Wednesday, September 22, 2021


The new Bret Stephens column begins:
Ritchie Torres, a congressman from America’s poorest district — New York’s 15th, in the Bronx — quietly bristles at the A.O.C. comparison.

“There’s a sense in which the media narrative diminishes me,” he tells me over plates of pasta at a restaurant in the Bronx’s Little Italy when I raise the subject of his notorious fellow Democrat from an adjoining district, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. “I resist the temptation to fit into a preconceived narrative. My career in politics long predates the Squad.”
Torres is too polite to say, And you're the embodiment of the problem, Bret. But that's reason for this column: Stephens is saying, Hey, lefties, don't stan those progressives. Stan this one.

He writes:
The bigger mystery is why Torres ... hasn’t yet become a household name in the United States. On the identity-and-background scorecard, he checks every progressive box. Afro-Latino, the son of a single mom who raised three children working as a mechanic’s assistant on a minimum-wage salary of $4.25 an hour, a product of public housing and public schools, a half brother of two former prison inmates, an N.Y.U. dropout, the Bronx’s first openly gay elected official when he won a seat on the City Council in 2013 at the age of 25 and the victor over a gay-bashing Christian minister when he won his House seat last year.
Stephens, you will not be surpried to learn, has a theory.
... Torres is everything a modern-day progressive is supposed to look and be like, except in one respect: Unlike so much of the modern left (including A.O.C., who grew up as an architect’s daughter in the middle-class Westchester town of Yorktown Heights), he really is a child of the working class. He understands what working-class people want, as opposed to what so many of its self-appointed champions claim they want.
I think Stephens genuinely believes that there are people who talk about Torres this way in hipster coffee shops from Brooklyn to Portland: That guy? He's all right, I guess, but I wish he weren't so ... working class.

Why isn't Ritchie Torres a star? In large part, it's because he simply hasn't pursued virality as an activist strategy. That makes him less likely to become part of the progressive conversation -- and also makes him less likely to be a target of Republican politicians and the right-wing media, who demonize the Squad at every opportunity.

Also, he's male. That's not part of the reason the left pays him less attention, but it means he's a less tempting target for the right. Right-wingers hate liberal and lefty women, particularly if they're not white. They seem to hate gay men far less than they used to -- they've never tried to demonize Pete Buttigieg the way they demonize other Democrats, as if his maleness overrides his sexual orientation.

So why is Bret Stephens impressed by Torres? Reason #1: Torres supports
giving children the option to attend “carefully regulated, not-for-profit” charter schools, which his district has in abundance, over fierce opposition from teachers’ unions.
Gosh, I can't imagine why a right-winger would like that. (Note to Torres: Nationwide, we'll never be able to limit public support to “carefully regulated, not-for-profit” charter schools. The money will inevitably flow to Reverend Billy Bob's Prosperity Gospel MAGA Academy.)

What else?
[Torres] is also consumed by the crisis of affordable housing.... One of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s early drafts for solving the crisis, Torres recalls, involved building 75,000 units over 10 years. Yet the demand was closer to six times that number....

His answer is a classic triangulation between big-government interventionism and small-government common sense. He wants to greatly increase the Section 8 federal voucher program, turning it into a new federal entitlement — “housing vouchers for all,” he calls it — that would ensure that no American family would need to pay more than 30 percent of its income in rent. Doing so “would instantaneously make millions of units affordable for the lowest-income households.”

But he also understands the need to streamline the public-review process to increase the supply of housing stock. “One of the great ironies of our time is that some of the most progressive cities are among the most systemically racist in their housing policies,” he says, mentioning San Francisco’s policies of single-family zoning and other land-use practices that are the way in which liberals discriminate today.
Torres is a lefty who's upset at liberal NIMBYs, so Stephens thinks: Great -- let's you and them fight. (Although he and Torres have a point.)

More of the same:
Torres is also particularly alarmed by the phenomenon that the Russian American evolutionary anthropologist Peter Turchin calls “elite overproduction.”

“We produce far more college graduates than there are elite positions for those graduates to occupy,” Torres observes. When those graduates find themselves deep in debt, shut out of the kinds of jobs they were promised and crushed by the cost of housing, “it is bound to have a radicalizing effect.”

It’s a strong argument for more vocational schools. It’s also an F.D.R.-esque call to save capitalism from itself, lest the people Torres calls “the New Jacobins” gain further grip.
Again, I'm in favor of the policy idea, but I don't like Stephens's evident glee at the possibility of a war among socialists over this.

But keeping the left and liberals fighting is an excellent recipe for keeping the corporatist right in power forever, so it's no surprise that Stephens is rooting for Torres to start some wars.

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