If Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is “no big deal,” why does she have so many critics on both the left and the right?
I ask this as one of the growing list of fans of AOC, but it’s an honest question. If she’s a flash in the pan, why bother talking about her at all? There are any number of reasons why Ocasio-Cortez has been derided by commentators. She’s uninformed. She’s too socialist. She’s too young. She doesn’t understand how the world works. The media is just latching onto her because she’s telegenic, “exotic” (a term used especially when you’re a person of color and white people don’t know what to call you), and because her upset primary win is still relatively fresh.
Those bits about her being little more than a pretty face or a stupid girl is the kind of keen observation and commentary (sarcasm intended) usually reserved for dissenters on the right, some of whom insist she should debate them so they can EXPOSE her and their devotees can sound off about how they DESTROYED her in circular discourse replete with strawman arguments.
Either way you slice it, the sexism abounds. Without wishing to get too high up on my high horse, I readily concede that I think AOC is good-looking, and that probably doesn’t hurt her appeal in my eyes. For the record, I don’t think shameless Republican Party defenders like Ann Coulter and Laura Ingraham are physically reprehensible either. The blackness of their souls is what truly makes them unattractive but that’s another matter entirely.
The point I’m trying to make here to address the rationalizations of conservative trolls, however, is that Ocasio-Cortez is more than a pretty face or a dumb millennial (I know, we millennials ruin everything). These lines of thinking are perhaps predictable coming from a crowd which prizes white cisgender males above all others and thus sees her as a threat. It’s the resistance she has encountered from members of her own party that has been perhaps more vocal and is nonetheless more aggravating.
For the kind of intraparty unrest to which I’m referring, look no further than this Politico piece from last week about “exasperated Democrats” trying to “rein in” Ocasio-Cortez. The article/hatchet job conveys a sense of Dems’ annoyance at her tendency to confront other Democrats via Twitter over policy objections as well as her liability to back primary challengers to moderate incumbents. You can’t go too far left in “swing districts.” She hasn’t earned a place in key committees yet. She’s too concerned with being a Twitter star/activist. She’s like Donald Trump with her use of social media, “snapping” at critics and colleagues alike.
On the Trump/AOC Twitter comparison, referring to notions of them taking to the app to “lash out” at people, let that be the only such parallel to be drawn between the two, especially since it’s a poor one. Ocasio-Cortez’s committee candidacy vis-à-vis her lack of legislative experience is also understandable, although at heart, it’s the member of Congress’s views that should be the driver of consideration, not necessarily his or her popularity or stature. That is, whether it’s someone’s first or fifth term, his or her commitment to the role and doing the right thing are what count.
The other criticisms, meanwhile, reflect a real schism within the Democratic Party, one that gets played up in the mainstream media to generate headlines but does encapsulate a genuine tension between the “old guard” of the party and its newer members and supporters. Do robust primary challenges make for stronger candidates and increase their visibility, or do they do harm by suggesting points of attack in a general election? Do progressive values translate across constituencies, or do platforms have to be tailored to the voting tendencies of each district? Should Democrats advance bold policy ideas regardless of perceptions of cost, or should they consider the practicality of their proposals and what is feasible in light of our surging national debt?
Judging by AOC’s popularity, for one, the answer in all cases favors the more progressive option and not the prevailing establishment Democrat logic. Speaking on Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez specifically but with certain applicability to others who walk their progressive talk, Emma Vigeland, correspondent and producer for Rebel HQ, an offshoot of The Young Turks, slams the aforementioned Politico article in a video segment for the news outlet.
Highlighting references in the article about the first-year representative “making enemies” and the House Democratic Caucus striving to get her to “turn her fire on Republicans” with an effort that is “part carrot, part stick,” as well as the notion she faces a “lonely, ineffectual career in Congress” if she doesn’t play nicer, Vigeland has this to say about the condescending tone of the lawmakers cited within the Politico piece:
In what universe do these no-name Democratic lawmakers who have coasted by on corporate donations and meek opposition to the Republican Party have any standing to use a carrot-and-stick, scolding approach to the most exciting young politician that the party has seen in years, who has single-handedly galvanized the American people behind interesting new policy goals in the way that these incrementalist hacks could have never dreamed of?
Vigeland goes on to address the hypocrisy of her fellow Democrats calling out Ocasio-Cortez for attacking members of her own party—this is, in effect, the same thing they are doing to her. She also responds to the idea AOC “doesn’t understand” how things work in Washington, D.C.—even though she does and that’s why her primary campaign was so successful.
For Vigeland and others, that Hillary Clinton and the Democrats lost to “an orange, racist, cruel, historically dumb buffoon” signals something is broken within the party. The American people want real change, not just “business as usual.” It’s no wonder her stances on key issues poll well among supporters of both parties, and not just in her home district, but around the country.
Vigeland puts a bow on her presentation with these remarks:
We need a Democratic Party that will not stand in our way and if you don’t like it, get on board or get out. Because if you’re not backing proposals that will save our planet and raise wages and give people health care that already poll well above 50%, then you don’t belong in the new Democratic Party and you don’t belong in office. So stop crying about Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and do some soul-searching about who you are there to represent and serve.
“‘People are afraid of her,’ said one senior Democratic aide.” Damn right.
These comments are a direct rebuttal to the hand-wringing the likes of Claire McCaskill and Joe Lieberman have done about Ocasio-Cortez being a symbol of where the Democratic Party is potentially headed. In line with Vigeland’s suggestion that these moderates do some soul-searching, they’ll undoubtedly have plenty of time for this while not serving as members of Congress.
Even as an admitted fan of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, I do wonder sometimes whether or not so much exposure is a good thing. There have been well-publicized flubs on details of foreign policy as well as statistical inaccuracies when speaking on issues. Her contention so far has been that she’s learning and that the essence of her arguments is on point, to which I’d broadly agree, but then the question of how long her “grace period” as a newcomer pops up. Accountability is important, left-wing or right-wing.
The main reason I express doubt, though, is that I don’t want her stardom to overshadow the presence of a number of promising up-and-coming progressives (and not just the ones like Rashida Tlaib who vow to “impeach the motherf**ker”). Movements can’t thrive on individual figures here and there. Constituents have to exercise their power alongside their elected representatives.
In this respect, it’s oddly refreshing to hear Donald Trump of all people give a “Who cares?” about AOC when asked directly about the first-year representative calling him a “racist” in her interview for 60 Minutes and not seeming to shy away from this characterization after the fact. Of course, much of his conduct until now would lead you to believe that the proverbial shoe most definitely fits, but he arguably takes a better tack than FOX News, whose scaremongering about Ocasio-Cortez would have its viewers all but frothing at the mouth at the very sight of her. Sure, he might undermine that by refusing to disavow Steve “Why Is White Supremacy Such a Bad Thing?” King, but give the Devil his due on his AOC non-response, at least.
All this aside, if Ocasio-Cortez can use her stardom and social media following to bring progressive issues and stances to the forefront of political discourse (yes, please, let’s tax the rich more!), then I’m with her. To reiterate and as Emma Vigeland would insist, establishment Democrats would be wise to get on board with younger, more progressive members of Congress/party supporters or simply get out of the way. There’s too much at stake and too much work we have to do.