Why Ocasio-Cortez scares the political establishment

People newly elected to the House of Representatives are usually considered political nonentities. Nobody outside their districts pays any attention to them, they get put on minor committees that deal with issues on the fringes, and have to slowly work their way up the seniority ranks before they are taken seriously. So the prominence of the new batch of Democratic congresspersons, especially the women, is something different. And of these, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is the standout.

That she has seriously ruffled establishment feathers can be seen in the attacks launched against her by the right-wing and the attempts by the Democratic party and liberals to ‘rein her in’, as this article says, with the Democratic party elders are using patronizing language about her.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is already making enemies in the House Democratic Caucus — and some of its members are mounting an operation to bring the anti-establishment, democratic socialist with 2.2 million Twitter followers into the fold.

The effort, described by nearly 20 lawmakers and aides, is part carrot, part stick: Some lawmakers with ties to Ocasio-Cortez are hoping to coax her into using her star power to unite Democrats and turn her fire on Republicans. Others simultaneously warn Ocasio-Cortez is destined for a lonely, ineffectual career in Congress if she continues to treat her own party as the enemy.

It’s an open question whether Ocasio-Cortez can be checked. She’s barely been in Congress a week and is better known than almost any other House member other than Nancy Pelosi and John Lewis. A media throng follows her every move, and she can command a national audience practically at will.

None of that came playing by the usual rules: Indeed, Ocasio-Cortez’s willingness to take on her party establishment with unconventional guerrilla tactics is what got her here. It’s earned her icon status on the progressive left, it’s where the 29-year-old freshman derives her power — and, by every indication, it’s how she thinks she can pull the Democratic Party in her direction.

She does not of course treat her own party as the enemy. She is instead demanding that the party fight vigorously for those things that it claims to stand for and what its voters want, rather that pursue the incrementalist approach that has got them so little for so long but has instead resulted in many people getting fed up and just dropping out of politics. What she is demanding is that the party run candidates for office who will fight for the benefit of their voters and not pursue the old ‘go along to get along’ strategy.

As Matt Stoller says, what this effort to ‘rein her in’ represents is that the “The Democratic Party insider culture is weird, creepy, and super out of touch. It’s basically the annoying people in College Democrats from the 1980s and 1990s who look down on others for not obsessing over Roberts Rules of Order.”

Adam Serwer makes a good point about why so many people, and this includes some in the Democratic party establishment and their supporters in the media, are freaking out about Ocasio-Cortexz

Some of the frenzy is rooted in sexism—conservative pundits have referred to Ocasio-Cortez as a “little girl,” and openly fantasized about going on a “date or two” with her. Some of it has to do with her politics—she recently suggested taxing income above $10 million at 70 percent, anathema to conservatives (but hardly as radical as they wish it were). She is an effective avatar of the rising left: a young, working-class person of color who is fluent in the culture of the internet and, unusually for a Democrat with a national profile, not easily spooked by criticism from the right. It is not surprising that conservatives would oppose Ocasio-Cortez; her politics are opposed to theirs. But that fails to explain the degree of interest she has drawn from her right-wing critics since winning the primary last year.

She represents the prospect of a more progressive, diverse America where those who were once deprived of power and influence can shape the course of the nation and its politics.

The focus on undeserving minorities receiving unearned benefits at white expense is not an incidental element of modern Republican politics; it is crucial to the GOP’s electoral strategy of dividing working-class voters along racial lines.

In America, when people of color succeed despite the limits placed on them, and use their newfound status to indict the system for holding others back, they are held up as proof that the limits do not exist, they are denounced as ingrates, or they are pilloried as frauds incapable of the successes attributed to them. The exception is if they present their success as evidence that the structural barriers are not as great as they seem, and that in truth the only thing that holds back marginalized communities is their own lack of ability or motivation. If they affirm the righteousness of the class and caste system that they defied to succeed, they are hailed as heroes by the same people who would otherwise have denounced them as frauds.

Perhaps the funniest attempt at patronizing her came from the always-odious Joe Lieberman who said that he did not think that she was the future of the party and hoped she wouldn’t be. The idea of a former senator, the easy winner of the title of the Democratic senator most likely to be mistaken for a Republican during the time he was in office, someone who supported John McCain over Barack Obama and killed the public option in Obamacare, thinking he knew what the future of the Democratic party should look like was hilarious for its utter lack of self-awareness. It would be like me telling young people what music they should listen to.

Ocasio-Cortez had a nice tweet in response that captured perfectly how irrelevant Lieberman now is except to the establishment dead enders. (The responses to this tweet are also hilarious.)

Ocasio-Cortez is not only not playing by establishment rules. She is playing a different game altogether. More power to her and her allies.


  1. Mark Dowd says

    She’s getting all the attention while you languish in obscurity? Maybe try to figure out why instead of being an envious little jerk. It’s not that much of a mystery.

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