We had just about gotten used to the phenomenon of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the proudly socialist Democratic candidate for the U.S. Congress from New York’s 14th District, which covers the east Bronx and some of the cooler parts of northern Queens. What Ocasio-Cortez lacked in actual understanding of the issues and of the basic facts of economics (even though she majored in the subject at Boston University) she made up for with talk-show-ready attractiveness, charisma, stylishness, and charm. When it turned out that her stories of being raised in grinding poverty in the Bronx were nothing but spin – in fact, she grew up in Yorktown Heights, a leafy suburb in Westchester County – nobody cared.
Now along comes Julia Salazar, who on September 13 won the Democratic nod for the New York State Senate race in the 18th district, which covers most of northern Brookyn, including parts of the super-hip neighborhoods of Williamsburg and Greenpoint. Like Ocasio-Cortez, she’s a Latina who belongs to the Democratic Socialists of America, calls for the disbanding of ICE, and supports the anti-Israeli BDS movement.
Her primary victory came on a day that was otherwise disappointing for the far left in the Empire State: Sex and the City star Cynthia Nixon lost the gubernatorial primary and Zephyr Teachout was a washout in the race for attorney general. In The New Yorker, which doesn’t usually devote a lot of space to state-legislature primaries, Masha Gessen spent a couple of thousand words recording for posterity the thrilling night of Salazar’s win: at her victory party in an East Williamsburg bar, the atmosphere was “incredulously triumphant,” with a young, largely white crowd “celebrating, hooting and clapping, each group to its own beat. They sang a union song, “Solidarity Forever,” one verse of which, sung to the tune of “The Battle Hymn of the Republic,” goes like this:
Is there aught we hold in common with the greedy parasite
Who would lash us into serfdom and would crush us with his might?
Is there anything left to us but to organize and fight?
For the union makes us strong
Gessen acknowledged that in the weeks before the election, Salazar had “come under scrutiny: she self-identified as a working-class immigrant from Colombia and as a Jew, although she was born in Miami and was known as an evangelical-Christian anti-abortion activist during her time as an undergrad at Columbia University….There was also a bizarre incident involving Keith Hernandez’s ex-wife, an arrest for attempted identity theft (the charges were dropped), and a subsequent lawsuit that added fuel to the tabloid interest in Salazar.”
A more critical journalist might have paused to ponder the significance of Salazar’s wholesale misrepresentation of herself. Is she a compulsive liar? Is she a sociopath? Does she have any real core beliefs at all? But Gessen put her own special spin on Salazar’s systematic distortions of the truth: the young candidate’s campaign, wrote Gessen, “discovered something that the American President has known for a long time: communicating with people directly, whether by Twitter or by going door to door, takes precedence over anything that’s reported in the media.”
A curious take indeed: unlike Donald Trump, Salazar has not been the target of media bias, the subject of “fake news.” On the contrary, as Gessen’s own article exemplifies, mainstream journalists in the Big Apple are so enamored of her radical politics and her sexy-young-Latina-firecracker image that they’ve mainly been very eager to minimize, find excuses for, or tiptoe around her blatant falsehoods. The truth about Salazar’s primary win is that it represents a triumph of personality and trendy ideology over fundamental honesty and sound political thinking. Above all – and Gessen, who was born in the Soviet Union, should have recognized this and called it out – Salazar’s victory is one more lamentable proof that many young Americans are perilously ignorant of the tragic reality behind the word socialism.