When, last Thursday, she was asked an elementary question about spending, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez struck her best Cobra Kai pose. “I sat down with a Nobel Prize economist last week,” she exclaimed, contorting her face into Jack Nicholson’s and attempting to shoot webs from her fingers. “I can’t believe I can say that,” she added. “It’s really weird!”
Alas, nothing from this brush with greatness appears to have worn off on her. Mere seconds elapsed between the boast and the disaster that followed. Speaking to a friendly Trevor Noah, Ocasio-Cortez revealed that she does not know the difference between a one-year and a ten-year budget; confused the recent increase in defense spending with the entire annual cost of the military; implied that the population of the United States was around 800 million strong; and, having been asked to defend her coveted $15 minimum wage, launched into a rambling and inscrutable diatribe about “private equity” firms that would have been a touch too harsh as a parody on South Park. If anything, she was worse this time than she had been during her appearance on Firing Line a few days earlier, on which newly revamped show she demonstrated her obliviousness to the fact that the United States economy exploded during the 1990s, to the manner in which unemployment numbers are calculated, and to even the most obvious facets of the Israel–Palestine question about which she has assured her supporters she is so passionate.
“It’s really weird!”
It is, yes. Especially given that, before her two interviews aired, Ocasio-Cortez had taken to exhibiting that jealous penchant for credentialism that so stains the world’s wannabe socialists, and to boasting about her intellectual prowess. At the beginning of July, she tweeted with self-satisfaction — and a noticeably premature use of the word “other” — that she was “Wondering how many other House Democrats have a degree in Economics like I do?” Two days later, she upgraded that claim: “If you think the GOP is terrified of my politics now,” she threatened on Twitter, “just wait until they find out about public libraries.” Just wait, indeed! From a BA from BU to the embodiment of all human knowledge in just 48 hours! At this rate it can’t be long before she gives it all up and becomes an honorary Krassenstein Brother: “We are the way, the truth, and the light. Retweet if you love Love and hate Trump!”
In form, if not in substance, Ocasio-Cortez’s much-favored ‘you’re scared!’ approach tracks closely with the peculiar insistence of the modern Republican primary voter that if an outlandish candidate is widely reviled, that must mean he’s onto something good.
Ocasio-Cortez will almost certainly fail to improve when her honeymoon eventually concludes, for she is suffering from that curious form of auto-immune disorder that afflicts so many insurgent politicians. Mocked for her performance on Firing Line, she swiftly insisted that she was being criticized only because she threatened the powers that be. As a person seeking “substantive change,” she insisted, she was bound to be told “you’re crazy” or “you don’t know anything.”
Perhaps she was. But do you know who else is told they’re crazy and don’t know anything? Crazy people who don’t know anything.
In form, if not in substance, Ocasio-Cortez’s much-favored “you’re scared!” approach tracks closely with the peculiar insistence of the modern Republican primary voter that if an outlandish candidate is widely reviled, that must mean he’s onto something good. For all the hype surrounding her, she seems to lack even a modest helping of guile — and, worse, to exhibit no signs whatsoever of embarrassment or self-awareness. There is only one thing more awkward than the guy who hasn’t read the book his book report is supposed to be dissecting, and that is the guy who hasn’t read it and who doesn’t know he’s embarrassing himself by pretending that he has. That’s Ocasio-Cortez. Jamie Kirchick has observed that many of President Trump’s more outlandish statements make the most sense if prefaced with “on line one, we have Donny from Queens.” By this token, it might be instructive to watch every Ocasio-Cortez interview as if had begun with, “And now a Q&A from the bar at Netroots Nation.” Make Fremdschämen Great Again!
Given the extent of our polarization, it would be premature to assume that Ocasio-Cortez will suffer consequences for her ignorance. Criticize her and you will be met upon the instant with a barrage of righteous indignation. “Er,” her apologists immediately retort, “have you seen the guy in the White House? He’s not exactly Thomas Jefferson.” Which, of course, is not actually a defense of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez — what, on that logic might her slogan be? “I’m ignorant, too, but I’m younger”? — but is certainly a preview of the post-rationalizations that she will come to count on from her fans. “They all lie”; “They are all stupid”; “They’re just saying that because she’s a woman”; “Well, she’s better than the alternative”; ”Here is what she was trying to say” — these are the sentiments that lead us to embrace mediocrity or worse. Sure, she’s a fool. But she’s not Donald Trump, and thus . . .
“Why,” her acolytes are prone to ask, “are you making a big deal of this first-time candidate for Congress?” The answer: Because they are. Because she’s being hyped as the Next Big Thing. Because she’s now within the Vanguard of the Extra Serious Committee for Democratic Socialism in America. Because she’s making videos with Bernie, and being toasted on the Sunday shows, and running around the country on breathless, bug-eyed endorsement tours. Because, in other words, it is unreasonable to expect any political conversation to be one-sided — even if the favored participant has sat for a few futile minutes within the vicinity of a Nobel Prize winner.