Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is not just the youngest woman elected to Congress: She’s also a brown, insanely charismatic leftist. That means she must be an idiot—or “a little girl” (GOP campaign consultant Ed Rollins), “not ready for Congress” (American Enterprise Institute scholar in residence Norman Ornstein), “this girl Ocasio-Cortez or whatever she is” (Florida Governor Ron DeSantis), even “a shiny object” (former Democratic senator Claire McCaskill.) Google her name along with “ignorant” and “dumb,” and you get over 1 million hits.
I don’t deny that Ocasio-Cortez has made some slips: The Washington Post’s Fact Checker column has given her four Pinocchios, and CNN’s Chris Cillizza has lectured her for erroneously claiming that Pentagon accounting errors could pay for two-thirds of Medicare for All. Politifact said she was wrong, too, when she claimed that today’s low unemployment rate was due to people working multiple jobs; that Lucy McBath was outspent five to one by Karen Handel in their race for a Georgia congressional seat; and that the Pentagon received $700 billion it didn’t even ask for.
Whether it’s carelessness or simply reaching too quickly for numbers to validate what are essentially moral arguments—things most of us have done at one time or another—Ocasio-Cortez needs to be extra precise, since being a leftist and a woman of color invites special scrutiny. Even Whoopi Goldberg, who has been known to shoot off her mouth, advises her to “sit still for a minute and learn the job.”
Meanwhile, plenty of Republican officials make her hazy math look positively Newtonian. Can we talk about the ridiculous things they’ve asserted that barely raise eyebrows? Let’s leave the president aside, since I only have a thousand words; according to the Center for American Progress, a full 60 percent of Republicans in the current Congress deny global warming is due to human activity. That includes Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell, Ted Cruz, and Jim Inhofe, author of The Greatest Hoax: How the Global Warming Conspiracy Threatens Your Future.
How come the people busy mocking Ocasio-Cortez for her support for a Green New Deal take this crazy stuff in stride? How come nobody asks them about the connections between their global-warming denialism and campaign donations from the oil and gas industries?
The government boasts several creationists as well: Rep. Mark Green, who also has suggested that vaccines cause autism; Greg Gianforte, who once beat up a journalist; Steve Daines; Dan Webster; HUD Secretary Ben Carson, and Vice President Mike Pence. If Mark Harris, the fundamentalist pastor who thinks God wants women in the kitchen, wins his race in North Carolina, you can add him to the list. Men like them should be challenged about their weird anti-science beliefs. But that will never happen, because you can say any old nonsense as long as you call it Christianity.
Imagine for a moment that the foolish, careless, deceitful, ignorant, bigoted, or simply false claims of Ocasio-Cortez’s fellow lawmakers were subject to the same level of scrutiny as her occasional mistakes. “Tell us more, Senator John Kennedy, about your statement that our climate is ‘just a continuation of the warming up from the Little Ice Age.’” “Congressman Mo Brooks, you’ve claimed rising sea levels are due to the erosion of the white cliffs of Dover and the California coastline. Where did you get that preposterous idea?”
Why stop with global warming? “Representative Gohmert, can you back up your belief that Al Qaeda has camps on the Mexican border? What about your claim that gay soldiers undermine the military because ‘if you’re sitting around getting massages all day…then you’re not going to last very long’?” Iowa Congressman Steve King lost his committee seats after explicitly defending white supremacy—but he’s expressed racist and bigoted views for 16 years. Why did it take so long?
Ocasio-Cortez gets grief when she’s a decimal point off. But when she called for a 70 percent top marginal tax rate, former Wisconsin governor Scott Walker tweeted the following to illustrate the policy’s appalling injustice: “Explaining tax rates before Reagan to 5th graders: ‘Imagine if you did chores for your grandma and she gave you $10. When you got home, your parents took $7 from you.’ The students said: ‘That’s not fair!’ Even 5th graders get it.”
Does Walker really not know that a marginal tax rate is levied only on the portion of your income above a certain level—which, for Ocasio-Cortez, is $10 million? More likely, he thinks he can get away with it. This was a man who thought he could be president, and was taken seriously by serious people for years.
Ocasio-Cortez, for her part, tweeted the perfect response: “Explaining marginal taxes to a far-right former Governor: Imagine if you did chores for abuela & she gave you $10. When you got home, you got to keep it, because it’s only $10. Then we taxed the billionaire in town because he’s making tons of money underpaying the townspeople.”
Imagine if Republican freshman Dan Crenshaw, the former Navy SEAL who wears an eye patch due to a battle injury, got a fraction of Ocasio-Cortez’s scrutiny. Crenshaw was lauded for graciously accepting an apology when Saturday Night Live’s Pete Davidson made a joke about his appearance, but when Crenshaw recently recommended that his Facebook followers read a book put out by the climate-denying Heartland Institute, and tweeted that there would have been no government shutdown if the Republicans were in charge (spoiler alert: they were), there was no pushback—just crickets.
Then, just after the Super Bowl, Crenshaw revealed himself as ignorant as Scott Walker: “Should someone propose a 70% tax on the Patriots so that NFL competition is more fair and equal? Asking for a friend,” he tweeted. He needs to drop in on Alexandria; I’m sure she’d be glad to explain.
Author’s note: The Edward Said Public Library in Gaza, founded by two local university grads, has come a long way since I wrote about it almost two years ago. Thanks to generous donors, it has a rental space, books and book shelves, children’s art classes, literary discussions, and (minimally) paid staff. It’s an important resource for book lovers in the area, and a rare oasis of positivity and peace; it is not government-funded. Now it’s raising money for a year’s worth of maintenance and expansion. Can you give? Any amount is warmly welcomed, but if you give $25 or more I’ll happily send you a copy of my most recent book of poems, The Mind-Body Problem.