Are we really going to spend the interim between the election and the next Congress talking about Congresswoman-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez? Really?
It’s like a daily news cycle, most of which you’ve probably seen. The stories around her struggle to find affordable housing in DC until her Congressional salary starts in January. Then the even dumber story claiming having at least $15,000 in savings at the end of April while campaigning for Congress in NYC without job somehow made her housing affordability challenges questionable.
Then off course there was the social media kerfuffle about a less than stellar gentleman claiming a decent looking winter coat over Ocasio-Cortez’s arm clearly means she can afford simultaneous housing in both NYC and DC. Followed by an idiotic pile-on of her errantly referring to “three chambers” of the federal government.
Fine, she knocked off the fourth-ranking member of the House Democrats in a primary, she’s an out-and-proud Democratic Socialist, and she gets a lot of media attention. She also seems prone to verbal miscues at times on live TV and social media streams that make for easy targets for some on the right in our non-stop, bust on the other side, news cycles.
But, seriously, let’s pick our battles.
Here’s why part of what she’s doing is good for Congress and the country.
First, she is to Instagram what Ben Sasse is to Twitter, straight up killing engagement with a large audience (she has over 800,000 followers on IG and over 1.2 million on Twitter). Her IG stories are legitimately interesting, including “Congress Camp” saved as a feature on her IG profile, showcasing a newly elected Member of Congress navigate their first orientation. And they’re endearingly human.
She might appear in makeup, with contacts, and dressed up …
She might appear in casual garb, no makeup, and glasses. She is who she is.
She showcases here politics, like that Pelosi office visit …
And the dorky, in-awe factor of checking out the historic sights in DC during orientation.
Other right-friendly voices, including Seth Mandel and Tony Fratto, have noted what she’s doing here is effective. Consistent with Seth and Tony’s comments, she really made an IG Live Video about making soup and talking politics (while taking questions from her followers) a thing.
That’s human. We should want more of that from members of Congress. Just like Ben Sasses displays his humanity, real life, and civic engagement on Twitter
Second, she’s not old and she’s not rich. One of the great complaints about Democratic Leaders today in the House is they’re all old. That’s not healthy. Whatever you think of Paul Ryan, Kevin McCarthy, Cathy McMorris Rodgers, et al. (and Eric Cantor back in the day), they’re not old. They’re less likely to be out of touch with middle class voters. They’re less likely to be blind to the challenges facing families in today’s evolving society. On either side of the aisle we should welcome strong, younger voices…even as we might disagree strongly with their politics.
Concurrently, one of the great challenges of Congress, and even many state legislatures, is running for office and sustaining it without being independently wealthy, retired, or not the primary household income. There’s a reason why some Congressmen sleep in their offices. Busting on someone who has the stones to serve in the House while juggling that reality without great financial resources is unhelpful. Having more people of modest financial means in Congress is a good thing.
Third, Ocasio-Cortez’s social media success requires others to up their game. There are some Members of Congress who are pretty good at social media, and getting better. But there’s a lot who aren’t. Many are downright bad, on both sides of the aisle.
They don’t know how to create interesting content. They don’t know how to engage with other elected and thought leaders in meaningful ways. And they certainly aren’t interesting. Ocasio-Cortez, and others like her, being good at this stuff forces others to up their game. That’s good for Congress being a more engaged and accessible institution.
Fourth, Ocasio-Cortez is a ticking time bomb in her own caucus. She’s not afraid to attend protests in the office of the presumed Speaker. She’s encouraging intra-party primary warfare. She’s an advocate for policy positions that would decimate the moderate Democrats who were key in their party winning back the House, and would hamstring their 2020 nominee as well. And she knows how to amp all that up with a strong social media presence, which is no small part of why she’s on TV a lot as well. This is a bad thing for conservatives and Republicans because … ?
There are plenty of policy reasons to pick fights with Ocasio-Cortez and her ideological brethren if you count yourself a conservative and/or a Republican. But jumping on her ability to afford housing, the coat she wears, and a fascination with finding minor gaffes makes some on the right look like the press corps covering Mitt Romney in 2012: small, petty, and focused on all the wrong things.