Members Only | November 14, 2018 | Reading Time: 4 minutes

Listen, Liberal. The Women Are Speaking

Liberals accepted as true what liberalism’s enemies said about it and them.

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Something happened at the Capitol Tuesday to reaffirm my long-held view that liberals should stop believing what conservatives say liberals believe. One of the biggest obstacles in the history of American liberalism has been this tendency among liberals to accept as true things liberalism’s enemies say about it and them.

Newly elected members of the US Congress arrived for orientation. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez spoke at a sit-in featuring about 200 people outside Nancy Pelosi’s office. The “protest,” as it was called, was organized by an advocacy group aiming to raise awareness about climate change and to advocate for more green-energy jobs.

This was manna to Ocasio-Cortez, who made history as the youngest woman ever elected to Congress after unseating US Rep. Joe Crowley, the former No. 4 in the House Democratic leadership. The 29-year-old Latina from Queens has been stumping for liberal candidates across the country, making liberal arguments in unapologetically liberal ways. That she spoke with young activists who are demanding action from leading liberals should have come as no surprise to anyone any time anywhere.

But then came this bit of disinformation from the spokeswoman of outgoing conservative House Speaker Paul Ryan to Capitol Hill reporters, which set the tone for the entire day: “Huh, well this is unconventional,” AshLee Strong wrote in an email to the news media. “The incoming speaker is getting protested by one of her freshman.”

From this point onward, Ocasio-Cortez wasn’t doing what a young dynamic liberal legislator does. No, no, no! She was “protesting” Pelosi! AshLee Strong paved the way for every Capitol Hill reporter to tell a story they had been wanting to tell even though the narrative” was based on a falsehood: that this unruly mob can’t be controlled.

This “narrative” drew the ire of liberals who would have otherwise cheered Ocasio-Cortez. It rekindled the battle between the youngs and the olds, between “centrists” and “leftists,” and between “insurgents” and “the establishment.” Worse, it inspired some liberals to trot out the old (often vaguely sexist) nomenclature: Ocasio-Cortez was grandstanding. She was showboating. She was this, that, and whatever. Too many liberals accepted as true what liberalism’s enemies said about it and them.

Thing is, when you actually listen to the women, a different picture comes to light. Not only was Ocasio-Cortez doing what young dynamic liberal legislators are supposed to do—bring new energy and new ideas to the table—she was charting her own course while forging alliances with established powers. She created a bridge between an energized under-30 base and the party’s leadership. She’ll likely be an invaluable ally as Pelosi plots a way forward. Few can say they’ve accomplished more on their first day.

Bloomberg reported the incident was a challenge to “party unity.” The Times said earlier these renegades may be unwilling to “toe the party line.” Fox’s Laura Ingraham thrilled at the sight of Nancy Pelosi trying to wrangle newly elected “insurgents.”

None of it was true.

As is the case when women rise to power, people are eager to project onto them what they want to see, and are not listening to what they are actually saying. Reporters can be trusted to frame politics in conservative terms. That’s what happened. Right-wing media can be trusted to cement the view that the Democrats are “a mob” and risk “overplaying their hand.” That’s what happened. But liberals ought to know better.

Here is what Ocasio-Cortez said to activists:

Should Leader Pelosi become the next Speaker of the House, we need to tell her that we’ve got her back in showing and pursuing the most progressive energy agenda that this country has ever seen.

Later, to the news media:

One of the things I admire so much about Leader Pelosi is that she comes from a space of activism and organizing. And so I think that she really appreciates civic engagement. What I’m here to do is to support the folks who are here. … This is about uplifting the voice and the message of the fact that we need a Green New Deal and we need to get to 100 percent renewables because our lives depend on it. …

We are here to back [Pelosi] up.

To which, Pelosi said:

We are inspired by the energy and activism of the many young activists and advocates leading the way on the climate crisis … We welcome the presence of these activists, and we strongly urge the Capitol Police to allow them to continue to organize and participate in our democracy.

Um, yeah, no.

This was not a protest, as Republican AshLee Strong said. It was activism. This was not disunity. It was unity. This isn’t the Tea Party. This isn’t a conservative party. It’s the liberal party. Reporters should cover it as such if only for the purpose of accurately representing reality. But liberals weren’t listening either. They should have been. Instead, they accepted as true what liberalism’s enemies said about it and them.

—John Stoehr

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John Stoehr is the editor of the Editorial Board. He writes the daily edition. Find him @johnastoehr.

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