There are a variety of ways to describe the Republican reaction to the political rise of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-New York). There is even some science to help explain their sudden and viciously vociferous interest in her. We can bandy about armchair psychoanalyses and political explanations for this behavior all day long, but in the end, the answer is straightforward: The image of Rep. Ocasio-Cortez has become a Rorschach Test for assholes. “What do you see in this Ocasio-Cortez ink blot, Senator Rightdude?”
Nothing good, apparently. That’s a tall compliment all by itself.
Admirers and detractors alike call her “AOC” now, mostly because her full name with title is big enough to merit its own congressional representative and takes a long time to say or type out. That’s how it goes sometimes. Nicknames, however, have a way of breeding an oft-unmerited sense of familiarity, and her new GOP enemies have not shied away from talking about AOC in disgustingly personal terms.
You can know people by their friends, but you can also know people by their enemies. One good measure of Rep. Ocasio-Cortez is the manner in which she is pissing off all the right people (pun intended). She is also clapping back in a precise and damaging way her foes have never quite encountered before, further underscoring her character and intelligence.
One example of this comes courtesy of the singularly useless Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Florida), who goes out of his way to call her “attractive” and “adorable” at every opportunity. With this sprinkling of his magic sexist dust, Rep. Gaetz seeks to simultaneously diminish her standing as an elected official while objectifying her as nothing more than a vessel for sexual fantasies.
AOC is having none of it. “Just like catcalling, I don’t owe a response to unsolicited requests from men with bad intentions,” she tweeted regarding another detractor. “And also like catcalling, for some reason they feel entitled to one.”
Boom. AOC’s online counterpunching skills are already the stuff of legend. “She has 2.4 million followers on Twitter and another 1.8 million on Instagram,” writes Paul Waldman for The American Prospect, “where she mixes politics, policy, and humor in an appealing combination that few politicians can match.” She offered to teach the House Democratic Caucus how to most effectively use Twitter only days after arriving in Washington, D.C.
Any members who missed her class are the worse for it; AOC knows how to use the medium to lethal effect and rope-a-dopes trolls like she was born to the talent. Those abilities have served to twist her newfound adversaries into ever-higher states of agitation and rage. One cable network in particular has taken on the mantle of AOC-Opposer-in-Chief and pursues that role with frenzied, all-encompassing gusto.
Outside of the fetid swamps of 8chan and message boards of its ilk, there is no place in the US more frantically furious about the rise of AOC than 1211 Avenue of the Americas, headquarters for Fox News. Boy, do they hate them some Ocasio-Cortez, by the minute and the hour and the day and the week. One highly representative instance came by way of the intellectual vacancy known as Fox & Friends.
Speaking to guest Mike Huckabee, co-host Brian Kilmeade ominously intoned, “Somebody’s writing her questions. I saw the questions at Michael Cohen and saw the questions at Wilbur Ross. And there is some forces behind her.” (Pro tip, Bri: Someone is writing her questions, as is true of all lawmakers. They’re called congressional staffers, and AOC has some of the best.) Not to be outdone, The Huckster replied, “Well, there very well could be. I know there has been some allegations she that was almost like the Manchurian Candidate, recruited, prepared.”
Nice use of passive voice there, Huck. There have also been allegations that you couldn’t think your way out of a paper sack with a flashlight and a detailed map. Even the grammar in that exchange is a catastrophe: “there is some forces behind her,” “has been some allegations”? Plural-singular agreement rules is important, fellas. “It’s weird. Why are so many grown men just obsessed with this 29-year-old?” Ocasio-Cortez asked Late Night host Seth Meyers after the Huckabee segment aired. “No, but I think it’s really funny, and the conspiracy theories are great.”
Great, perhaps, but not entirely good. The ceaseless, fact-free assault on AOC and her signature Green New Deal proposal has caused her national poll numbers to suffer, which matters not one bit in her home district but could become cause for concern if she seeks higher office. This is the sort of treatment the right heaped upon Hillary Clinton from the beginning; they started in on her almost 30 years ago with a daily drumbeat of lies and distortions that were brutally effective in the end. AOC is the new Hillary at Trump’s rallies, with crowds now chanting “AOC sucks!” instead of “Lock her up!”
The tenor of the vitriol directed at AOC, spurred on by a loutish president and a wildly sexist corporate media that apparently learned nothing from its coverage debacle in 2016, has rapidly escalated from a condescending “Aw, ain’t she cute” to SHE IS A THREAT TO AMERICA AND MUST BE DESTROYED. “An email sent on Tuesday by Tom Ferrall, chairman of the Ohio Federation of College Republicans, bore the subject line ‘AOC is a domestic terrorist’ and asked recipients to donate to his group,” reported the Guardian on Wednesday.
“This puts me in danger every time,” Ocasio-Cortez tweeted in response. “Almost every time this uncalled for rhetoric gets blasted by conserv. grps, we get a spike in death threats to refer to Capitol Police.”
Indeed, AOC is not alone in this perilous boat. Her fellow freshman, Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minnesota) got the full Fox treatment after another integrity-free House member, Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R-Texas) deliberately misrepresented remarks Rep. Omar made about September 11. The New York Post followed suit with a bombastic and equally disingenuous cover story.
“Omar’s response to fellow congressman Dan Crenshaw correctly accused him of ‘dangerous incitement,’” writes Katherine Krueger for Splinter. “Just last weekend, a New York man was charged with threatening to assault and kill her. Omar has been an outspoken progressive during her brief tenure in Congress, along with her colleague Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and as a result, they’ve received a torrent of death threats. Couple that with the disdain her critics also feel for a Muslim woman speaking out, and you have a noxious, combustible gas. This needs to stop, right now, before someone gets hurt.”
We will soon mark the centennial for women’s suffrage in the United States, which is nice until you realize half the country’s population has only enjoyed the right to vote for about a third of the country’s existence. The fight for such elemental rights has been a slow but constant burn with progress made every day, evidenced today by the vivid presence in Congress of women like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ilhan Omar. Before them came women like Barbara Lee and Nita Lowey.
Those who cling to the idea of ornamental baby-making women existing in silence to please and flatter men are proving the point of the old saying: “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.” They are well into the fighting portion of the process regarding Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and all her compatriots.
The menace is acute, and the danger is real. I have no doubt, however, that AOC will emerge the winner in the end while thoroughly and hilariously owning conservatives on social media along the way.