Its hard to believe but Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was sworn in less than a year ago. But already, she is by far the most famous member of Congress elected in my lifetime- and I go back a while. I crashed this party way back when Richard Nixon was wandering around the White House at night in a deranged and drunken stupor. Ms. Ocasio-Cortez is so famous that she’s got a catchy nickname that we all love to say so much that I think we steer our conversations in whatever direction will let us say it over and over. “AOC” sounds like a cross between a hip-hop star, a Marvel super-hero and the kick-ass villain in of one of those dopey “Fast And The Furious” movies. She is without a doubt the biggest star born into the American political multiverse since Barack Obama took the mic at the 2004 Democratic National Convention. We all know how that turned out and we now have legitimate hope that we can capture that energy again.
But just like Barack Obama before her, AOC is seasoned with the same special spices that can only be loved or hated by anybody who gets a taste. To be sure, that dynamic is not her fault anymore than it was Barack’s fault. If you are a person that hates AOC but pretends that your caustic commentary about her is objective and non-emotive, it says everything about you and virtually nothing about her. What it says about you above all else is that you are deeply afraid of her. And you probably should be. Nobody likes to be exposed publicly as a fraud, a racist, a sexist or even just as a mediocre, pedestrian politician. Anybody who knows deep down that they are ANY of these things was bound to react to her like a demon when holy water gets thrown on them.
Considering objectively what this young woman has accomplished and what she represents, the reflex to reject her exposes a weakness of the mind or wickedness of the heart- or both. There is no objective reason to react with hostility toward a 28 year old woman who ran for Congress with no experience, no connections and on a shoestring budget- and won. Hers is an irresistably inspirational American story that shows that this country can still be what we frequently claim it is but so often fails to be- a government of the people, by the people and for the people. When AOC won she proved that despite all of the bullsh*t double-talk and self-service in our politics, a true outsider can get elected on a vision of pure public service. You don’t have to agree with her on a single policy to respect and admire that. And when you respect and admire someone, you don’t assail them personally or mock them dismissively the way that so many politicians and pundits have. And don’t kid yourself into thinking that this gambit is exclusive to the conservative echo-chamber. Failure to express appropriate respect and admiration is evident amongst those who should be acting as her primary allies as well.
But for at least half the country respect and admiration are foreign concepts when it comes to AOC. I suppose its difficult to extend that to someone who makes you feel like you are going to pee in your pants every time you see them. Recall from 9th grade biology class that human beings have a “fight or flight” response when we feel threatened. “Fight” is where the action is for EVERYBODY who is inclined to identify themselves as conservative. It makes perfect sense that they would shift into desperate “fight” mode when confronting the most compelling messenger in American political history to embrace the label of “socialist” as one half of her hyphenated party identification. AOC is a proud “Democratic-Socialist.”
Here is the hard cold reality: the “Democrat” label is not scary to conservatives. Not even a little bit. It is almost funny to them. They have succeeded in making the term “liberal” a political epithet and after decades of brainwashing middle-America, “Democrat” is now synonymous with “liberal.” It was a perfect bank-shot. Over the decades they have come to count on Democrats to check themselves against whatever popular political folklore conservatives have pushed into the media. But somebody flying under the flag of “Democratic-Socialist” is telling conservatives to go f*ck themselves and put their backs into it.
They aren’t buying into any of that old tired rhetoric about budgets and values and security and self-reliance- all of the lies they’ve been running and winning on since the Reagan years. What they are telling conservatives is that they are about to have to battle on real solutions to real problems and conservatives know they can’t win any argument like that. AOC represents a sharp new tack: We’ll run our coalition of problem-solvers against your racist culture-warriors any day of the week and we will kick your asses. And what is worse, she’ll look great leading the way.
The “look great leading the way” part is where the “flight” reflex kicks in for some of the other AOC detractors- namely the ones who are supposed to know better even if they can’t BE better. This is for all American women but especially for women who have made a career in Democratic politics: Jealousy ain’t cute. At the risk of sounding like a man, AOC is a great looking woman. She is young. She is a woman of color. She has an undeniably charismatic and effervescent quality that you cannot fake and that money cannot buy. So it is sadly predictable that you are going to see the Betsy Ross Brigade making snarky comments and taking petty shots at her.
It may be harder to find old white women in the Democratic party and pundit class that HAVEN’T taken some digs at AOC than to enumerate those that have. She isn’t alone but I found former Senator Claire McCaskill particularly galling in her dismissal of AOC’s place in politics as “fascination with the shiny new thing.”
Really, Claire? The “shiny new thing“? I have no doubt that your ass is still raw from the spanking you took in your election loss back in November but that’s not AOC’s fault. Running away from her in order to preserve some middling political brand is both ill-advised and counter-productive. So that comment about her was transparently calculated. Claire should dig the fact that people are attracted to AOC’s authenticity in the same way that people were turned off by her “I support President Trump on the border” bullsh*t gambit to hold on to her Senate seat.
So AOC doesn’t just look better than the Claire McCaskills out there, she IS better than them. And I suspect they know that and are bitterly jealous because of it. Truth is, many of the women who ought to be openly embracing and supporting the independence AOC represents for the Democratic future have been exposed as pets of the patriarchy. Not being as shameless or clueless as the women of Fox News and the GOP is not good enough anymore. AOC has raised the stakes because she owes her victory to NOBODY.
She doesn’t have to pander because she isn’t worried about wealthy donors, securing endorsements or shoring up lobbyist alliances. She doesn’t have to worry about being primaried because she is there to serve the people through true leadership- not looking to find out where they are going and then running to get in front of them. It is noteworthy that women in the Democratic Party who are still on the climb have openly embraced AOC’s vision and energy as integral to success- not something they have to distance themselves from. That is why Kamala Harris and Elizabeth Warren embraced the Green New Deal without hesitation and at least one of them is going to be in the White House in 2020.
Since this is an equal opportunity smack-down, the men who have laid a foul tongue on AOC shall not be spared. (That means you, Ted Cruz.) But since there is absolutely zero nuance in what troubles these men, this won’t take long: AOC is a woman that men are going to have a strong reaction to. I dig that we are in a new cultural moment but as long as men have penises, penises will influence how we think, speak and act. In sum that’s why we need women leading American institutions but that’s a subject for another piece.
As for AOC, the men publicly demeaning her are simply unprepared to function in a world where a woman they so desperately want to f**k has so much power and so clearly knows how to wield it. She’s smarter and stronger than they are- and they know it. And its terrifying.
My advice to them all is this: buckle-up, butter-cup. AOC is not just here to stay, she’s here to lead the way.