Well, American politics hit a new low on Monday.
I wasn’t going to write this up, but ultimately, it seems relevant in light of stinging comments Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez delivered at South by Southwest over the weekend.
While AOC’s “irredeemable” characterization of capitalism grabbed all the headlines on Saturday, it was her scathing indictment of cynicism and political apathy that was perhaps even more germane in the current environment.
For those who missed it, here is the clip:
When we presented that on Sunday, we put it in the context of what will almost surely be seen in hindsight as a mishandling by the Democratic party of its own rising superstars.
Democrats’ willingness to ostracize Ilhan Omar for raising uncomfortable issues about the influence of the pro-Israel lobby and the tendency for moderates to adopt a condescending approach to the economic and environmental platform of Ocasio-Cortez, are indicative of an aversion to real change. That aversion isn’t pitched as such, of course. Rather, it’s justified by allusions to what’s “realistic” or “feasible”, which is precisely the attitude that Ocasio-Cortez took to task on Saturday in front of a crowd that was larger than that drawn by Elizabeth Warren at the same event.
Well, in a sweeping interview with the Washington Post Magazine published on Monday, Nancy Pelosi made a series of comments that seemingly underscored AOC’s contention that “meh” has become gospel and that apathy is everywhere and always couched in terms that suggest advocating for real change is tantamount to being naive.
Here is what the vaunted House speaker said when asked specifically about Ocasio-Cortez and Ilhan Omar, with whom Pelosi shared the cover of Rolling Stone this month:
So you’re on the cover of Rolling Stone with Rep. Jahana Hayes (D-Conn.), Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.). Do you see in this new generation of women lawmakers, not just them, but this generation, do you see yourself in them, or do you not see much of yourself in them at all?
Here’s what I see myself in them as: When I came to Congress I had no intention of running for office, shy person that I have always been. I was chair of the [California Democratic] Party, always advancing other people. I loved that because I cared about the causes of the Democratic Party, about fairness in our economy. My motivation is the 1 in 5 children who lives in poverty in America.
So what I see, and I say this to them: I was you. I used to carry the [protest] signs pushing strollers. … And as an advocate, relentless, persistent, dissatisfied always. But when you cross over the threshold and come to Congress, you can bring those enthusiasms, those priorities, your knowledge, your vision, your plan. But you have to want to get results. You have to get results. Then, you were trying to impact others making decisions. Now you are that person. So [my] being a progressive, a liberal from San Francisco, they can’t go any place I haven’t been philosophically. [Laughs.] … So I think I have a good simpatico with a lot of them because, again, that’s who I was. The young women today, though, coming in … the way they balance family and children and home, I’m in awe of them. I’m in awe of them.
That latter passage – and specifically the bit where Pelosi talks about getting “results” – sounds like she is again attempting to draw a distinction between activism and disaffection with the existing state of affairs and how one’s attitude with regard to being a “relentless, persistent, advocate” needs to be subjugated to the process by which “results” are obtained once one gets elected. If that weren’t what Pelosi was trying to say, she wouldn’t have needed to use the word “but” to start two consecutive sentences.
The truly disappointing bit, though, came when Pelosi weighed in on impeachment. Here is the exchange:
There have been increasing calls, including from some of your members, for impeachment of the president.
I’m not for impeachment. This is news. I’m going to give you some news right now because I haven’t said this to any press person before. But since you asked, and I’ve been thinking about this: Impeachment is so divisive to the country that unless there’s something so compelling and overwhelming and bipartisan, I don’t think we should go down that path, because it divides the country. And he’s just not worth it.
You said earlier you don’t feel it’s worth it to pursue impeachment. Do you believe he’s fit to be president?
Are we talking ethically? Intellectually? Politically? What are we talking here?
All of the above. No. No. I don’t think he is. I mean, ethically unfit. Intellectually unfit. Curiosity-wise unfit. No, I don’t think he’s fit to be president of the United States. And that’s up to us to make the contrast to show that this president — while he may be appealing to you on your insecurity and therefore your xenophobia, whether it’s globalization or immigrants — is fighting clean air for your children to breathe, clean water for them to drink, food safety, every good thing that we should be doing that people can’t do for themselves. You know, I have five kids, and I think I can do everything for them, but I can’t control the air they breathe, the water that they drink. You depend on the public sector to do certain things for the health and well-being of your family, and he is counter to that.
That, right there, is sad. And that’s what we meant here at the outset when we contended that American politics hit a new low on Monday.
It’s not so much about whether you think impeaching this president is the right thing to do. That is, we’re not necessarily saying it’s a sad day in America when a powerful lawmaker says she isn’t in favor of booting Donald Trump from the Oval Office.
Rather, what’s sad about Pelosi’s comments is that they suggest AOC is precisely correct to say that cynicism and apathy are now the default attitudes inside the Beltway.
Take a second to appreciate the stark juxtaposition between Pelosi saying that in her opinion, a sitting US president is i) unfit for office “ethically and intellectually”, ii) stoking xenophobia, iii) imperiling your children’s future by fighting against clean water and safe food and, hilariously, iv) working to undermine “every good thing that we should be doing”, and then suggesting that it isn’t worth Congress’s time to impeach that president.
Never mind whether this is Nancy Pelosi talking about Donald Trump. Just abstract yourself from that and think of it as the speaker of the House (any speaker of the House) talking about a sitting US president (any sitting US president).
How is it possible to reconcile the assessment you read above of the person occupying the White House with this attitude when it comes to impeachment:
[It’s just] not worth it.
The only way that is consistent is if Ocasio-Cortez is correct to say, as she did on Saturday, that “the ‘meh’ is worshipped now.”
And to re-ask her followup: