Promoted from the diaries by streiff. Promotion does not imply endorsement.
As you may have heard, yesterday, Alexandria Ocasio Cortez gave an interview with 60 minutes because she’s apparently the new leader of the Democratic party.
I won’t reiterate the broad criticisms of her, as we already know those. Needless to say, she’s become quite a lightening rod and has been quickly elevated by throngs of left-wing proponents (also known as our media). In this interview she gave her usual, generalized policy platform full of rainbows and unicorn farts. Cooper mostly handled her with kid gloves, just as you’d expect.
He did finally press her on one topic and that was her penchant for “misspeaking” when it comes to the facts and figures of her proposals. This was the result.
COOPER: One of the criticisms of you is that– that your math is fuzzy. The Washington Post recently awarded you four Pinocchios —
OCASIO-CORTEZ: Oh my goodness —
COOPER: — for misstating some statistics about Pentagon spending?
OCASIO-CORTEZ: If people want to really blow up one figure here or one word there, I would argue that they’re missing the forest for the trees. I think that there’s a lot of people more concerned about being precisely, factually, and semantically correct than about being morally right.
This naturally led to criticisms from the right and in some ways, rightfully so. Obviously, someone eschewing facts for their own interpretation of moral righteousness is problematic. One of the cornerstone’s of conservative action, regardless of the topic, is to pummel your opponent with facts. In a perfect world, this would be enough and the public would always see the light.
We don’t live in a perfect world though.
With that said, I want to look past the gotcha here in Ocasio-Cortez’s statements and point out why there’s an important lesson Republicans better start learning if they hope to cease the encroachment of her ideas in our public policy. We can’t just keep putting out pie charts and fact-checking costs estimates. We have to win the narrative battle, which is as much a cultural and moral fight as it is political.
The sniping at the margins of Ocasio-Cortez’s ideas is part of what is helping lift her to prominence. Want proof? Look no further than our current President. In a field of over a dozen qualified candidates that were always ready to hit back at Trump with facts and figures, Trump won because his over-arching vision won the day. People wanted border security. They wanted someone who wouldn’t boil trade down to simply doing whatever makes the Chamber of Commerce clan the most money. They wanted a President who would actually follow through on his pledge regarding things like reducing regulation and suspending DACA.
I know what you are thinking. Many of the things I just wrote lack context. Things are more complicated than chanting build the wall at a rally. Trade wars can be harmful in many ways without a good plan in place (although there’s a national security case against continuing to enrich Chinese communists). Suspending DACA still leaves many questions left to be answered.
None of that stopped the public from sifting through the heel nipping and deciding that Trump’s larger narrative appealed to them over Jeb Bush throwing out another figure and obfuscating on his positions. If Republicans aren’t careful, the exact same thing is going to happen with Ocasio-Cortez and her policies.
We’ve actually lived this is in the not so distant past. When Democrats were pushing Obamacare, Republicans had facts on their side. We had the spreadsheets, the cost estimates, and the economic theory showing costs would rise out of control. What we didn’t have was a persuasive argument that could culturally push back against the moralizing from the left on health care. Not only did we lose that battle, but we lost all the subsequent battles on Obamacare as well, signaling that we may have actually lost the war at this point. Don’t kid yourself if you think the same thing can’t happen with many of the positions Ocasio-Cortez is espousing right now.
When she essentially asserts that many of those criticizing her are hung on up on the technical aspects while ignoring the core basis of her ideas, she’s not really wrong and Republicans can ignore that at their own peril. That doesn’t make her ideas good, but it does mean that you aren’t going to beat said ideas by correcting her math enough times. Calling her dumb (and she is indeed dumb) won’t do it either.
There has to be a moral and cultural argument that her policies are wrong.
The voters aren’t going to reject “Free Medicare for All” simply because you say “well it’s actually going to cost X instead of Y” a dozen different ways. I wish they would, but that’s not been a winning strategy in the past. We have to persuade them that if Ocasio-Cortez could deliver her “Green New Deal” for free, it would still be an awful policy not worth doing. We need to be able to communicate that point outside of just complaining about the cost or correcting her understanding of Congressional procedure. When Reagan would slam the Soviet Union in public addresses, he didn’t give an economic argument (even though that greatly existed). He gave a moral and cultural argument. He won the narrative battle. When Newt Gingrich brought about his “Contract with America,” he didn’t present it as a bunch of pie charts (see Paul Ryan’s strategy with Obamacare). It was full of simple, one line promises that people could read and say to themselves, “These are the right things to do.”
If we aren’t willing to make the larger moral and cultural argument against Ocasio-Cortez’s communist dreams, the public will eventually warm to them. They’ll decide that she’s advocating for the “right thing,” details be damned. That’s been the pattern for the last sixty years. Liberals push something radical and we scoff, while offering a bunch of facts and figures. Yet, in the end, the public latches onto the bigger idea being pushed. With Obamacare, it was coverage for preexisting conditions and the idea that no one should go without health insurance. Republicans lost that battle, and likely the war, because they couldn’t properly communicate why all of that was actually bad policy outside of just repeating cost estimates.
To bring up an example of contention on the Republican side, there’s a reason those on the right who oppose Trump’s wall aren’t changing anyone’s mind by bringing up claims about no terrorists crossing the southern border or talking about visa overstays being a bigger problem. That kind of sniping on the margins says to wall supporters that you are just looking for excuses while ignoring the core issue. It comes across as simply deflecting.
Democrats, on the other hand, are attacking the wall from a moral and cultural footing and in many ways they seem to be succeeding (at least according to recent polls). By the same token, Trump continually making the moral case (i.e. laws matter and should be followed) and the cultural case (criminals and drug runners hurt our society) for the wall is why he’s got the support he currently has. If Republicans aren’t careful, much of their criticism of the rising Democratic Socialist left is going to end up being brushed aside as low-level sniping and deflecting. We have to attack their ideas head on and from a broader vantage point. It also has to be in a way that resonates morally and culturally, not just factually.
Much of what I’ve written here is like nails on a chalk-board to conservatives. I get it. I wish it was as easy as just pulling up Excel and the public buying into whatever we present. It’s not though and if we don’t recognize it, we are going to wake up one day to a world where we had the facts on our side but people like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez still won the day. Sure, in the end, they’ll fail because socialism always fails but I’d much rather prevent us from having to learn that hard lesson.