A lady and her dress, &c.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the Democratic congresswoman from New York, wears a dress saying ‘Tax the Rich’ at the Met Gala in New York City, September 13, 2021. (Mario Anzuoni / Reuters)
On ‘tax the rich’; populism left and right; the pandemic’s toll; an iron stomach; and more

The congresswoman is called “AOC” so much, I have a hard time recalling her actual name, frankly: It’s “Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.” (Named after the city in Egypt? In Virginia?) To a gala in New York, she wore a dress with some writing on it: “Tax the Rich.”

She looked great in that dress, by the way. I know I’m not supposed to say that. The Left won’t like it; the Right won’t like it. I don’t really care.

Which reminds me: Remember the jacket that Melania Trump wore when she traveled to Texas in the summer of 2018? She was going to visit children separated from their families at the border with Mexico. Her jacket said, “I Really Don’t Care, Do U?”

I think AOC’s dress and Melania’s jacket must be the two most famous inscribed garments in recent American politics. (Is that “on the order of celebrating the tallest building in Wichita, Kansas,” as Bill Buckley once said in another context?)

Anyway, “tax the rich.” I’ve been hearing these words, or this slogan, all my life. People are under the impression that the rich don’t pay taxes. Take the top 1 percent, only. The top 1 percent of earners in America. They pay 40 percent of all federal taxes. The bottom 90 percent pay 28.6.

Come on: If you want more revenue for the government — and we can debate that — you’re going to have to look to the multitudes: to the Great Middle. But no one wants to say that.

Politicians and pundits alike would rather engage in populist baloney than tell people the truth. Richie Rich will not fund your dreams. Daddy Warbucks will not save your day. You could tax the rich out of existence — bleed them dry, take every penny — and you would still not have enough to fund the big government of your dreams (if you dream that way).

People have to take responsibility for themselves, and the kind of country they want. Who will say it? Damn few.

Michael Novak said it, eloquently, in books and in articles. He passed away in 2017, but those books and articles can be sought out.

• In a broad sense, populists are alike, be they left or right. Be they pink-hued or brown-hued. They want big, paternalistic government. They rail against “elites” (as they define them). They rail against the “rich” (again, as they define them). They stoke grievances and whip up resentment. They appeal to envy. They use every trick in the demagogic book.

And they are effective, these demagogues, these populists. (The politician whom FDR feared most was Huey Long.) (And FDR could demagogue with the best of them.)

The GOP Senate race in Ohio is a carnival of populism. One candidate burns masks and bogeyizes refugees. The other candidate recently tweeted, “The white working class loved Donald Trump. As punishment, Joe Biden and Kamala Harris will kill as many of their children as they can.”

A question for you: Are these the politics of the future? Are they here to stay, for a good long while? Or are they merely the politics of this moment?

Not sure.

• Another Ohio politician, Congressman Jim Jordan, tweeted, “Real America is done with #COVID19.” Okay. But what if COVID-19 is not done with “real America”? That’s a problem.

In West Virginia — is that “real” enough for you? — the news is bad: “West Virginia set two daily records in the past week for positive coronavirus cases as the pandemic continues to ravage the state.” (I have quoted from this article.)

The governor of West Virginia is Jim Justice, who is not mincing words. Many of them were collected by Aaron Blake in the Washington Post, here. Last week, the governor said, “For God’s sakes a-livin’, how difficult is this to understand?”

I love that phrase, and will look for chances to incorporate it: “For God’s sakes a-livin’.”

• In the 1980s, a lot of people referred to AIDS as the “first political disease,” or “politicized disease.” People also said, “AIDS is the first disease to double as a civil-rights issue.” I wonder: Have the politics around any disease been as fierce as those around the current pandemic?

• Back to populism: Bernie Sanders, the Vermont socialist, generated a lot of excitement in the country during the last two presidential cycles. Because of his socialism? Do people care about Marx and Hegel, or Gramsci and Fanon? I doubt it. The excitement came from his populism. His attacks on the 1 percent. His promises to soak the rich. His railings against “the millionaires and the billionaires.”

That’s what gets the feelz, baby.

• As a rule, people adopt the style of their leader, whatever that style is, whoever that leader is. And the Republican style is the Trump style.

Earlier this year, Kevin McCarthy, the House minority leader, sent a text to his supporters: “I just met with Corrupt Joe Biden and he’s STILL planning to push his radical Socialist agenda onto the American people.” That is pure Trump: the derogatory nickname and the rest of it.

A few days ago, McCarthy tweeted, “NO VACCINE MANDATES.”

