Ocasio-Cortez And The Texas Flex

The cynical among you might be inclined to call it political opportunism.

The bleeding hearts will call it a manifestation of “hope.”

Whatever you want to call it, you should take note of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s actions in Texas, a state which, last I checked, was “several” miles removed from the Bronx.

Speaking at a food bank in Houston Saturday, Ocasio-Cortez hit the right notes. “When disaster strikes, this is not just an issue for Texans, this is an issue for our entire country,” she said, emoting through a fitted grey mask.

Her remarks were the culmination of an effort that began on Thursday evening when she announced that “team AOC” was officially “launching relief efforts” starting with a partnership involving five Texas organizations and a plan to get what she called “on-the-ground relief to Texans ASAP.”

Hours after her remarks in Houston, Ocasio-Cortez touted yet another in a series of milestones for that push. “Team AOC” raised $4 million in less than four days, she said.

“When we hit a million, then we hit $2 million, it was like, ‘Alright, we’ve got to get on a plane now,'” she told Texans, speaking to them on their own soil, before personally handing out food and other necessities.

The juxtaposition with Ted Cruz was stark and, one imagines, deliberate. While Ocasio-Cortez was busy raising millions for his state, Cruz stumbled into one of the most egregious public relations disasters in recent political history. Ocasio-Cortez “got on a plane” to Texas. Cruz, meanwhile, “got on a plane” from Texas. En route to Cancún.

To be clear, the timeline doesn’t match up quite like that. As The Washington Post recounted, Cruz’s “United plane touched down at Cancún International Airport at 7:52 PM Wednesday.” Around 24 hours later, he was back in Texas.

But the media backlash was a crucifixion. Cruz will likely never live down what some have described as a politically existential faux pas. That he subsequently put the mistimed vacation on the shoulders of his young daughters certainly didn’t help.

The point (my point, anyway), isn’t to lampoon or further chastise Cruz. The internet has taken care of that — and then some. What I would briefly note, though, is that his misstep doesn’t help a fractured Republican party, some members of which are attempting to distance themselves from Cruz and those who, like him, participated in the effort to reverse or otherwise cast doubt on the election. The New Yorker‘s coverage of the Capitol riots depicted a sad attempt on the part of participants to discern if Cruz was a kind of double agent. The excerpt (below) is lamentable for a variety of reasons, not least of which is that it speaks to just how confused and vulnerable some Americans are in an age when elected representatives no longer care about preserving the sanity of their constituents:

Some senators had printed out their prepared remarks for the election certification that the insurrectionists had disrupted. The man in the hard hat found a piece of paper belonging to Ted Cruz and said, “He was gonna sell us out all along—look! ‘Objection to counting the electoral votes of the state of Arizona.’ ” He paused. “Oh, wait, that’s actually O.K.”

“He’s with us,” an America Firster said.

Another young man, wearing sweatpants and a long-sleeved undershirt, seemed unconvinced. Frantically flipping through a three-ring binder on Cruz’s desk, he muttered, “There’s gotta be something in here we can f–ing use against these scumbags.” Someone looking on commented, with serene confidence, “Cruz would want us to do this, so I think we’re good.”

In addition to the national ramifications (for the GOP) of Cruz’s brief vacation, his decision to leave the frozen state for a resort while millions of Texans went without power and water (dozens died), also served to exacerbate blame-casting aimed at state Republicans.

All of that is important, but I would argue that Ocasio-Cortez’s actions were more noteworthy, and not just from a heart-warming story perspective.

Obviously, Ocasio-Cortez’s fund-raising push was an altruistic act that deserves all of the plaudits it’s received. But from a strategic perspective, it was a flex. And an impressive one at that.

I’ve repeatedly argued that Democrats are making a mistake by effectively sidelining Ocasio-Cortez in a misguided effort to avoid the “radical” branding that GOP strategists are going to apply to the party anyway. Establishment Democrats will argue that their strategy was successful as evidenced by the fact that Biden occupies the Oval Office. And yet, installing Biden at the top of the ticket didn’t stop Donald Trump from equating Biden with Ocasio-Cortez. If you subjected yourself to any of the ads run in Georgia ahead of the state’s runoffs in January, you know that the Republican party employed the same strategy there.

Not embracing Ocasio-Cortez as the future of the party is a mistake. Sports teams don’t bench their star players due to unfounded, exaggerated criticism. Record labels don’t wittingly turn down hit records just because an artist is controversial.

Ocasio-Cortez spent at least some of inauguration day wielding a bullhorn on a picket line with the Teamsters. That kind of thing resonates with disaffected blue collar workers. Biden talked. Ocasio-Cortez was on the scene.

She did the same thing this week, but on a much larger scale. While politicians sent “thoughts and prayers,” Ocasio-Cortez sent millions of dollars that she raised. Sure, the federal government will dwarf that in disaster spending, but that’s not what some Texans will remember. Some Texans will remember that rather than wait around on the federal government to coordinate disaster relief, Ocasio-Cortez did it herself. She wielded her star power to raise $4 million in 72 hours, and then she flew down to Texas and distributed it personally. Again: That’s a flex.

“Today we went to food distributions, water delivery sites, and home tours of impacted Texans,” she said Saturday evening. Have a look at the image (below). She attached it to the social media message announcing the $4 million milestone.


Sure, that plays great with the image Ocasio-Cortez is keen to cultivate, and it doubtlessly delighted her fan base, not to mention the other young lady in the picture.

But that visual isn’t merely an “aww, that’s cute” postcard from Texas.

What do you see in that picture?

You see “boots on the ground.” Literally. She’s wearing boots.

And you see water. She’s framed by pallets of it. On a day when national headlines read (for example), “Millions of Texans still scramble for drinking water,” she delivered drinking water. And not just any drinking water. Drinking water purchased with money she personally raised. Whether the water in that picture was actually purchased with those donations obviously doesn’t matter. It’s the symbolism that matters.

Speaking of symbolism, note how everything in the picture is “larger” than Ocasio-Cortez. Especially the little girl. She towers over the congresswoman. Ocasio-Cortez is looking up to her, not the other way around.

And yet, make no mistake: Nothing in that picture is larger than Ocasio-Cortez. She’s the center of the universe in that image.

In tweet after tweet, she feigned surprise at the success of her initiative. I say “feigned.” Maybe she really is taken aback. Maybe part of her is still in shock years on from her unlikely rise to national stardom.

Somehow, though, I doubt it.

The future of American politics is unmistakable. And I think Ocasio-Cortez sees it just as clearly as she sees the person in the mirror every morning.


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