What do Democrats do about Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, New York’s 14th congressional district’s two-time winner and thorn that regularly punctures the democrat’s big tent?
What to do about the 31-year-old representative who has protested outside Speaker Pelosi’s office, questioned “Who is Black?” when asked about reparations, routinely criticizes President Biden, and who seems to have critical and inflammatory rhetoric especially reserved for MVP Harris?
Rep. Ocasio-Cortez receives an abundance of attention from the Beltway and mainstream media, positive and negative, and which seems not to matter to her, according to both her fans and detractors. She is both lovingly and derisively referred to by her now-famous initials “AOC” and as “Always On Camera,” due to the amount of coverage and publicity her social media posts generate.
To use an office analogy, Rep. Ocasio-Cortez is the public relations person who is great at generating attention and publicity but who is toxic in the office with her peers and management.
To use a sports analogy, Rep. Ocasio-Cortez is the player the general manager surprisingly drafted higher than anyone expected because her “potential was too great to pass up and she can end up being great,” but who still hasn’t proven the GM right.
And to use the friendship analogy, Rep. Ocasio-Cortez is the friend who will steal your joy, rain on your parade, and miss your big events while expecting you to be front-and-center, celebrating her big events, no matter how “small” her big events happen to be.
The conundrum of Rep. Ocasio-Cortez is that she has skills that could be developed with the right mentors to help the party – and herself – achieve some of the goals Democrats need to accomplish.
Her skills at questioning people during hearings are lauded on both sides of the aisle and are more effective than Katie Porter and Elizabeth Warren, both stalwart questioners. Rep Ocasio-Cortez can deftly weave questions, comments, and historical record in a way that breaks down the inner working of government, laws, loopholes, and malfeasance with skill that demonstrate her grasp of complex issues, and grasp of how to make witnesses squirm and sweat before they think of lying by commission or omission.
Though important, hearings aren’t the only part of the job and aren’t the most important part of the job. The most important job of state representatives are passing legislation to the benefit of constituents and the party at large. And as a legislator, she is terrible at her job, frequently listed among the least effective in getting legislation written or passed.
Having the most followers on Twitter, holding Instagram-Live events, or producing fun and accessible TikTok videos for followers are what businesses refer to as “good to have” but not “a priority” actions that provide immediate or long-term party or country benefits.
That is not to say that Rep Ocasio-Cortez’s online skills aren’t needed or wanted, because they are. Politics are necessarily online and have been since the country entered the digital age. Online skill and manipulation were important in getting President Obama elected, important to foreign governments stealing the election for Donald Trump, and important to the insurrectionists to organize the overthrow of the government.
The only people who seem to be slow, relative to Rep. Ocasio-Cortez, the GQP backers, and foreign governments to recognize the all-consuming importance of online marketing, is the Democratic National Committee. The DNC could learn a lot from Rep. Ocasio-Cortez and, if she were willing, utilize her skills and abilities to reach a broader and younger audience, which would present them a launch pad for growing the party and getting a larger share of first- and second-time voters.
But that would only work if Rep. Ocasio-Cortez were actually willing to help and not hinder Democrats.
And therein lies the rub.
Rep. Ocasio-Cortez has been in office long enough for opinions on her allegiance to the Democratic Party to be settled, and the opinion many now hold is that she is not a Democrat, does not have Democratic policies as her priorities, and she has no interest in championing Democratic policy positions.
To the contrary, Rep. Ocasio-Cortez is the living example of the popular business saying:
Don’t stop good for great.
She is an absolutist, a “my way or the highway” person, and a “my rules or I take my ball and go home” person.
She is a terrible teammate, a bad coworker, and an energy and joy thief who drains the Democratic Party of energy while raining negativity on any and all party accomplishments.
She is the friend who downplays your new promotion, who doesn’t congratulate you when you announce your engagement, or who says “I also have an announcement” after you announce your good news. And she is, as the young folk say, a “frenemy” of the Democratic Party.
Do you recall her congratulating the Biden-Harris administration when the relief package was approved? When health care subsidies were increased? What about the judges that were just approved? Child tax credits? The extensive work to deliver vaccinations here and abroad? What about MVP’s work and accomplishments? Any of them? There are so many accomplishments the administration has delivered during the past six months but you will find few congratulatory tweets or press releases from her – unless she finds a way to insert herself so that she also gets credit.
If she were your friend, your therapist would ask you to question whether she is truly your friend and after you’ve interrogated your relationship you would come to realize that she is not.
You will be sad and hope you can salvage your relationship with her so you will approach her and let her know what your therapist said. You’ll be earnest and she will meet your earnestness with “I am who I am and you can take me or not because I am not changing. I am honest but your therapist is changing you. It’s you, not me. I do everything with and for you and I stick by you, so if you don’t want to be my friend, then that is on you because I am not changing who I am for you or anybody else.”
