Picture the scene: a popular left-wing leadership candidate threatens the status quo of an Establishment, notionally-left political party, putting at risk the painstakingly-constructed business-as-usual cosiness that it clings to.
In spite of huge threats from burgeoning right-wing extremism, the Establishment party turns on one of its own candidates, firing a nonsensical antisemitism smear in the public domain at its undeserving target.
No, we’re not talking about Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and the Blairite rump of the Labour Party. But it’s likely they were the model for this situation.
Cynthia Nixon, the former star of global TV megahit Sex and the City, turned to politics and announced her bid to become the US Democratic Party’s candidate for the position of governor of New York State (NYS) – challenging the incumbent Democratic NYS governor, Andrew Cuomo.
One recent poll, although considered an outlier, had Ms Nixon over forty points behind Cuomo. Voting takes place this Thursday.
However, the stunning success of socialist Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in the race to become the Democrats’ candidate for the 14th Congressional district in New York – Ms Ocasio-Cortex is a member of Democratic Socialists of America, whose 2017 annual gathering spontaneously broke into chants of ‘Oh Jeremy Corbyn’ – appears to have rattled the Establishment so seriously that it is leaving nothing to chance.
Just days before the vote, the NYS state Democratic party controlled by Mr Cuomo sent out a flyer to voters accusing Ms Nixon of being,
silent on the rise of anti-Semitism.
The flyer goes into detail on her supposed failings, making entirely inaccurate claims that she supports the BDS (boycott, divestment and sanctions) movement and that she opposed funding for Yeshivas, private Jewish religious schools, before concluding ominously:
With anti-Semitism and bigotry on the rise, we can’t take a chance… Re-Elect Governor Andrew Cuomo.
The New York Times described it as “the lowest form of politics“.
Ms Nixon and her partner regularly attend a New York synagogue and two of her children, whose grandparents were holocaust survivors, are being raised in the Jewish faith.
The Corbyn similarities
The parallels with the recent personal smear campaign against Jeremy Corbyn are obvious and inescapable – and they are not thought coincidental.
A veteran Democratic campaign staffer, who has worked on the party’s campaigns since 1992 and also watches UK politics keenly, told the SKWAWKBOX:
The fact the smear comes out of the state party is a tell – the DNC [Democratic National Committee] uses state parties to do all its dirty work.
The same goes for many candidates, who like the extra layer of plausible deniability.
This all means it was highly deliberate. It wasn’t some “mistake” as [Executive Director of the New York State Democratic Committee] Geoff Berman will say. It was quite purposeful – by the time a dollar is spent by a state party, it is decided upon and approved by many levels of the state party hierarchy.
Whoever ultimately approved the flyer miscalculated badly. The flyer triggered an immediate and bitterly angry backlash – among both Jewish and non-Jewish people.
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez took to Twitter to condemn the Democrats’ ‘taking sides’ and to deride both the party’s response and its claim to have known nothing about the content of the mailer:
Author Jacob Bacharach felt that the blame lay at least jointly with the incumbent candidate:
Democratic senator Liz Krueger was “offended and aghast” at the “shameful” slur:
Ms Nixon herself responded unequivocally, referring to “sickening” exploitation of such a serious issue when hate-crimes are on the increase:
The New York Times and other media outlets joined in the outrage and incredulity.
The Democratic response
Such was the popular backlash against the smears that both the NYS Democratic party and Governor Cuomo scrambled to distance themselves from it, with the Democratic party even claiming it would rectify the situation by sending out a mailer for Ms Nixon:
The state Party sent out a wrong and inappropriate mailer — we will work with the Nixon campaign to send out a mailing of their choosing to the same universe of people.
— Geoff Berman (@geoffberman) September 9, 2018
This raised incredulity among media commentators:
This response, of course, failed to address the question of why the party was taking sides in the first place – and many observers pointed out that such a mailing would be highly unlikely to land on doormats in time for Thursday’s primary.
The why and wherefore
With Cynthia Nixon by consensus significantly behind the incumbent Cuomo with only days to go until polling, why send out such a ‘low’, controversial document at such a late stage? Surely it wasn’t difficult to see that it would backfire?
Back to our Democratic insider:
I think the smear is a test run to justify using it more broadly after she loses. With the lead Cuomo had in the polls, there was no need to do it – they were trying it on for size and testing its effectiveness so they’d know if they could use it to help their preferred candidate in tight contests.
The similarities between the attack on Cynthia Nixon and the smear campaign against Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn are unmissable. But one big difference also stands out.
While US media have been vocal in condemning the smear on Nixon and rallying to the defence of its target, in the UK the mainstream media have, almost without exception, been complicit in propagating, amplifying and intensifying the constant smears against Jeremy Corbyn – and have even then claimed, after helping to ensure that it has persisted, that the persistence of the smear is evidence of its accuracy.
In spite of that shameful media collusion, Labour has seen both a polling boost and a sharp upturn in its already-huge membership, with many new joiners explicitly attributing their decision to join – many of them becoming members of a political party for the first time in their life – directly to the nature and scale of the smear campaign.
If the smear can backfire so badly in the UK, with complicit media and an Establishment united behind it, then how much more likely is the smear against Cynthia Nixon to do the reverse of its authors intent when many US media outlets are calling out the shameful cynicism and dishonesty for what they are?
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