Remember Trump’s “LIBERATE MICHIGAN,” etc.? People ape their leader, for better or worse.

• Marjorie Taylor Greene, the Georgia congresswoman, is a big star in the Republican Party: the draw at fundraisers and so on. When the country was marking the 20th anniversary of 9/11 last week, I saw a video of her, from December 2018. It made an impression on me, not least because some colleagues and I had just been talking about Barbara Olson, who was among the dead on the Pentagon plane.

In this video, Greene spoke of “the so-called plane that crashed into the Pentagon.” She added, “There’s never any evidence shown for a plane in the Pentagon.” Okay. Then where did Barbara go? How about the others?

This stinks.

• Pramila Jayapal is a Democratic congresswoman from Washington. BuzzFeed ran a report on her, saying she was hell on her staff. One portion gave me a memory of long ago. Here’s that portion:

At times, Jayapal also grew upset with staffers over scheduling conflicts. Three sources recalled one instance in the office when Jayapal blamed a staffer for the lawmaker’s personal weight gain because she did not have enough gym time on her schedule.

Way back, a veteran Hill staffer told me about Bella Abzug, the colorful congresswoman from New York — who was hell on her staff. Bella frequently changed diets. One poor schlub was not aware of a recent diet change — so he brought to the congresswoman a tray featuring the previous diet. She fired him, as I recall.

In any event: tough boss, tough ol’ bird.

• David Frum wrote a long piece on the “Never Trumpers,” and an excellent piece it is, too. I would like to paste just one passage:

Years ago, the late Christopher Hitchens described to me the experience of losing his faith in socialism. He felt, he said, like a man tumbling down a hill, and every time he clutched a branch to stop his fall, the branch snapped in his hands. Many former conservatives and Republicans experienced a similar disillusionment during the Trump years.

A remarkable metaphor, or simile, or whatever it is: about tumbling down the hill. Vivid. Striking. You can practically feel it.

• Another old friend and colleague of mine, Jonathan V. Last, wrote a piece on the “abortion wars,” as he called them: a searching, thoughtful, honest, unusual piece. I have never read one quite like it.

In his next column, JVL had this note:

My Friday essay on why I’ve stopped writing about abortion prompted my last dozen conservative friends to turn on me for, in their telling, becoming pro-abortion. So far as I can tell, none of them actually read the piece. Concurrently, more than a couple readers wrote in to yell at me for being a paternalistic, anti-choice monster. Go figure.

I thought of something that George Rochberg told a young friend of mine. Rochberg was an American composer who lived from 1918 to 2005. It can be tough to be a composer (a composer of modern classical music): You’re in for a mixture of neglect and abuse. In any event, Rochberg said to my friend, “It takes an iron stomach to be a composer.”

Yes. It also takes an iron stomach to be a writer — a real writer, not a hack. Bless all of those, in whatever field, with iron stomachs. (My stomach is sometimes softer than iron — filled with milkshakes as it is.)

• In recent columns, I have been picking on sports, and the broadcasting of sports. Here I go again: A strange style has developed among on-field interviewers. They embed the answer they want in their question. They answer the question in the question, and want the interviewee to agree with them, I guess. I don’t know, it’s weird. Here’s a sample:

“How has exploding off the line and playing together as a team helped you this year?”

When I mentioned this on Twitter, someone responded, “Yes, and they say, ‘Talk about how . . .’”

That is so true. “Talk about how exploding off the line and playing together as a team has helped you this year.”

Anyway, watch for it.

• I have done one of the most unusual Q&A podcasts I have ever done — with Christopher Meyer, an old friend of mine, who is a veteran of the Afghan War and other conflicts. He discusses the catastrophe in Afghanistan and the “digital Dunkirk” under way: the effort, by veterans, to rescue people in Afghanistan who helped them when they themselves were there. Chris Meyer is movingly eloquent and blunt and impassioned. For this Q&A, go here.

• End today on some language? Okay, I have something contemporary and something older. I was in a southern-ish district of Manhattan the other day, and overheard one young man saying to another, “You think I’m from down here? I’m from the BX, homie.”

(The reference was to the Bronx.)

That same night, I think, I was watching a segment of I’ve Got a Secret, the TV game show that ran in the ’50s and ’60s. Garry Moore, the host, is talking about a new television set: something really innovative and new-fangled. “Isn’t that the ding-dongest thing you ever saw in your life?” he says. “That’s really wild.”

Go to 5:37, here.

The ding-dongest thing. Love it. Have a good day, my friends, and I’ll talk to you soon.

If you’d like to receive Impromptus by e-mail — links to new columns — write to


The Latest