The Slatest

Why Fox News’ Scare Pieces About Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Keep Turning Into Ads for Democratic Socialism

Ocasio-Cortez speaks outdoors in front of supporters holding signs and a banner.
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez at a rally for New York attorney general candidate Zephyr Teachout in New York City on July 12.
Spencer Platt/Getty Images

On June 27, self-identified Democratic Socialist Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez defeated powerful Democratic incumbent Rep. Joe Crowley in a New York City primary. Soon after, Fox News host Sean Hannity posted an ostensibly horrifying graphic about Ocasio-Cortez’s radical positions that became a viral phenomenon because it was, with some exceptions, a straightforward list of inoffensive general principles and economic policies:

In the time since her primary win, Ocasio-Cortez has been using her newfound prominence to campaign for leftist Democratic candidates across the country. On Tuesday, Fox went inadvertently viral again with a clip of Ocasio-Cortez, taken at a Friday rally for a Kansas candidate named James Thompson, threatening ominously to engage in further activism on behalf of the idea that working people should live in decent conditions:

On Wednesday morning, it happened again, in a Fox interview of a conservative Daily Caller writer who’d attended an Ocasio-Cortez event in Missouri for House candidate Cori Bush:

Here’s the germane part of Kruta’s answer:

They talk about things that everybody wants, especially if you’re a parent. They talk about education for your kids, health care for your kids—the things that you want. And if you’re not really paying attention to how they’re going to pay for it … it’s easy to fall into that trap and say my kids deserve this and well maybe the government should be responsible for helping me with that.

I was mostly uncomfortable because I was surrounded by a group of people who were talking about how they had gotten involved because they were tired of being angry all the time. It seems like so much effort to be angry about everything instead of to focus on what you can do to change it.

Why does this keep happening? One reason might be that what Ocasio-Cortez and other Democratic “socialists” like Bernie Sanders are advocating is not actual socialism in the sense of the government taking over businesses on behalf of the world’s workers. Universal free college is an extension of existing public education principles, just as “Medicare for All,” under many definitions of the term, would expand an existing system of government payments to private health care providers. The $15 minimum wage movement involves a mechanism that has existed since 1938 to regulate America’s predominately private employers. Regulating or even breaking up too-big-to-fail banks are ideas that have more than a century of precedent in American government.

As writers like Eric Levitz and Sean McElwee have been pointing out in exasperation for years, these kinds of ideas—which involve supplementing, not replacing, a system of individually autonomous free enterprise to ensure that its participants can all live a “dignified” life— are not just popular with communist revolutionaries but with the U.S. population as a whole. (As is the idea of financing those improvements by taxing the rich, an idea that does not seem especially impractical or unfair when the rich just got a trillion-dollar debt-financed tax cut.) One way to look at what’s happening in the Democratic Party right now is that it’s not necessarily becoming something radically new as much as that it’s going through a course correction to once again become the party of the New Deal. (Even more overtly socialist concepts like jobs guarantees are resonant with FDR-era programs like the Works Progress Administration.)

Here’s a section of Kruta’s Daily Caller piece that also seems relevant:

I watched as both Ocasio-Cortez and Bush deftly chopped America up into demographics, pointed out how those demographics had been victimized under the current system, and then promised to be the voice for those demographics. The movement, Ocasio-Cortez shouted, “knows no ZIP code. It knows no state. It knows no race. It knows no gender. It knows no documented status.”

Bush, after saying her piece, noted that she had been careful to allow speakers from across all demographics to make it clear that she was not running to represent just one particular group, but all.

Here you can see Kruta reaching for the familiar right-wing critique of Democrats as being divisively obsessed with “identity,” a talking point that has been unfortunately resonant with many voters who don’t seem to realize that Trump-style “shithole countries” nationalism is its own form of identity politics. But Kruta’s own description of the rally undermines her point, making clear that Ocasio-Cortez (who faced unconvincing allegations that she’d played cheaply to “identity” in her own primary) and Bush went out of their way to emphasize the ways in which their conception of a fair society has something to offer for people of differing racial and cultural backgrounds. Moreover, as Kruta’s comments in the Fox segment indicate, the ideas being promoted are constructive, rather than simply being expressions of elitist resentment or anger.

The right-wing media seems to believe that Americans have been so conditioned by Soviet-era revulsion to the broad concept of “socialism” that they’ll reject anything Sanders and Ocasio-Cortez say that can be labeled as such. But these Democrats aren’t proposing that every decision at a small business must be OK’d by a committee of Marxist college professors who want to be paid $100,000 a year to work 10 hours a week. They’re talking about the parts of socialism that Americans might like, and they’re doing it in a way that emphasizes work rather than entitlement and puts common interests ahead of cultural divisions. It doesn’t seem like a bad strategy!