The Cynical, Sexist Fantasy of AOCPolitics
Image: Kena Betancur
Last week, journalist Glenn Greenwald appeared on The Jimmy Dore Show, the eponymous YouTube show hosted by the comedian turned online-left paragon, which has a following of over 800,000 subscribers thanks to Dore’s irreverent approach to leftist politics. Greenwald lamented that Democratic Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez “ruined” an opportunity for the right and left to come together and fight income inequality. He noted that Americans of all political stripes have banded together in disgust toward Wall Street big wigs and hedge fund managers amidst the GameStop short squeeze.
The day before Greenwald’s appearance on Dore’s show, Ocasio-Cortez called for an investigation into trading platform Robinhood for its decision to“block retail investors from purchasing stock while hedge funds are freely able to trade the stock as they see fit.” Republican Senator Ted Cruz retweeted Ocasio-Cortez, voicing his agreement. Ocasio-Cortez wasn’t interested. (This isn’t the first time that Cruz claimed to agree with Ocasio-Cortez. In 2019, he very disingenuously agreed with her that birth control should be obtainable without a prescription).
“I am happy to work with Republicans on this issue where there’s common ground, but you almost had me murdered 3 weeks ago so you can sit this one out,” she replied on Twitter. “In the meantime if you want to help, you can resign.”
Ocasio-Cortez’s suggestion that Cruz should resign was in reference to the pro-Trump insurrectionists who stormed the Capitol on January 6. They were convinced that former president Donald Trump was the rightful winner of the 2020 election and determined to “take back” the country while Joe Biden’s electoral votes were formalized. For months, Cruz peddled the lie of a stolen election. The lie proved dangerous, as armed protesters entered the Capitol by force, many looking for Ocasio-Cortez specifically.
She continued: “You haven’t even apologized for the serious physical + mental harm you contributed to from Capitol Police & custodial workers to your own fellow members of Congress. In the meantime, you can get off my timeline & stop clout-chasing. Thanks.”
To Greenwald, this was a petty snub. So he mocked her, putting on a childish, bratty voice while ridiculing her concerns over her personal safety:
Greenwald: Ted Cruz, whatever you think of him, reached out by saying, “I agree with AOC about this.” So that was an opportunity for right and left to join together to do something that supposedly her main reason for existing as a political figure which is fighting income inequality and instead she goes, turns around and says, fuck you, I don’t want to work with you, you guys got me murdered, you’re a white supremacist. And suddenly the two camps divide again, and over here you have the red team and over here you have the blue team cheering like morons at a fucking high school football game again because she ruined that movement because all she wants to do is attack Republicans and fortify the Democratic party. That is what the left has become, and they know it. And that’s why all that’s left for them to do is do things like talk about your personality and occasionally mine
Dore responded: “It is stunning to see AOC turning into Adam Schiff.” Yet the only thing more ridiculous than the idea that Ocasio-Cortez is morphing into an establishment figure like Adam Schiff is the idea that Cruz is an ally that the left should consider with any seriousness. For Greenwald to naively take Cruz’s tweet as a good-faith step toward meaningful change is deeply embarrassing considering Cruz’s track record, and only makes sense when one considers that, at this point, Ocasio-Cortez can do no right in his eyes. But it’s not just Greenwald. He’s just the loudest of a growing chorus of post-left cynics who have created a fantasy of Ocasio-Cortez to serve their needs. Here, she is petty, a narcissist, and a disingenuous con artist.
Unsurprisingly, the loudest voices appear to be men.
Dore’s snide remark reflects an entire class on the left who have soured on Ocasio-Cortez, most recently due to her rejection of Force the Vote, an effort to push the Democratic-majority House to vote on Rep. Pramila Jayapal’s Medicare-for-All bill. To prompt a vote, progressive lawmakers were urged to withhold the votes House Speaker Nancy Pelosi needed to reclaim her speakership until she agrees to hold a vote on the proposal. This provision was amplified by Dore and others like Secular Talk’s Kyle Kulinski as well as Krystal Ball, co-host of The Hill’s Rising.
The effort was DOA.
In December, Ocasio-Cortez explained her position in a tweet to football player Justin Jackson, who supported the Force the Vote initiative: “The Dem votes aren’t there yet, and with a razor-thin margin the Dem NOs are > margin. So you issue threats, hold your vote, and lose. Then what? If you want to know who’s opposed look @ cosponsor list.”
Ocasio-Cortez’s reasoning angered critics like Dore. As Eric Levitz noted at New York Magazine, Dore’s contempt for Ocasio-Cortez grew louder and louder:
Dore considers this course of action so self-evidently optimal that the only possible explanation for why Ocasio-Cortez declined to pursue it is that the congresswoman is a fraud who cares more about her career than the needs of her constituents. “She is standing between you and health care,” Dore told his viewers last week. Responding to Ocasio-Cortez’s argument that it takes years of organizing to lay the groundwork for seemingly spontaneous progressive breakthroughs, Dore exclaimed, “I figured this out in two weeks, AOC! You liar. You coward. You gaslighter.”
