One of the rules of political communications in Washington, D.C., has always been not to give oxygen to false and malicious attacks. But the rise of President Trump — from reality show star to counterpuncher in chief — has undermined that conventional wisdom, especially for a younger generation of politicians comfortable with social media.
Case in point: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
“I grew up seeing these attacks on Nancy Pelosi,” Ocasio-Cortez, the 29-year-old progressive freshman Democrat from New York, told NY1 in an interview that aired Monday night. “I grew up with these attacks on Barack Obama. I grew up with these bad-faith attacks, even on Hillary Clinton. And so we know what’s going on. And I feel like what I’ve chosen to do is break this fourth wall a little bit and respond to them.
“We saw how completely unfounded attacks, like the birther movement with President Obama,” she continued. “They were ignored because it was beneath the president to respond to these things. But then they started to grow, and as we say, they grow legs and start walking around.”
Why does @AOC respond to personal attacks on social media? She tells @errollouis that she wanted to "break this fourth wall a little bit" after seeing conspiracy theories that were ignored by politicians start to grow legs. #NY1Politics https://t.co/LpkXwpZ59o pic.twitter.com/q34ynnKXVO— Spectrum News NY1 (@NY1) March 4, 2019
Obama was initially reluctant to respond to the conspiracy theory that he was born in Kenya, which first cropped up during the 2008 presidential campaign and then again in 2011, when Trump picked up the idea to generate publicity for himself and his NBC reality show “The Celebrity Apprentice.”
The White House eventually released Obama’s long-form birth certificate from the state of Hawaii because, as the president told reporters, the story was becoming a distraction to his agenda.
“We’re not going to be able to solve our problems if we get distracted by sideshows and carnival barkers,” Obama said in April 2011.
But by then it was entrenched on the right, and there are still some diehards who refuse to accept it.
Just this week, she responded to a so-called exposé on the front page of the New York Post that the champion of the Green New Deal is known to ride in a car.
I also fly ✈️ & use A/C— Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@AOC) March 3, 2019
Living in the world as it is isn’t an argument against working towards a better future.
The Green New Deal is about putting a LOT of people to work in developing new technologies, building new infrastructure, and getting us to 100% renewable energy. https://t.co/DZGE1WwLbn
“I think that sometimes we have to take a little bit of a different tack and just squash it early and respond to them,” she told NY1. “And be unafraid to say, ‘You sound ridiculous.’”
Her interview with NY1 was, itself, part of an effort to squash a rumor that she doesn’t actually live in the Bronx, N.Y., district she represents in Congress.
“Even though it’s not a legal requirement to live in your district or your community, I think it’s important to do that,” she said during the interview, which was conducted in her Bronx apartment. “I just don’t think that you can really keep a pulse on what’s going on in your community if you’re not there every weekend.”
In an interview with the New Yorker, Ocasio-Cortez admitted the fight can be exhausting.
“It feels like an extra job,” Ocasio-Cortez told the New Yorker regarding the attacks. “I’ve got a full-time job in Congress and then I moonlight as America’s greatest villain, or as the new hope. And it’s pretty tiring.
“... I believe health care is a right and people should be paid enough to live. Those are offensive values to them,” she said of her detractors on the right. “But this ravenous hysteria — it’s really getting to a level that is kind of out of control. It’s dangerous and even scary. I have days when it seems some people want to stoke just enough of it to have just enough plausible deniability if something happens to me.”
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