A little-known rule in Washington prohibits political newcomers from going more than a week without being subjected to another public attempt to put them in their place, which is why on Friday, Politico detailed the latest efforts of "exasperated" House Democrats to "rein in" New York congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. The piece is titled "Exasperated Democrats try to rein in Ocasio-Cortez."
“She needs to decide: Does she want to be an effective legislator or just continue being a Twitter star?” said one House Democrat who’s in lockstep with Ocasio-Cortez’s ideology. “There’s a difference between being an activist and a lawmaker in Congress.”
The story's principal gripes, some of which include attribution and most of which take the form of sniffing quotes like the one above, are as follows: Democrats are mad about her criticisms of the newest set of House rules that the caucus approved last week. They are mad that some of her supporters launched an unsuccessful effort to get her placed on the Ways & Means Committee, on which freshman typically do not sit. (They "suspect" that her office was secretly behind the campaign; her office has denied it.)
But they are "most annoyed" and "agitated," says Politico, by her enthusiasm for primary challenges to moderate Democrats. (The article's nadir comes when two anonymous sources compare her presence on Twitter to that of Donald Trump, as if a freshman lawmaker who dissents from positions with which she disagrees and a President of the United States who retweets racist memes are the same thing.) To put it differently, an unspecified number of Ocasio-Cortez's colleagues are upset that she refused to toe the party line on an issue of substance; that supporters want her in an influential position sooner rather than later; that she is good at Twitter; and that her unwillingness to compromise on her beliefs increases the likelihood that they will be held accountable for their job performance in the near future.
I understand, as her fellow New Yorker Carolyn Maloney put it, the sentiment that Republicans are the "real enemy," and that a centrist Democrat will be friendlier to Ocasio-Cortez's worldview than a suit in a MAGA hat. The implicit conclusion, however—that she must moderate her criticisms of colleagues, lest a savvy Republican fill the ensuing power vacuum—does not follow, and sounds a lot more like a disingenuous scare tactic that aims to muffle good-faith criticism so that party leaders needn't address it. (It is worth noting that she has since distanced herself from the primary challenge initiative, which the article acknowledges, and that she planned all along to focus on moderate incumbents in blue safe seats, which the article omits.) As the Tea Party and Freedom Caucus spent the last decade proving, one can work to shift a party's ideology without also hastening its electoral extinction.
What Democrats like those quoted here still do not understand, apparently, is that Ocasio-Cortez's failure to morph into a country club politician is the whole point: It is the reason people like her, and see her as perhaps capable of advancing policy proposals on which Democrats, despite their alleged best efforts, have not yet been willing or able to deliver. If she were another backslap-happy centrist who prioritized the accumulation of seniority above the promotion of an ambitious progressive agenda, she'd be Joe Crowley. Voters in her district were tired of Joe Crowley, whose each term was the same as the last, which is why they didn't elect him again.
Speaking of which: Sniping at Ocasio-Cortez like this is a habit that Democrats develop at their own peril. The party is two months removed from winning the House in a landslide thanks to the energy generated by young, envelope-pushing candidates like her, and already, some members are so nervous about what it might mean for their livelihoods that they'd rather squash that energy than see where it can take the country. I mean, Ocasio-Cortez literally cannot walk down the hall without enduring desperate, sexist abuse from conservatives, whose obsession with her every move stems from their crippling fear that her very popular ideas will be taken very seriously. For them, there is no more welcome sight than to see her marginalized by members of her own party, too.
Unfortunately for everyone involved, we will have to endure many more dumb headlines like this one in the years to come, because the media loves nothing more than the chance to run another breathless "DEMOCRATS IN DISARRAY?" tale of behind-closed-doors infighting. And for as long as there exist up-and-coming politicians who effectively challenge the status quo, there will be status quo politicians who pull journalists aside and supply them with anonymous quotes.