• Daniel Ethan Finneran

Ocasio-Cortez: The Three "C's"

August 2018

In three words, and in keeping with the alliterative and Latina flare of the young politician’s name (which has, of late, become only slightly more familiar to the Anglophone’s unpracticed tongue), I would describe Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez as follows: comely, combative, and callow. Of course, should I be so lucky as to know this effervescent Ms. Ocasio-Cortez on a more personal level, I haven’t a doubt that I’d think more of her. I hazard, though, that I couldn’t think less. And until that time we meet at some homely little bodega in her native Bronx, or at some imitative and inferior pizza parlor in my native New Jersey, my first-blush trinity of adjectives will have to suffice.

Being that she is a relative newcomer into the public square, hers is a rather small sample size from which I’m pressed to choose my words. But I don’t hesitate to list my three: comely, combative, and callow. Nor do I feel any disquiet in doing so; these words aren’t an attack on her. Far from it, they’re intended to be neutral rather than vituperative—observations rather than invectives. Few others (especially from the right but increasingly on the left) will spare her as I do the biased the severity of their pens. That said, these are the words I ascribe to Ocasio-Cortez in what’s been a brief study of a young woman who’s been called at once and in the same breath the future of the Democratic Party and an empty flash in the pan.

Listed in the order of their ascending import, Ocasio-Cortez is at first comely. This much is clear. More than that, it’s strikingly and refreshingly obvious. Endowed with a swarthy complexion and an eager smile that forces her viewer to squint, she’s a very pretty woman by any standard of the day. Titivating her captivating style is her bold (and now popularly selling) red lipstick and her prepossessing manner of dress. Add to this that passionate readiness of her laugh and the depth and the sincerity of her brown eyes, and you’re left with a darling. A darling, if not of the airwaves and the soundbites (which have proven her weakest of mediums), than of Instagram posts and muted screens.

As someone interested rather in ideas than apparel and brains than bust, I do cringe at having just described Ocasio-Cortez in such a way and at such length. I hope not to have objectified this youthful and, above all, hopeful politician in too irredeemable a way. That said, like it or not, we do find ourselves living in a moment of prurience. Ours is an era of superficiality and a generation of televisual appeal. Looks might not yet be absolutely everything, but they’ve come uncomfortably close. The way one looks is incredibly (and unfortunately) highly esteemed—and Ocasio-Cortez looks good.

At the risk of sounding caddish, sex appeal in the world of public opinion is no small thing. Ask any of the unimaginably popular Kardashian sisters or Jonas brothers or some other smattering of pulchritudinous siblings, and you’ll know this much to be true. Sex appeal, much like the cover-up and the air-brush and the Photoshop on which they rely, has a subtle way of obscuring any number of deeper lineaments and screaming faults. In politics, it’s no different; an agreeable face smiling back at you from the screen can often overlook a field of ignorance and sin. (It might be added that politics, in this way, is an interesting beast. It’s differentiation from statesmanship is thus all the more necessary. Statesmanship (or in this case, stateswoman-ship) is somewhat less concerned with looks than is politics; at the final tally, the former deals with performance, the latter, with appearance. Ours is an age that values only one).

Having seen only twenty-eight summers, and having been a legitimate politician for only half of a year, Ocasio-Cortez succeeds where Washington’s hoary incumbents fail. She, unlike them, retains her youthful beauty and zest while the others endure the ravages of that double assault of mounting decades and political wounds.

Yet her wounds are more often than not self-imposed. In accordance with my second-listed trait by which I’ve chosen to describe her, it’s when Ocasio-Cortez thrusts the sword at others that she most injures herself.

While her comeliness hasn’t yet failed her, her combativeness undoubtedly has. Of such instances, a few come to mind, but none more immediately than her latest spat with the Conservative journalist Ben Shapiro. To recount, Shapiro—an always trenchant, acerbic, and indefatigable gale from the right—engaged with Ocasio-Cortez’s ideas on his very public speaking formats. This, so far as I can tell, is an approach he takes to all ideas—be they left, right, or center.

He, a professed acolyte of the Austrian school of economics, found much wanting in Ocasio-Cortez’s proposed fiscal agenda. She, of course, subscribes to the Marxian school of thought—a contagion of an economic theory to which she was introduced while at university. Latent in her bones after graduation, the fever that is socialism spread and it now bursts at her seams. Under the subsequent tutelage of Bernie Sanders (of whose ill-fated 2016 campaign she was a part), Ocasio-Cortez found herself further besotted by socialism’s ideals. Then as a nameless campaign aid, now as a potential congresswoman, she’s been stumping for things like socialized healthcare, cost-free education, and a munificent though thriftless expansion of the welfare state. It’s upon this economically illusory platform that her own campaign (in the likeness of Sanders’) has been run.