That is who she is.
Democrats do not have the option of kicking her out of the big-tent party, and she is in a comfortably blue district so she isn’t going anywhere soon, so what should the approach be?
Would a mentor help? Probably not. Rep. Ocasio-Cortez has shown herself to be incapable of being mentored, having gotten her stuck-up wings from Mr. Stuck-up himself, Bernie Sanders. She doesn’t appear to be a “listen and learn first, and then talk and act” person, preferring to fan the flames from a place of willful ignorance rather than doing the boring and effective reaction of reading, learning, questioning, and then speaking.
We saw it happen just this week as MVP Harris, who is out of the country visiting Guatemala and Mexico, was widely quoted out of context in her speech in Guatemala, saying “Do not come,” to migrants who may be thinking of making the dangerous trek to the U.S. southern border.
Rep. Ocasio-Cortez jumped on the quote and ran with it straight to social media to express her “disappointment in MVP Harris for saying that.”
The media then added Rep. Ocasio-Cortez’s words of disappointment to their poor reporting to frame the Biden-Harris administration border and immigration efforts as failures.
If Rep. Ocasio-Cortez had taken the time to listen to the full speech, she would have known that MVP Harris gave a thorough, nuanced, and critically important speech that was praised by the president of Guatemala and other international and national observers. MVP Harris said it best though by clearly stating she wanted “everyone to be safe at home so there’s no need to attempt a dangerous thousand-mile journey with no guarantee of success but which almost certainly would be violent and end with an arrest or being turned away.”
But even if Rep. Ocasio-Cortez did not have the time (she did) to listen to the entire speech, it only takes a small amount of political and common sense to know that a sitting vice president cannot got to a South American country, or any country, and say on the world stage: “Pack your bags and head to our border.”
Guatemalan officials said as much, telling reporters that there would be such a rush to leave that it would devastate the country and cause major issues between neighbor Mexico, and, of course, with this country, the media, border states, and the opposition party.
By her actions, Democrats can know her, and she has shown that she is not an advocate for advancement of Democratic principles unless those principals precisely mirror her own.
Instead of her harnessing her skills to benefit the party, she routinely uses her national attention to tear down the party and its leaders. And because she does it with such regularity, she is a darling of the mostly conservative, mostly white male, Beltway and national media, who are enamored with her because she will give them negative quotes about Democrats and shit on every accomplishment the party makes.
Just like any Republican will do.
It is not about the issues, or success as a legislature, or even one’s potential. If it were, Rep. Lauren Underwood would be the most widely acclaimed young representative because she, not Rep. Ocasio-Cortez, is the party’s future.
So what then does Democratic leadership do about a socially popular, telegenic, extremely far-left representative who hates the party she willingly joined, and who is ineffective at doing the most important part of her job?
One thing is to realize the truth: she is not ever going to be a party loyalist. She won’t campaign for what she and her ilk call “centrists and corporate” Democrats. And she won’t stop publicly criticizing party leaders.
Since she is likely to be reelected again, the best course of action is to keep her close and give her tasks that are tailored to her strengths: committees that investigate, and complex assignments that require the ability to make them plain to her constituents and voters across the country. Because she has the ability, like most good public relations people, to synthesize complexity to simplicity and do so with enough emotion to gain agreement and “followers,” she can be a force for good, even when the good goes against her contrarian political DNA.
Because as it stands right now, Rep. Ocasio-Cortez will be another difficult hurdle for Democrats to overcome in 2022, 2024, and beyond. And without a plan to reign her in or gain her trust so that she begins the necessary party compromises, she will continue to work against party interests, fan the flames of Republican and conservative media talking points, and be the toxic teammate and coworker who disrupts rather than builds.
If one wasn’t certain, one could be led to believe that Rep. Ocasio-Cortez is very similar to a few other Democrats in the party who work against Democratic positions and who go out of their way to vote and speak out against party interests and align themselves with the GQP. And if we are honest, we know that today’s GQP consistently works in the interests of both domestic white nationalists and Russian anti-Americanism factions.
Whether or not Rep. Ocasio-Cortez is a Democrat in name only, or secretly working with the GQP and their supporters to disrupt the Democratic Party doesn’t really matter. Her actions speak the loudest and right now those actions are against party short-term and long-term interests.
The sooner she is dealt with by party leaders and her peers, the better she and the party will be.
Because as 2022 and 2024 looms, Democrats are looking at an insider doing her best to ensure Democrats lose seats in vital elections needed to maintain a majority. And if and when that happens, she will be the first and loudest person on social media assigning blame to the party for failures that she worked so hard to see come true.
© 2021 by Myron J. Clifton. All Rights Reserved.
Myron J. Clifton is slightly older than fifty, lives in Sacramento, California, and is an avid Bay Area sports fan. He likes comic books, telling stories about his late mom to his beloved daughter Leah, and talking to his friends.
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