Who’s going to tap Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez on the shoulder and tell her it’s time to take a breather… for her own good?
Before June 26, nobody had ever heard of the 28-year-old. But her stunning primary election upset over incumbent Democratic Rep. Joe Crowley made her an instant star on the left. Since then, however, her performance has not lived up to the hype. Now, let’s recap the underwhelming rollout the socialistic wunderkind has experienced:
Cortez incorrectly claimed, “unemployment is low because everyone has two jobs,” couldn’t elaborate on her criticism of Israel’s “occupation of Palestine” (“I’m not an expert on geopolitics” is the new “I’m not a scientist, man”), and wrongly claimed the upper-middle class doesn’t exist anymore.
Then, in what might be described as her “I can see Russia from my front porch” moment, Cortez claimed that socialized medicine would actually save us money on funeral costs. As Ed Morrissey joked, “…who wants to tell her? We’re all going to generate funeral expenses at some point, because we’re all going to die, regardless of how we pay for health care.”
All of this has happened in a few short weeks. And one wonders what’s to come next. At this rate, she will set a new land-speed record for being proven wrong via fact-checkers. Meanwhile, Ocasio-Cortez endorsed Democrats in contested primaries who haven’t exactly been setting the world, or the party, on fire.
Ocasio-Cortez is still the left’s “it girl” of the moment, but she’s one or two gaffes away from gaining a very different and difficult-to-shed reputation in more mainstream circles. It’s hard to say when someone will hit the tipping point, but she’s nearing the political equivalent of that moment when your friends hide your car keys and drag you off the dance floor. Yet nobody (except yours truly) is willing to give her the honest advice she really needs to hear: Not all fame is good fame. You have the potential for a very bright future. Don’t blow it. Take your time. Avoid overexposure. Bone up on the issues. Do the hard work. There’s no reason to be in a rush. The attention isn’t going to disappear if you don’t gobble it up right now.
I know this because I have seen conservatives repeatedly make the same mistakes for decades. Frequently, I’ve been encouraging young conservatives to reach for the brass ring. And, all too often, they have fallen off a cliff trying to grab it. More often than not, the young person we latch on to ends up being poorly served by the premature promotion.
U.S. Sen. Dan Quayle was a “Kennedy-esque” young rising star from Indiana who was perceived as young, smart, and boyishly handsome… until he became a joke. George H.W. Bush still was elected president, but where does Quayle go to get his reputation back?
Sarah Palin was a wildly popular governor in Alaska. She could have gone on to be elected to the United States Senate, and—had she taken her time—she might have one day had a legitimate shot at the presidency in her own right. Instead, she was plucked by Senator John McCain’s presidential campaign from obscurity, prematurely promoted, and (what might have been) a bright political future was snuffed out. (Or maybe she would have just had a normal life; either way.)
In 2016, the GOP fielded what many believed to be an impressive lineup of young Republicans. In some way, each of them saw their reputations diminished by tangling with Donald Trump. There’s a theory that conservative voters simply don’t like youthful candidates, but I wonder if those youthful candidates just weren’t ready for prime time.
Of course, there is an argument to be made for seizing the day—for making hay while the sun shines—whether you’re ready or not. One guy who knew how to strike while the iron was hot was a young senator named Barack Obama. Why was Obama able to make the leap?
Conservatives will tell you that it’s because liberals are shielded from the intense media scrutiny and mockery that conservatives (like Quayle and Palin) must endure. Obama fans will tell you that it’s because, having been a law professor, state senator, and basically an exceptional human, he was naturally precocious. I would argue that, having participated in more than 20 debates and forums in the run-up to his 2008 election, Obama was able to improve gradually before the harsh spotlight of attention burned quite so brightly.
For whatever reason, Ocasio-Cortez does not have those same built-in advantages. Just as you can’t really cram for an S.A.T. test, it’s hard to bone up on the nuances of international relations and domestic policy over the course of a weekend. She is literally being asked to go from being a bartender to being the symbolic future of the Democratic Party—in the matter of a couple of months.
In this regard, she’s closer to being the Sarah Palin of the left than she is to being the Socialist Obama. Think of it. Palin was a young and charismatic female candidate. She was from a very conservative area, which meant that she didn’t have to confront opposing arguments to the degree she otherwise might have had to. Unlike Obama, who got to gradually ramp up his campaign, Palin was essentially airdropped into the maelstrom of a political war. She went from almost complete obscurity to national fame in an instant, and she had to perform during the most intense three-month period of a presidential election cycle.
Remember, AOC hasn’t been elected to anything yet. Maybe she will rise to the occasion, but I think she’s in danger of being defined as a lightweight before she’s even sworn in. It’s the kind of mistake that a lot of promising young people make—partly because they are being exploited by older “adults” who want to latch on to their rising star.
I know it’s tempting to seize the day. Carpe diem. It is tempting to say yes when people suddenly ask you to campaign for them, appear on their podcasts or TV shows, or give a speech. But Ocasio-Cortez shouldn’t feel obligated to burn up her 15 minutes of fame. She has the potential to camp out in her safe congressional seat for decades. I’m not saying she should hide her light under a bushel, but she should take some time to develop her knowledge before being thrown to the wolves. There’s a reason why smart restaurants have a “soft open” before they let the food critics show up and tear them to pieces.
I know it is easy to ignore unsolicited advice coming from someone who disagrees with your politics. After all, she might think that I have ulterior motives. The truth is that I’m giving her the best and most sincere advice she could receive—it’s advice that her best friend is probably afraid to tell her. And the reason I don’t have to worry about helping a socialist is because I know she will promptly ignore this advice. She shouldn’t.