Playing the part of honest provocateur, Shapiro offered a donation to the tune of $10,000 to Ocasio-Cortez’s campaign if she were to discuss or debate her positions with him on his podcast. Days of demurral ensued until finally, the congressional-hopeful responded to Shapiro’s offer.

In a tweet intoned with palpable umbrage, Ocasio-Cortez shot back at Shapiro’s good-natured invitation by equating him to a lout—to some kind of a lecherous womanizer “catcalling” her as if he (an Orthodox Jew and happily-married father of two) were some kind of gruff, bedraggled, misogynistic construction worker whistling at female passers-by on a New York City lunchbreak.

Shapiro, in Ocasio-Cortez’s heedless estimation, was someone to whose “unsolicited requests from men with bad intentions” she needn’t reply. And probably, she shouldn’t have replied. Nevertheless, feeling that natural combativeness roil from within, she jumped to the last bastion of defense—male chauvinism and sexism and oppression—where none of the three properly applied. Thinking her comeback a formidable parry and thrust, she ended up doing nothing beside poking herself in the eye.

Perhaps, though, receiving a flesh wound born of one’s own hand is more desirable than being eviscerated by that of another. Had the two entered the ring, mano-a-mano, and gone forth and engaged in a debate, that latter fate, a sanguinary end, would’ve been the likely case. For no reason other than Ocasio-Cortez’s simple ignorance do I think this to be true—not because of her sex nor her race nor her age. Whereas she could go tit-for-tat in being combative, the depth of her grasp on the issues at hand would be quickly reached. And thus, we’re led as if guided to her third and final attribute—that is, her callow nature.

It’s this trait—listed, as it is, in order of its ascension from the least important to most—that is of the gravest concern for Democrats as they move forward through 2018. Simply put, Ocasio-Cortez knows not—or, to be more merciful, knows woefully little—about the topics on which she speaks. Perhaps still intoxicated by the fumes of an unexpected primary victory in her home state, she hasn’t yet sobered up to what’s coming next. More importantly than that, she seems not to have adequately “studied up” on the issues that will soon confront her. It will be these issues under whose burdens she’ll work day in and day out as a representative of us—her constituents and the American people at large on the Congressional floor (assuming, as safely we may, that she’ll win the general election come this fall).

If you’re in the mood to squirm in your chair, watch as she answers a question about her stance on the Israel-Palestine conflict. Opposite the interviewer Margaret Hoover of PBS’s Firing Line program, she looked every part the confident youth, but sounded very nearly analphabetic. There, sitting across from Hoover, the setting wasn’t hostile nor the questions tricky nor especially misleading. Hoover intended it to be a simple gauge of her potential congresswoman’s position on an intractable problem that has for years bedeviled the Near East.

Visibly anxious at having the question put to her in such a direct way, Ocasio-Cortez referred to Israel’s relationship to Palestine as that of occupier to occupant and usurper to rightful native. If you could clear through her hemming and hawing and her gasping prevarications, it was clear that she hadn’t a clue where on the issue she actually stood. The only support on which she could lean was the Democratic Party’s common talking point in which she hadn’t yet been submerged. That position is, on the whole, a Chomsky-esque denouncement of the Jews and endorsement of the Arabs. A sort of coup de grace came to this painful segment of the conversation when Ocasio-Cortez admitted that she wasn’t an expert on geopolitics. If only the stakes weren’t so high, both in the Levant and in D.C., one could almost appreciate her candor.

Where, then, if not in geopolitics, does her expertise lie? During a later interview with the left-leaning podcast, “Pod Save America”, she expounded upon her economic thoughts. After all, these should be her wheelhouse. Having taken a degree on the subject, one would expect that to be the area in which her greatest strength lies. Whereas her sails know nothing of the winds of foreign affairs (of which there are admittedly many), one would hope that economic theory would serve as her ballast.

Not so. Further afield did she drift. Added to the list of relevant topics about which she knows little is economics. She made the fallacious claim that the upper-middle class no longer exists (it most certainly does) and that the unemployment rate is low for the sole reason that people are now working two jobs and eighty hours a week (they aren’t). The government’s employment numbers belie her claims. She went on to rail against capitalism and the neologized “hyper”-capitalism that she and her fellow travelers perceive as the extortionate bane of the modern world.

If not for the green of money—against whose healthy accumulation she so ardently stands—Ocasio-Cortez is green in another reason; she’s green insofar as she’s callow. She needs time, and experience, and she needs to study. Her philosophy is immature, her politics under-cooked, and her potential to be a political thought leader in this second decade of this second millennium ill-deserved.

Alas, Ocasio-Cortez is the epitome of these three words—comely, combative, and callow. The frightening thought is that which sees her adding to this comprehensive list of “C’s” one final alliterative word. That word, of course, is congresswoman. As likely as this outcome is, one should hope not.

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