Politics

Why the Right Is So Obsessed With Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez

A guide to Republicans’ flimsy, self-refuting hatred of the incoming congresswoman.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez mills around with other members of Congress.
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez joins other newly elected members of the House of Representatives for an official class photo at the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday.
Win McNamee/Getty Images

Incoming congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez visited Capitol Hill this week for an orientation program for newly elected representatives. Conservative commentators relished the opportunity to take a few shots at their new favorite political punching bag. On Thursday, Eddie Scarry, a Washington Examiner writer with a long history of making misogynistic ad hominem attacks and taking surreptitious photos of women’s rear ends, tweeted a photo of Ocasio-Cortez walking down a hallway:

The tweet was immediately attacked from all corners of the left-leaning internet, with burns coming from meme-makers, who posted the text of Scarry’s tweet with photos of famous ridiculous jackets, as well as two of today’s wokest dictionaries: Dictionary.com (“Girl. Noun. A female child, from birth to full growth. E.g. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is not a girl.”) and Merriam-Webster (“ ‘The Ratio’: when the whole entire internet gets together to dunk on you”). Even right-wing propagandist Mike Cernovich told Scarry to delete the tweet, which he did, replacing it with a claim that he’d merely pointed out that “the incoming congresswoman looked well put together—ELEGANT even—despite suggestions she’s struggled.”

Before Scarry deleted the evidence, Ocasio-Cortez hit back:

It was a good response and an accurate analysis—there’s no possible way for her to prove she’s worthy of her stature to a group of people who aren’t arguing in good faith. But it was disappointing to see Ocasio-Cortez capitulate to Scarry’s insulting and flawed line of reasoning. Whether or not she got her outfit off the sale rack, she shouldn’t have to justify her spending decisions to prove her working-class roots or current financial precarity. People of all income levels need clothes, and while clothes appropriate for a white-collar working environment aren’t always cheap, they are available at most price points. And if Ocasio-Cortez had indeed splurged on a blazer to wear to her first visit to the Capitol as an incoming member of Congress, it would have been a logical decision in an industry that places a premium on professional appearance.

Ocasio-Cortez has at least two years in public office ahead of her, and if the buzz around her congressional candidacy is any indication, she’s going to be in the public eye for a lot longer. She should stop taking shallow insults seriously now, because they’re not going to let up. For better or worse, she’s become a boogeyman for the right. The less credence she gives the purveyors of these potshots, the more they’ll come across as the hysterical scaredy-cats they are.

The right’s obsession with Ocasio-Cortez isn’t merely flimsy. It’s self-refuting. Conservatives and liberal naysayers diminish the congresswoman-elect as a know-nothing millennial whose election was a fluke driven by demographic changes (read: voters blindly ticking a box for the candidate who looks most like them). But if they actually believed she was a naïf with no capacity to effect change, they wouldn’t be hyperventilating over her ascent. During his (ultimately successful) campaign for governor of Florida this summer, Republican Rep. Ron DeSantis called out “this girl, Ocasio-Cortez, or whatever she is” for having “no clue what she’s talking about.” When a gubernatorial candidate chooses a then-28-year-old politician in a state 1,000 miles away as his target before she’s ever taken office, you know she’s onto something.

It’s not hard to see why Ocasio-Cortez is a perfect straw-man villain for the right: She’s young, Latina, working-class, a woman, and a self-identified socialist. But Republicans are even more scared of Ocasio-Cortez’s ideas than they are of her identities. After all the unfounded claims that Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton would steer the country toward socialism, here’s someone who actually would. (Bernie Sanders is a socialist, too, but he’s also a jovial white grandpa—not enough of an “other” to merit a total pile on from the right.) By elevating Ocasio-Cortez to national prominence, Republicans hope to cast the entire Democratic Party in her image, making a party establishment that wasn’t too thrilled with her win seem like a bunch of radical, freedom-hating communists. It behooves the GOP to talk most about the Democrats its base likes the least.

The trouble is, whenever conservatives think they’ve caught Ocasio-Cortez espousing a position too terrifyingly leftist for America, she ends up sounding reasonable instead. Recall when Fox News host Sean Hannity posted a list of her supposedly radical positions on screen. There were a few that might sound scary to conservatives (“federal jobs guarantee,” “abolish ICE,” “Medicare for all”) but plenty that seemed like things just about everyone likes (“support seniors,” “clean campaign finance,” “criminal justice reform”). The more the right tries to signal its disapproval of the Ocasio-Cortez agenda, the more it sounds jealous that progressives are more amped about her than conservatives are about, I don’t know, Sen. Lindsey Graham.

Even so, the GOP will squeeze all the mileage it can out of the stereotype of socialists as brainless bleeding-heart idealists. It will try to portray Ocasio-Cortez as a hacky-sack player with a Che Guevara poster in her college dorm room, or a teary-eyed activist who likes screaming incendiary slogans but has never read a policy paper. They’ll hop on her every slip-up; she’ll have to be twice as smart to get half the respect of Republican lawmakers who deny the existence of climate change and don’t know how the deficit works. Ocasio-Cortez would be best served by ignoring their insulting tweets and condescending callouts. Her future is in the Democratic Party, not the Republican one, and her ideas speak for themselves.