The Corner

Politics & Policy

Paging Newsweek, Clean Up on Aisle One

Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D, N.Y.) following a televised town hall event on the in the Bronx , N.Y., March 29, 2019. (Jeenah Moon/Reuters)

AOC said something dumb and Newsweek is riding into her rescue with a piece headlined:

ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ ATTACKED ON TWITTER FOR CONSTITUTIONAL MISTAKE—BUT WAS SHE ACTUALLY RIGHT?

The freshperson congressperson said that Congress had to amend the Constitution to keep FDR from getting reelected:

“They had to amend the constitution of the United States to make sure Roosevelt did not get reelected. There were so many extraordinary things that were happening at that time that were uniting working people,” she continued.

FDR died in 1945. The 22nd amendment was approved by Congress in 1947.

That’s where Newsweek came to the rescue, “reporting” what AOC’s social-media fans said to clean up the mess:

The dates appeared to leave the argument cut-and-dried, with both Fox News and the Washington Examiner running the story and calling Ocasio-Cortez’s claims false.

However, some eagle-eyed social media commenters pointed out that the original architects of the 22nd Amendment were inspired by Roosevelt’s monopoly on the White House and began campaigning long before his death.

Now, this is correct as far as it goes, but it doesn’t go very far. As I noted on Twitter, there was a movement afoot to prevent another president-for-life like FDR, but the odds that AOC was referencing any of that or was even aware of it seem extremely low.

That’s why God keeps Newsweek alive:

“FDR did die in office in ‘45 and the 22nd amendment did come in ‘47 but Congress did start the legislative process in 1944 prior to his death so that he would not be reelected,” another Twitter user wrote in Ocasio-Cortez’s defense. “It was not ratified soon enough and he won in ‘44. AOC did not misspeak, friends.”

The National Constitution Center also had Ocasio-Cortez’s back. On its website, the nonpartisan organization explained: “Talk about a presidential term-limits amendment started in 1944, when Republican candidate Thomas Dewey said a potential 16-year term for Roosevelt was a threat to democracy.

Not for nothing, but Dewey was right. Among the myriad democratic norms violated by FDR, the most obvious was his flagrant defying of the tradition, started by Washington, of presidents serving only two terms.  But that’s irrelevant.

What is relevant is that the National Constitution Center did not get “Ocasio-Cortez’s back.”

The Newsweek piece concludes: “In March 1947, a Republican-controlled Congress approved a 22nd Amendment, with an exception that would exclude a president in office from term limits during the ratification process.”

The 22nd amendment exempted any president who was in office during the ratification process (and it wasn’t even ratified until 1951). So, even if FDR hadn’t died at the age of 63, even if he managed to get elected again despite his widely known frail condition, the 22nd amendment wouldn’t have applied to him. He could have run again in 52 or 56 as well.

I understand that people don’t want to acknowledge that AOC sometimes says very untrue, easily checked things. But since when is it the job of news magazines to try to clean up the mess, when it’s obvious the stain won’t come out?

Jonah Goldberg, a senior editor of National Review and the author of Suicide of the West, holds the Asness Chair in Applied Liberty at the American Enterprise Institute.

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