SAN DIEGO – It seems nearly everyone wants to give Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez a scolding. But what we should really do is give her a break.
Much of the criticism is driven by fear. The worlds of media and politics are largely controlled by old white men, and a 29-year-old Puerto Rican congresswoman from New York doesn’t check any of those boxes.
Some of it is fueled by jealousy. I can’t think of another freshman member of Congress who was sought out for an interview by CBS’ “60 Minutes” or who gets mobbed by tourists asking for selfies.
Whatever drives the backlash, it’s obvious and undeniable that the political novice is being singled out for criticism and held to an unfair standard. Put simply, she’s being picked on. Her most unforgivable sin? Standing up for herself, and hitting back whenever she gets punched – by the right or the left.
In this divided country, conservatives and liberals finally have something they agree on: Ocasio-Cortez needs an education. Not just on the ways of Washington, but on the ways of the world.
The newly minted representative has barely unpacked her bags, or moved into her office. And, already, they expect her to know the answer to every question the media hurls at her. Many of those questions are ridiculous, and some are even unfair. She is expected to have it all buttoned down, while many of her colleagues will maintain low profiles and keep their mouths shut for at least the first year they’re in office.
Thank goodness that’s not Ocasio-Cortez’s style. After 30 years of writing about politics, I’m burned out on politicians who talk for a living and still don’t say a darned thing. The bartender-turned-lawmaker doesn’t hold back. She spouts off.
And she takes heat for it. One minute, Fox News’ Sean Hannity is blasting the lawmaker’s “radical” ideas. The next, Whoopi Goldberg on “The View” is bristling at Ocasio-Cortez’s criticism of establishment Democrats for compromising too much and is telling her to “sit still for a minute and learn the job.”
Rest assured, folks. Ocasio-Cortez is getting an education all right. Just not the kind her critics intended.
For instance, if there is one thing that people of color eventually learn in life, it’s this: White people are held to different standards.
And while this will come as old news to many Latinos, Asian-Americans, African-Americans and Native Americans, the standards for white people are often lower than they are for others. And white males often have the easiest ride of all.
The first time I learned this lesson, I was a college freshman staring at a roomful of my fellow Harvard Latinos and seeing a familiar pattern – light skin, high GPAs and a limited ability to speak Spanish. The university apparently didn’t want to take chances, so it skimmed the cream and played it safe.
The lesson is reinforced whenever I apply for a job, don’t get it, and then watch it get filled by a white male whose résumé is paltry compared to mine. Or when I see white males on cable TV “fail up” – getting raises and promotions, even with lagging ratings – when the people of color whom I know in media don’t have that experience.
Now Ocasio-Cortez has learned a similar lesson. Ever since her Democratic primary victory last June, everyone has gotten on her case. She is criticized for her tweets, her comments, her clothes, her tactics, her tone, her politics, her beliefs, even her dance moves back in college.
Republicans who championed Sarah Palin say Ocasio-Cortez is just not very smart, and those who supported Donald Trump insist she gets her facts wrong. Democrats who voted for Joe Biden criticize the congresswoman for saying the wrong thing, and those who supported Hillary Clinton complain that she has difficulty telling the truth.
Welcome to the political version of The Twilight Zone.
Ocasio-Cortez is sharp, so she gets the joke. When Anderson Cooper pressed her on “60 Minutes” about whether she thought it was important to be “factually correct,” she didn’t flinch.
“It’s absolutely important,” she said. “And whenever I make a mistake. I say, ‘OK, this was clumsy,’ and then I restate what my point was. But it’s – it’s not the same thing as – as the president lying about immigrants. It’s not the same thing, at all.”
Good for her. This rock star obviously has no interest in being anyone’s piñata.
As for getting facts straight, perhaps it’s best that we – to borrow a phrase – take Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez seriously, but not literally.
That’s still a thing, right?