Mark Twain once said, “History doesn’t repeat itself but it often rhymes.” If so, Democrats like former Vice President Joe Biden and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi may be picking up on some familiar themes from the French Revolution.
Some 230 years ago, a broad cross-section of French society came together in common cause to overthrow an out-of-touch monarchy. In the early days after overthrowing the monarchy, the moderate Girondists prevailed, but were quickly overtaken by the radical Jacobins whose street soldiers they had relied upon to carry out the revolution.
The modern-day Girondists are embodied by folks Biden and Pelosi, pragmatic politicians who incrementally yielded to the demands of the modern-day Jacobins — the so-called democratic socialists — in an effort to bring them off the sidelines and into the voting booths. The strategy worked, to a point. The energized radicals provided the margins of victory for Barack Obama, a skilled enough politician to be able to walk the thin line between placating the radicals and reassuring the Girondist majority of Democratic voters.
But like their French antecedents, the Democratic Girondists now find themselves in an existential struggle with the Jacobins they encouraged and coddled. The aging pragmatists are clearly on the defensive. As Peggy Noonan noted in the Wall Street Journal, the Jacobins, led by social media superstar Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), have “very effectively changed the ideological shape of the Democratic Party with [their] de facto open-borders policy and other extremisms.”
For last 20 years or so, the Girondist Democrats have sought to entice the radicals with leniency toward immigration lawbreakers and promises of amnesty for those who managed to get here. At the same time, they sought to reassure the broader public that they were serious about securing the border and immigration enforcement. As recently as 2013, now-Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) vowed emphatically that a bill he sponsored would be the toughest enforcement measure ever enacted.
A mere six years later, most of the Democrats seeking their party’s presidential nomination now support decriminalizing violations of U.S. immigration law. And in the first candidate debate, all of those on stage raised their hands when asked if they would grant government-funded health care coverage to illegal aliens. A few, like the party’s senior Girondist, Joe Biden, fresh off a tongue lashing over both his civil rights record and the Obama administration’s handling of immigration, did so sheepishly. But in the end, they all fell obediently into line.
Another Girondist septuagenarian, Pelosi, is desperately trying to get the Jacobins back on the leash in Congress. Her troubles began even before she reclaimed the speaker’s gavel, as she was forced to cut deals with an increasingly rowdy bunch of young leftists and self-described Social Democrats in her caucus, who clearly did not want her running the House.
It’s only gone downhill from there, and immigration has continued to feature prominently in Pelosi’s troubles. With less than two months on the job, Ocasio-Cortez threatened to support primary challenges to 26 moderate Democratic House members who supported an amendment to a gun control bill that would have required that Immigration and Customs Enforcement be notified when an illegal alien attempts to purchase a gun.
In June, the Jacobins were at it again, this time over the leadership’s acquiescence to an emergency appropriation to address the border crisis. Pelosi made sure that none of the $4.5 billion could be used for any additional enforcement measures that might deter illegal border-crossers. But that was not enough for the Jacobins, who demanded provisions that would further tie the hands of immigration law enforcement.
When they didn’t get their way, they went on the attack. Ocasio-Cortez’s then-chief of staff fired off a tweet accusing Democrats who support any form of immigration enforcement of racism. “They certainly seem hell bent to do to black and brown people today what the old Southern Democrats did in the 40s,” charged Saikat Chakrabarti. Another of the Jacobins, Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.), labeled Democrats who voted for the appropriations measure the “Child Abuse Caucus.”
Once again, Pelosi was left to scold the radicals for their savagery directed against fellow Democrats. “[D]o not tweet about our members and expect us to think that that is just okay,” Pelosi admonished in a closed-door caucus meeting. In her own Keeping Up with the Kardashians moment, she added “We are a family, and every family has its moments.”
Or, perhaps more accurately, the Girondist wing of the family has had its moment and now the Jacobins are asserting that this is theirs. “The revolution devours its children,” proclaimed the French Revolutionary figure Jacques Mallet du Pan. It can also devour its parents, as the Girondist Democrats are discovering.
History may indeed rhyme. This time, the rallying cry is, Justice sociale, aide social, immigration sans limites!
Ira Mehlman is media director at the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), a nonprofit group that advocates for legal immigration.
The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.