21 November 2018

Ocasio-Cortez as the Right's New Bogeywoman

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez became the youngest woman ever elected to Congress. At the tender age of 29 she has become a favorite target of the right. She's got everything they love in a target: a beautiful, energizing young woman of color is the exact opposite of the old, white congressmen like Mitch McConnell who they prefer.

With the recent loss of Mia Love in Utah, "Republicans will lose 43% of their women in the House, [dropping] from 23 to just 13. 90% of House Republicans will be white men," according to Dave Wasserman.  The Republican Congressional Black Caucus could meet in a phone booth: Mia Love was its sole member. Now that caucus can actually meet in an imaginary space.

Ocasio-Cortez represents everything the Republican Party is not. Exit polls tell us that race is a huge predictor of how one votes: 54% of whites vote Republican and 76% of non-whites vote Democrat. Age, too, is a huge predictor: two-thirds of voters under 30 vote Democrat and only 48% of voters over 65 do. Finally, gender is predictive: 51% of men vote Republican but only 40% of women do. A young minority woman, she is the embodiment of who Republicans cannot win and who this country is becoming.

And conservatives who have convinced themselves that Obama and Clinton were socialists are alarmed to encounter a candidate who actually calls herself socialist. For many conservatives, simply believing that science is real is enough for them to conclude that you are a socialist. I've seen little evidence that my conservative friends can distinguish between pushing for, say, a 3% higher marginal tax rate for inheritances over $3 million and shifting 20% of GDP from the private to public sector.

And in this willing ignorance of the difference between the socialism of a Fidel Castro or northern Europe, today's conservatives are unable to process who Ocasio-Cortez is. From what little I know about her, she has this huge advantage over my libertarian friends: she can point to highly successful communities like Norway, Denmark and Sweden that do what she is advocating; libertarians still only have examples from Ayn Rand's fiction.

This, though, is what is most comical about how alarmed conservatives are by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. She is one of 435 House members. One of 535 congressional members. Her vote on policy represents less than 0.2% (not 2% but rather two-tenths of a percent) of Congress.

I was a big Hillary Clinton fan and while I'd have readily voted for Bernie Sanders rather than Trump, I don't get excited by politicians who distrust business as much as Republicans distrust government. (I think that both positions are not only naive but show one of the last, widespread kinds of acceptable bias in this country, groups who openly condemn bankers or government employees as if they were sub-human rather than people filling roles without which our modern world would collapse, and yes, I mean that literally.) Socialists* and libertarians strike me as generally smarter than the average person but generally more naive about how the world works. They're typically better at articulating concepts than pointing to any actual examples of what they're advocating.

All that to say that I would not naturally be a Ocasio-Cortez fan. But I'm becoming one for a host of reasons. One, she has shown such grace in the face of the right's paranoid and incessant attack on her. Two, she's too young to be president and if a person doesn't lean towards socialist or libertarian thought (or both) before the age of 35 they're probably either a really boring or really simple thinker. Three, the things she is fighting for are really important. As she put it in response to a Fox news alarmist piece about her and other new women of color in congress, "Oh no! They discovered our vast conspiracy to take care of children and save the planet."

I share this country with 325 million other people. I never expect to have a set of policies that perfectly capture what I believe. I will say, though, that for me it is such a no-brainer as to whether I'd rather live in Ocasio-Cortez's world where adults get free university than Trump's world where immigrant children get free cages. And that may be the final reason the right is so alarmed by her: she is as appealing as their champion is appalling.


* In this paragraph I refer to socialists are people who distrust bankers. Those I distrust and consider naive. At their worst, they give you a society like Cuba's. Socialist is also used to refer to folks who see bankers and business as vital but merely think that healthcare and education should be available to all. Those I trust. At best they give you a society like Norway or the Netherlands.

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