Having Medicare-for-All at a time when millions of Americans have lost their employer-based-health insurance due to the pandemic’s economic downturn undoubtedly makes sense. The architects of this proposal knew that the provision didn’t have the votes to pass, but hoped that the effort would at least push Medicare-for-All back to the forefront of the news cycle, winning over voters. While political theater has its place, this wouldn’t have been a particularly impactful use of it. And Dore’s suggestion that Ocasio-Cortez, a congresswoman only recently elected to her second term, is single-handedly standing in the way of Medicare-for-All is absurd. This isn’t brave truthtelling, it’s petulance. But this is the only way that men on the left with platforms and influence seem to be able to talk about Ocasio-Cortez now.
It’s easy to see why Ocasio-Cortez garners their attention: She is one of the most prominent leftists in the House, has a massive audience, and is palatable to normies who didn’t get the memo that it’s gauche to call yourself a “liberal” in some circles now. But most importantly, Ocasio-Cortez has an earnestness about her that is deeply “cringe” to the swaths of the online left which traffic in cynicism and irony. This was made abundantly clear following Ocasio-Cortez’s Instagram Live on Monday, in which she detailed her harrowing experience during the Capitol attack.
“I thought everything was over,” Ocasio-Cortez said. She later broke out into tears and said, “I felt that, if this was the journey my life was taking, I felt that things were going to be OK… And that, you know, I had fulfilled my purpose.”
Her alarm was understandable: She’s been the target of numerous death threats, including by those who stormed the Capitol that day. Many of the insurrectionists were armed, and they were egged on by her own colleagues. But Ocasio-Cortez’s solemn description of fearing for her life was deemed indulgent and self-serving by her loudest critics, who were particularly bothered by her admission that her response to the attack and its aftermath is informed by her perspective as a survivor of sexual assault.
“I haven’t told many people that in my life,” Ocasio-Cortez said. “But when we go through trauma, trauma compounds on each other.”
This was immediately pounced upon by swaths of irony-poisoned leftist Twitter that seems more interested in owning libs and seeking allyship with edgelord right-wingers than attaining a policy agenda that aids the marginalized and working class. Again, this conversation was largely driven by men, though there were women who offered pithy co-signs too.
The obsession with painting Ocasio-Cortez as a sell-out to the left has been churning for well over a year now. During the Democratic primary, the same cynics suspected she wouldn’t endorse Bernie Sanders for president (she did, arguably at the most decisive moment of his campaign). When Sanders’s campaign was petering out, she was criticized for not doing enough to save it. And when criticisms aren’t Sanders-centric, it’s her inability to change the will of Congress and the often feckless Democrats she calls colleagues with a single tweet or floor vote that flares tempers. The power they ascribe to her is so much larger than what she actually has, or what any left-leaning members of Congress have. That doesn’t mean she can’t be effective, or that she is above criticism—at the end of the day, a politician should never reach stan status. But legitimate critiques are lost to petty grievances: Oh no, she talked about being assaulted. God forbid, she used an emoji in a tweet, how cringe. Fuck, she’s on Instagram Live again being relatable to the normies. Wow, she’s on the cover of a magazine wearing a designer suit? Agony.
The unmitigated ire against Ocasio-Cortez, above all else, is an overcorrection of the cynical ways in which celebrities, CEOs, and politicians have rendered identity-politics and marginalization for capitalistic and self-interested purposes. This corporate co-optation of emptied-out leftist values deserves pushback, but the left should be reminded that sexism and racism are part of what they claim to fight against. Repeating it here, with Ocasio-Cortez, serves the Ted Cruzes of the world. We need to be honest about whether these critiques against Ocasio-Cortez are plain old ugly sexism and racism hiding behind “anti-capitalism.” Attributing a jaded #Girlboss ethos to Ocasio-Cortez for being open about her sexual assault—for pointing to the subsequent trauma to explain her refusal to work with Cruz—does little more than easily minimize the real violence of sexual assault.
Given the ways in which people have weaponized their identities to justify cruelty, greed, and power—right-wing women co-opting quasi-feminist narratives, for example— it almost sounds simplistic to assert that the narrative surrounding Ocasio-Cortez from the left is just baldly misogynistic. But it’s hard to see it as anything else. Ocasio-Cortez inspires a kind of inexplicably fervent anger, a spirited vitriol that women have long known.
Ocasio-Cortez isn’t a socialist savior and never will be (the left’s work is rarely in the day to day of legislating). She doesn’t have the power to singlehandedly, as Greenwald suggested, end a movement of tepid left-right unity over a topic that is already last week’s news, or topple Nancy Pelosi with one vote. But reality is irrelevant here. The fantasy of Ocasio-Cortez—the narcissist, the con, the lib—is the only one that matters.