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You might want to stop messing with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. (Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

You might want to stop messing with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. (Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Face It, Repubs, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Is Way Smarter Than You Guys

Not to treat her like the Second Coming—she is, again, just a neophyte lawmaker—but in her passion, her preparedness and her pugnacity, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is conducting a master class on the power of light and air, using the notoriety you gave her to do so

Leonard Pitts Jr.

 by the Miami Herald

Memo to the Republican Party:

You might want to stop messing with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

She’s a freshman congresswoman with no significant legislative achievements, so it makes little sense that you spend so much time and energy on her. Besides, every time you do, you end up getting pantsed.

You’d think you’d learn. Yet, like Charlie Brown trying to kick that football, you keep coming back for more.

The latest example began when one of your rank-and-file, Rep. Sean Duffy, took aim at the Green New Deal, Ocasio-Cortez’s wish list of social, economic and policy goals to stem the impact of climate change. He called it “elitist.”

She responded forcefully. “You want to tell people that their concern and their desire for clean air and clean water is elitist?” she said. “Tell that to the kids in the South Bronx, which are suffering from the highest rates of childhood asthma in the country. Tell that to the families in Flint, whose kids have their blood ascending in lead levels. … Call them elitist.”

That speech prompted another of your members, Rep. Andy Barr, to issue a dare disguised as an invitation: “Come to Eastern Kentucky where thousands of coal miners no longer have paychecks,” he said. “… Go underground with me and meet the men and women who do heroic work to empower the American economy.”

Whereupon Ocasio-Cortez did what Barr never expected: She accepted, noting that the Green New Deal envisions fully funding miners’ pensions “because we want a just transition to make sure we are investing in jobs” in mining communities.

His bluff called, Barr backtracked. He withdrew the invitation, claiming Ocasio-Cortez had to first apologize for an unrelated Twitter spat about a different issue with another legislator.

As fig leaves go, it was Saran Wrap.

For all his huffing about an apology, Barr’s real concern was obvious. Namely, if his constituents ever got to meet and listen to Ocasio-Cortez up close — that is, without the horned-demon-with-“666”-tattooed-on-her-scalp spin you Republicans always apply — they might like her.

Indeed, another Kentucky lawmaker, Rep. James Comer, suggested last week in an interview on “Hey Kentucky,” a local public affairs show, that you Republicans are “making a mistake picking on” Ocasio-Cortez, whom he described as smart and well prepared. Republicans, he said, “need to be very prepared when we debate her on issues that we’re having a hard time with.”

And here, it seems apropos to recall how participants in a town hall convened by Fox “News” recently caught people off guard by applauding another horned demon, Bernie Sanders. “Weird,” tweeted Donald Trump.

Weird, indeed. It seems strange things can happen if light and air are allowed into the closed and musty silo that is conservative political thought.

Not to treat her like the Second Coming — she is, again, just a neophyte lawmaker — but in her passion, her preparedness and her pugnacity, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is conducting a master class on the power of light and air, using the notoriety you gave her to do so. A new generation of progressive leaders is surely taking notes.

So a smart party would up its game, would quit manufacturing demons and start manufacturing ideas. Start manufacturing hope. It would be nice to believe that’s what you’ll do. On the other hand, Charlie Brown always said he wasn’t going to let Lucy trick him again.

It would have been nice to believe that, too.


Leonard Pitts Jr.

Leonard Pitts Jr.

Leonard Pitts Jr. won the Pulitzer Prize for commentary in 2004. His latest book is The Last Thing You Surrender: A Novel of World War II. His column runs every Sunday and Wednesday in the Miami Herald. Forward From This Moment, a collection of his columns, was published in 2009.

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