Opinion: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is media savvy and relatable, and the right doesn’t know how to handle it
Author Michael Arceneaux discusses Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s history-making political victory, conservative media’s obsessive and out-of-touch attacks on the new congresswoman, and her skillful, unprecedented ability to shut them down.
Shortly after winning New York’s 14th congressional district and cementing herself as the youngest woman to serve in Congress in the history of the United States come January, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez drew headlines for revealing that while she may be a history maker, she was having trouble finding a D.C. apartment.
Speaking to The New York Times, Ocasio-Cortez noted that she “can’t really take a salary. I have three months without a salary before I’m a member of Congress. So, how do I get an apartment? Those little things are very real.”
For many people, but in particular those of us categorized as millennials, it made sense. The D.C. housing market is expensive for those who are gainfully employed, much less someone in between jobs. If one doesn’t come from money and access, of course it may be hard to find a spot in a city like Washington D.C. But Fox News is not about sensibility, and because they have now formed a new boogeyman in the self-described Democratic Socialist, they did what they do best: attack.
First, there is the irony of a billionaire-owned news station (which functions as de facto TV for billionaire President Trump) featuring a segment in which news anchors—all of whom are likely millionaires themselves—mock someone who lacks affordable housing options. Beyond that, it is a telling omission that conservatives think their politicians ought to be Scrooge McDuck-like rich. Ocasio-Cortez seized upon this moment and redirected the shame where it actually belonged in the above tweet.
In response, another Fox News anchor, Ed Henry, said, “Look, I get it. I live in Washington. It’s very expensive…Members of Congress make $174,000 a year. That’s a lot more than people around the country.” Yes, but Ocasio-Cortez doesn’t make that money yet, hence, her plight. The dimness aside, Henry did extend an invitation to the congresswoman to appear on the network and discuss the issue. If I were her, I wouldn’t bother, but the point remains: She did not let them get the best of her.
Yet, this is Fox News we’re talking about, so naturally the attacks didn’t stop. Enter the morally corrupt Laura Ingraham who ran a segment on four new congresswomen (they were all non-white women, shocker), intended to elicit fear among its presumably bigoted as hell audience. Let Ingraham tell it, and everyone should be afraid of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Rashida Tlaib, Ayanna Pressley, and Ilhan Omar because they want to give people healthcare and abolish an agency that increasingly faces backlash for its inhumane treatment of immigrants.
Once again, Ocasio-Cortez got the last laugh. Still, others like Sean Hannity, his fellow conservative propagandists, and general curmudgeons continue pouncing. However, as many have noted, their lines of attack only really bolster Ocasio-Cortez and her message.
Enter Washington Examiner media reporter Eddie Scarry, who infamously decided to post a snapshot of Ocasio-Cortez’s outfit (without her consent) and use it as a means to effectively brand her a poser. In a since-deleted tweet, Scarry wrote, “Hill staffer sent me this pic of Ocasio-Cortez they took just now. I’ll tell you something: that jacket and coat don’t look like a girl who struggles.”
It’s as if thrifting isn’t a thing and stores like TJ Maxx, Burlington Coat Factory, Marshalls, Off Fifth, and Nordstrom Rack are a figment of our imagination. Scarry was dragged up and down Al Gore’s internet for being tacky and unappreciative of the art of discount shopping. Once again, Ocasio-Cortez was triumphant.
The right is good at many things like voter suppression, racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, corporate welfare, irony, hypocrisy, and cruelty, but they’re typically really good at smear campaigns, too.
However, they seem to have met their match in the youthful, media savvy Ocasio-Cortez. What she gets—and they fail to understand—is that she is a person turned politician who lives in ways more typical of the average American.
She knows what it’s like to live in a country where there is gross wage stagnation, oppressive forms of debt, and inadequate access to affordable health care, to the point that an increasing amount of folks turn to crowdsourcing to cover medical costs. She is aware, and they are not, which is why they come across as aloof and out of touch, making her, and her Democratic Socialist ideals, all the more appealing.
Back in July, a Daily Caller editor, Virginia Kruta, wrote “I’m A Conservative, And I Went to an Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Rally.” In it, she shared musings like, “I saw something truly terrifying. I saw just how easy it would be, were I less involved and less certain of our nation’s founding and its history, to fall for the populist lines they were shouting from that stage.” Like: healthcare, an education, and a living wage being a human right and accepting that the government has a responsibility to provide these things. When Kruta appeared on Fox & Friends to discuss her work, she said, “They say things—I mean, they talk about things that everybody wants, especially, like, if you are a parent.”
If you are laughing, you should be. Now, chuckle even more that this was articulated in July, yet Fox News is still attacking her with outdated lines about big scary socialists wanting to make sure you don’t die early at a way below preferred reading level. And then just bust out laughing over the fact that they’re probably not going to change, boosting Ocasio-Cortez and her message all the more.
Ocasio-Cortez doesn’t condescend to us the way many politicians do, and she speaks to issues many of us can relate to—regardless of our ages or backgrounds.
Mind you, this is a young woman who defeated Joseph Crowley, a man once touted as a possible successor to Nancy Pelosi. Whatever you make of her politics, one thing should be clear: If she managed to do that at 28, it suggests she has a level of savviness and appeal that should never be underestimated.
But because of her age and her ethnicity, one imagines that’s why the right thinks they can do to her what they’ve long done to others. About that, though: For all that chatter about Nancy Pelosi being a stain on the Democratic ticket due to the right’s vilification of her, the next Speaker of the House will be headed there with a 40 seat win—a feat not matched in several decades. Others have noticed the right trying to make a villain of Ocasio-Cortez, but I’d like to offer a prediction; at the rate she’s going now, Ocasio-Cortez will probably be the next Nancy Pelosi.
In this instance, I mean that as a compliment.
Michael Arceneaux is the New York Times bestselling author of the recently released book I Can’t Date Jesus from Atria Books/Simon & Schuster. His work has appeared in the New York Times, Washington Post, Rolling Stone, Essence, The Guardian, Mic, and more. Follow him on Twitter.