The emergence of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez as a major player in the American political scene has been astonishing to watch. The 29 year old Latina from the Bronx is not only a fearless progressive, but captivatingly self assured and incredibly well informed. This potent mix has unnerved the political establishment, and put the fear of God into the Republican Party — and for very good reason.
The attacks on Ocasio-Cortez have been relentless, and well, pretty bizarre. Tucker Carlson, Ben Shapiro, and a slew of prominent conservative media figures discuss her incessantly. Fox News attacked Ocasio-Cortez for “politicizing Christmas” when she compared Jesus to a refugee (which according to the bible, he was). Right wing outlets post unflattering photos of her and portray her as an angry, radical, unhinged socialist. Conservative men also joke about dating her. “There is nothing wrong with a little bit of crazy, man,” said The Federalist’s Jesse Kelly on NRA TV. “A little bit of crazy can be fun. I’m not talking about marrying her, I’m just talking about a date or two, she looks kind of cute.”
The right in America is obsessed with Ocasio-Cortez, and it is worth unpacking why.
The majority of the attacks on Ocasio-Cortez, at least the more visible ones, come from conservative white men. To them, Ocasio-Cortez represents everything they stand against — a minority woman who not only stands up for herself, but stands up to powerful white men too. Given their worldview precludes this from happening, they seem to be genuinely perplexed as to why she continues to do it. And Ocasio-Cortez doesn’t just flail out aggressively, she gives pointed rebuttals to those who attempt to dismiss or demean her. For example, when Ben Shapiro offered to debate her for $10,000, she replied with this withering tweet:
Just like catcalling, I don’t owe a response to unsolicited requests from men with bad intentions.
And also like catcalling, for some reason they feel entitled to one. pic.twitter.com/rsD17Oq9qe
— Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@AOC) August 10, 2018
She also took down former Scott Walker when he tried to ridicule her tax plan (Walker did not directly call out Ocasio-Cortez, but it is likely he was referencing her proposal to tax people 70% on income over $10 million):
Explaining tax rates before Reagan to 5th graders: “Imagine if you did chores for your grandma and she gave you $10. When you got home, your parents took $7 from you.” The students said: “That’s not fair!” Even 5th graders get it.
— Scott Walker (@ScottWalker) January 15, 2019
Explaining marginal taxes to a far-right former Governor:
Imagine if you did chores for abuela & she gave you $10. When you got home, you got to keep it, because it’s only $10.
Then we taxed the billionaire in town because he’s making tons of money underpaying the townspeople. https://t.co/Wcnn2sEgek
— Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@AOC) January 15, 2019
Ocasio-Cortez does not take shit. From anyone.
In a white conservative male’s mind, this represents a serious threat to the status quo they have worked extremely hard to maintain. We saw this clearly with the emergence of President Obama in 2008. A black man becoming President created shockwaves in the conservative establishment, and the party quite literally went insane trying to get rid of him. They called him a Muslim/Marxist/terrorist sympathizer who hated America and ate fancy salads. The backlash was so severe many even began to question whether he was American or not, with fringe lunatics like Donald Trump waging campaigns to find his “real” birth certificate (remember the days when Trump was considered a fringe lunatic?).
The GOP establishment knew exactly what the Obama presidency really meant: an irreversible culture shift that threatened the end of their supremacy. With younger, more radical players like Ocasio-Cortez moving boldly into the mainstream of American politics, the threat is now graver than ever. While Obama did little to threaten the economic structure of American society, Ocasio-Cortez is saying out loud what most Democrats have wanted for decades: free healthcare, free education, and taxing corporations and rich people fairly. This isn’t politics as usual — this is a different type of politics they don’t understand and don’t know how to combat effectively.
Conservatives have trotted out their usual arguments as to why socialism doesn’t work, but the truth is, the perception of left wing economic policies have shifted quite dramatically over the years in America, and away from the pro-corporate neoliberal philosophy that defined the past few decades. As Jonathan Chait notes:
A survey of the 2016 electorate by the Democracy Fund Voter Study Group
plotted voters by social and economic views. What it found is that many voters have socially conservative and fiscally liberal views — those are the voters who were attracted to Trump’s combination of nativism and promises to maintain social programs and provide universal health care.
Donald Trump basically ran on a left wing economic platform, promising universal health care, huge infrastructure spending, and the protection of government welfare programs. “I’m not going to cut Social Security like every other Republican and I’m not going to cut Medicare or Medicaid,” promised Trump.
Of course Trump lied about his economic policies and dedicated all his efforts to slashing taxes for millionaires and billionaires, but the promises played well with audiences across the country who believed everyone could get huge tax cuts and generous government services at the same time.
With Ocasio-Cortez delivering a similar but more philosophically coherent plan (in that she understands how social services are actually paid for), conservatives are scrambling to distort her message. And it isn’t proving easy, as Ocasio-Cortez has noted herself:
Our issue platform is so strong, Fox basically turned into a nonstop anti-me channel for the last 6 months and *still* managed to lose their home advantage. 😇 https://t.co/usWPnZCvrC
— Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@AOC) January 26, 2019
“AOC and her new socialist colleagues seem hell-bent on making sure that our last 12 years will be spent as Venezuelan socialists, not Americans,” tweeted Sen. Lindsey Graham.
This ridiculous argument is the equivalent of saying Graham wants America to be like Somalia — a country with no functioning state and no government interference in the sacred “free market”. They hope the message sticks, but Ocasio-Cortez is not taking any of it lying down. Instead of apologizing and kowtowing to big business and the ultra wealthy, Ocasio -Cortez simply says it even louder.
The truth is, white conservative men are used to black and brown people shutting up and doing as they are told. Politicians like Barack Obama, Kamala Harris, Cory Booker, and Alexandria Ocaso-Cortez represent a new era in American politics, where the old rules don’t count any more, and the new players are unafraid to make their own. Obama was the first sign of this new era, and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez the culmination of it.
Times are no longer changing, they have changed. And white Republican men are now facing the prospect of a new society that they cannot control.
(image via AP)
Ben Cohen is the editor and founder of The Daily Banter. He lives in Washington DC where he does podcasts, teaches Martial Arts, and tries to be a good father. He would be extremely disturbed if you took him too seriously.