Few freshman members of Congress cause as much of a stir as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has. Articles about her are consistently the best-performing on right-wing news sites. The charismatic 29-year-old Bronx native has seriously ruffled the feathers of conservatives, unused to debating a Democrat with a genuinely progressive agenda. Her proposals include Medicare for All, a Green New Deal, free state college tuition, a 70 percent income tax on the wealthiest Americans and federal legalization of marijuana.
She is certainly keeping conservative writers busy; a search for “Alexandria Ocasio Cortez” produces 592 pieces on FoxNews.com, and 2,590 on the Daily Caller. The response from right-wing media has been little short of hysterical, with Fox News leading the charge against her and her ideas. The Daily Wire’s Michael Knowles described her on Fox.com (1/14/19) as the “voice of an ignorant generation”—a miseducated millennial who has “substituted ideology for scholarship.” (Ocasio-Cortez graduated cum laude from Boston University with a degree in international relations and economics.)
On the subject of the 70 per cent top marginal tax rate, Laura Ingraham (1/17/19) claimed, “Now, all of you [who] are doing better in the Trump economy, you should know this: They plan to take your money away and redistribute it to you know, wherever their pet causes are.” Dan Bongino (1/17/19) demanded that Ocasio-Cortez (AOC) donate 70 per cent of her salary to the government, claiming she “relies on a lot of economic ignorance to get you to believe what’s not true…her entire basis—the economic basis—for this is nonsense is based on garbage talking points.” The standard $174,000 congressional salary falls well short of her proposed top tax rate, reserved for those making over $10 million per year—a fact which raises the question of whom Ingraham is speaking for when she says “all of you” are doing better, and AOC will take away “your” money.
Other conservative outlets have been equally spooked by the self-identified socialist. The Washington Examiner (1/11/19) wrote that she “hates the rich” and thinks they “must be punished severely,” while the Daily Wire (1/16/19) quoted one individual who claims she speaks in the “vernacular of felons.” Breitbart (1/7/19) christened her a “Care Bear Commie” who planned to “impose watermelon tyranny on the US.”
Conservatives have also led a number of bizarre, contradictory and self-defeating attacks on the young representative. In an attempt to prove she is not working-class, the Washington Examiner’s Eddie Scarry attacked her for her choice of jacket, claiming it “did not look like a girl who struggles,” while the Gateway Pundit (1/6/19) revealed an “exclusive” scoop that she went by the “elitist” name “Sandy” at college.
Meanwhile, Turning Points USA’s Candace Owens attacked her for being “so fiscally irresponsible” that she could not afford to rent a second apartment in Washington, DC, before her salary began. The average DC rent is over $2,000 per month.
There was also the now famous dancing video, where AOC and her friends in college recreated a scene from the 1985 movie Breakfast Club. Digging it up was meant to humiliate her but backfired spectacularly, as the public interpreted it as a fun clip making her look dynamic and cool.
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These sorts of attacks on her background have flopped as they humanized Ocasio-Cortez and provided free publicity to her and her policies, which are broadly popular with Americans—even Republicans! Seventy-five per cent of the US public supports Medicare for all, including nearly two-thirds of Republicans. Sixty-one percent believe marijuana should be legalized (including 45 percent of Republican voters and 59 percent of those who “lean Republican”). Tuition-free public college is popular even among Tea Party supporters, while three-quarters of the population favor higher taxes on the wealthy.
While the right’s opposition to her was predictable, the response of centrist and nominally liberal media, who might have been expected to celebrate the arrival of a strong voice on the left, has been decidedly muted. According to a count by Media Matters for America, Fox News spent more than two hours covering her first five days in Congress, in comparison to 96 minutes for CNN and 52 minutes on MSNBC (New York Times, 1/13/19). When they did cover her, her policies were rarely mentioned: Non-profit consumer advocacy group Public Citizen found that Fox News covered her Green New Deal proposal more than all other networks combined (with NBC, CBS and CNN not covering it at all), while the right-wing Daily Caller mentioned it more than any other digital news source.
Centrist and center-left corporate media appear happy to cover how angry she is making the right (MSNBC, 1/5/19), her social media spats (Huffington Post, 11/27/28) or her role as part of a new cohort of women of color in Congress (Washington Post, 1/16/19). But when it comes to her politics, they often share the same misgivings as the conservatives. Newsweek (1/11/19) called her support for an increased top marginal tax rate “alarming,” while MSNBC (1/8/19) poured water on the plan, claiming it might simply drive the rich to leave the country.
CNN’s Chris Cillizza (7/18/18) declared that Democrats should be very cautious of supporting AOC, who “doesn’t know exactly what she is talking about,” that she and Trump are distinctly similar political figures with armies of brainwashed followers who “don’t even make an attempt to ascertain what the actual facts of any situation” (1/16/19), and that she represents a “very dangerous, slippery slope” towards a form of leftist Trumpism (1/7/19).
On her support for Palestinian rights, the New York Times’ Ross Douthat (1/16/19) strongly insinuated she was antisemitic, noting that the Democratic Party must find a way of “quarantining the kind of hatred” of the “left-wing, populist, anti-establishment” movement “reshaped by Ocasio-Cortezan energy” that is “influenced by paranoias and bigotries that bubble up on the far left.”
The centrist media response mirrors that of the Democratic establishment, who Politico (1/11/19) reports are “most annoyed” by AOC’s attempts to immediately influence policy, with House Democratic sources claiming she has “totally pissed off everyone” and that her use of social media is Trumpian.
It is impressive how much Ocasio-Cortez has upset the right-wing in such a short time. But when it comes to actual policy issues and not just Twitter spats, it appears the centrist establishment is as uncomfortable with a progressive agenda as the most frothing-at-the-mouth conservatives.