Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Needs to Be Schooled

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Needs to Be Schooled

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Democratic nominee for New York's 14th Congressional District, appears on "Meet the Press" in Washington, D.C., on July 1, 2018.

SourceWilliam B. Plowman/NBC/NBC NewsWire/Getty

Why you should care

The Democrats’ newest star should quit trying to become a national figure and learn more about her district.

Susan Del Percio

Susan Del Percio

Susan Del Percio is a New York–based Republican strategist.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has entered the political arena with rock star status. Her Democratic primary win over Congressman Joe Crowley, one of the most influential members of the House, was stunning and will go down in the history books. And she’s at risk of squandering her moment.

Crowley appeared to take the primary for granted, not even showing up for the debate and not having any idea that he was in potential trouble until about three weeks out. After all, his internal polling had him up by more than 20 percentage points. We often wonder how polls can be so wrong. In this case, it was because the congressman was polling the typical primary voters, while Ocasio-Cortez was reaching out to the people in the district who typically don’t vote in primaries, if at all.

Reaching nontraditional voters and persuading them to vote for you takes a lot of hard work and a message that motivates them. Ocasio-Cortez, 28, did all of that and more, and she should be recognized for running an excellent campaign.

The people of the Bronx and Queens voted for her and she would be wise to be working for them, rather than promoting herself.

She ran a grassroots campaign, focused on the needs of the district she sought to represent, and now that’s where she should be — in her district, not touring the country. While I do not agree with many of Ocasio-Cortez’s policies, her soon-to-be constituents do, and she should be learning how to serve them and deliver on her promises instead of basking in her newly found fame. With fellow far left candidates clamoring for her star power, Ocasio-Cortez has been campaigning in Missouri and Kansas, with plans to go to Michigan this weekend.

In a recent interview with PBS Firing Line host Margaret Hoover, the political novice demonstrated just how much she needs to learn. On the international front, Ocasio-Cortez referred to the ongoing Israel-Palestine conflict as an “occupation.” When pressed on what she meant, she admitted: “I am not the expert on geopolitics on this issue.… I just look at things through a human rights lens and I may not use the right words.… Middle Eastern politics is not exactly at my kitchen table every night.”

Fair enough. Foreign affairs weren’t high on her list of campaign issues. But unemployment and the need for a federal job guarantee were. And once again, Ocasio-Cortez showed that she was not ready for prime time. During that same PBS interview, she said, “Unemployment is low because everyone has two jobs. Unemployment is low because people are working 60, 70, 80 hours a week and can barely feed their family.”

The statement was false and later rated “Pants on Fire!” by PolitiFact. But Ocasio-Cortez’s misstatements seem to get far less piling on by the mainstream media than when Republicans such as Sarah Palin make these kinds of blunders. By this week, the media debate had shifted to whether conservative site CRTV had crossed the line by cutting Ocasio-Cortez’s answers on Firing Line into a satirical fake interview that went viral.

The good news is that while Ocasio-Cortez is not ready for prime time, people don’t expect her to be. She won the primary in New York’s 14th Congressional District and is all but certain to win the seat in November, which means she has been given a fantastic opportunity. She can continue to campaign on her issues and learn more about the job.

The people of the Bronx and Queens voted for her and she would be wise to be working for them, rather than promoting herself.

The trappings of being treated like a rock star are alluring, the fame can be overwhelming and attention is what all politicians desire. But if Ocasio-Cortez is serious about representing her constituents, all 700,000 of them, she needs to reach out beyond those who voted for her.

It is worth noting that she received just 16,000 votes in the June primary. (There was only a 12 percent voter turnout, which translates to nearly 28,000 votes overall.) This is not to take away from her tremendous success, but she needs to be reminded that she was elected on a Democratic Socialist agenda to take on the serious problems facing our nation, and she must be a serious student of how to tackle those problems. This is a critical time in our country’s history. We must have well-prepared representatives, even if we disagree with them.

Former House Speaker Tip O’Neill said it best: “All politics is local.” Ocasio-Cortez would be well served by staying in her district, figuring out how she will make good on her campaign promises and taking a pass on the road show.

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