ever proved that Andy Warhol said “in the future everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes.” But he has been misquoted so often that a lot of people think he did. (Read the quotation carefully). A wiser man did say that “nothing recedes like success,” and we see that proved all around us every day.
Only 15 minutes ago David Hogg was the media’s flavor of the month after he survived mass murder at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., and for 15 minutes became the nation’s most famous scourge of guns, violence and anyone older than 18. He dropped out of high school to dedicate his sudden fame to chasing the Republicans out of Congress. (Remember him?)
Master Hogg has been replaced this month by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who at age 28 knocked off the No. 4 Democrat in the House of Representatives last week, and overnight became the hottest number in the party. Or at least the hottest number in the Democratic stronghold of the 14th New York Congressional District of New York. The media, which is always agog about something, is dutifully now “agog about Alexandria.” Her mother says she is already planning her campaign for president, though she may have to wait at least seven more years to meet the constitutional age requirement.
By then there will have been flavors of many other months, but her accomplishment is remarkable because she ran as an unapologetic socialist, a Bernie Sanders look-alike (although she is actually much better looking than Bernie) and she’s a dues-paying member of the American Socialists of America.
Mzz Ocasio-Cortez would not, however, be the first Socialist candidate. The late Norman Thomas, a Presbyterian preacher who took up politics as a way to save the world, ran for president six times, every time unsuccessfully, and even if he is remembered only as a footnote to presidential politics, six was more times a candidate than Harold Stassen. Butterflies, after all, are free.
Miss Ocasio-Cortez’s triumph in the Bronx is taken in certain media quarters as evidence that socialism has finally arrived as the solution to what ails America. She has even revived interest in the remark attributed to Norman Thomas that socialism would arrive in America in the clothes of the Democratic Party. Whether he ever said it is the source of debate among historians, but there’s no debate that the millennials, the bright, eager and uneducated burp in the nation’s demographics, are always on the scout for something new to be agog about.
Bernie Sanders, once the new thing, has become as fresh as the chewing gum left on the bedpost last night. But there may be enough Juicy Fruit left in socialism to satisfy some of the millennials.
The average millennial doesn’t know much, a victim of the druggie generation presiding at the moment over the nation’s dumbed-down colleges and universities, and millennials can hardly be expected to know that socialism has already been tried in many places, and that it failed in all of them.
“Socialism is in fact a wonderful vision,” says Thomas Sowell, the distinguished economist, historian and author, “in a world of the imagination far better than [at] any place anywhere in the real world, at any time over the thousands of years of recorded history. Even many conservatives would probably prefer to live in such a world, if they thought it was possible.
“Who would not want to live in a world where college was free, along with many other things, and where the government protected us from the shocks of life and guaranteed our happiness. It would be Disneyland for adults.”
Worst of all, Mr. Sowell observed — and this was several years ago and it’s more so now — that government giveaways so popular with the untaught young “polarize society into segments, each trying to get what it wants at somebody else’s expense, creating mutual bitterness that can tear a society apart. Some blithely assume that ‘the rich’ can be taxed to pay for it, as if ‘the rich’ don’t see what is coming and take their wealth elsewhere.”
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez isn’t trying to slip into office as a socialist in disguise. She’s serving up the real socialist dish: She wants to abolish immigration enforcement at once, have the government offer single-payer Medicare-for-all, declare housing a “right,” and invoke a radical criminal-justice “reform” to empty the prisons. She cites the campaign slogan of the British Labor Party with approval, “In the wealthiest nation in the world, working families shouldn’t have to struggle.” It’s the dream that will not die, but can never become more than a dream.
Flirtations can be fun, but the Democrats should be wary. Dreams can become nightmares, and they’re always costly.
• Wesley Pruden is editor in chief emeritus of The Times.