Time’s ‘phenom’: Is AOC using the media — or the other way around?

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is officially a phenom.

Hey, the cover of Time magazine says so.

There’s little question that AOC has shrewdly used the media and the media have just as shrewdly used her – either as a young female heroine, for much of the mainstream press, or as a socialist target, for much of the conservative media.

President Trump has privately noted that Ocasio-Cortez “has it,” that indefinable star quality – though he disagrees with her on almost everything. And like the president, AOC enjoys picking fights with the press – especially those nettlesome fact-checkers – which in turn generates even more coverage.

She’s already been on the cover of National Review, pilloried for her Green New Deal. And what member of Congress, after just three months in office, has gotten the coveted Time cover status?


Perhaps the magazine is just using her as clickbait, or newsstand bait, like everyone else.

Here’s the nut graph of the Time piece, justifying the extraordinary focus on her:

“She’s a young Hispanic woman, three cornerstones of the party’s electoral coalition. She’s a democratic socialist at a time when confidence in capitalism is declining, especially among progressive millennials. The issues she ran on — a Green New Deal, Medicare for All, a federal jobs guarantee, abolishing ICE — are animating a new generation of Democrats. She’s a political phenomenon: part activist, part legislator, arguably the best storyteller in the party since Barack Obama and perhaps the only Democrat right now with the star power to challenge President Donald Trump’s.”

About the only thing keeping the pundits from swooning over her as a White House contender is that, at 29, she’s not old enough to run.

But the overcoverage can be justified in this sense: Ocasio-Cortez has become the face of the Democratic Party, perhaps even more so than Nancy Pelosi. Her supporters love the idea of a dynamic, Instagram-savvy, aggressively liberal change agent pushing the party establishment to the left. Her detractors love the idea of a self-described democratic socialist with huge spending plans representing a party that relied on more moderate candidates to win the House.

At the same time, the all-AOC approach misses the mark in vastly overstating her influence. Freshmen have little real power in an institution based on seniority. Pelosi hasn’t exactly embraced Ocasio-Cortez’s proposals. So she has the ability to drive a media debate, but not to call an oversight hearing or put a bill on the floor.

Still, Time says “she’s replaced Hillary Clinton as the preferred punching bag of Fox News pundits and Republican lawmakers, and the hits are taking their toll. Public opinion of Ocasio-Cortez has soured as she becomes better known; according to a Gallup poll conducted in February, 31 [percent] of Americans overall have a favorable impression of her, against 41 [percent] unfavorable — a 15-point swing since September. The same poll found that her popularity had increased with Democrats and nonwhites.”

The Fox website yesterday played up a new ad that hits Ocasio-Cortez – from a Republican in a special House election in North Carolina.


The generally upbeat Time story acknowledges both the limits of her power and her controversial role in the party.

“Her Green New Deal proposal has driven policy debates on the left, but it has virtually no chance of becoming law anytime soon. Her allies plan to boost primary challengers to moderate and conservative Democrats, a push that Ocasio-Cortez has distanced herself from but one that has earned her the enmity of some colleagues. Many House Democrats resent her celebrity and worry it overshadows efforts to reach the moderate voters who propelled the party to the majority. Privately, some admit they’re also a little afraid of her.”

Now that is fascinating. In other words, they’re not only worried about the image she projects, but some feel she’s too big for her freshman britches.

The dilemma is that while Ocasio-Cortez answers only to her district in Queens and the Bronx, other parts of the country are not as receptive to a hard-left message, even if it draws kudos online. One Democratic candidate in Michigan is quoted as saying her message is more important than winning elections — but you can’t change policy without winning office. (And he got clobbered in his race.)

Time dutifully notes that she is being partially blamed for Amazon withdrawing its second headquarters from Queens; that her office botched the Green New Deal rollout by posting an apocalyptic draft version; and that she’s the subject of an FEC campaign finance complaint that she calls bogus.


And given that she’s made some factual errors — not unlike the man in the White House — the magazine reminds us of what she told Anderson Cooper:

“I think that there’s a lot of people more concerned about being precisely, factually and semantically correct than about being morally right.”

But your moral position is stronger when you traffic in actual facts.

Look, the fact that a woman who was recently a waitress and bartender is on Time’s cover is quite an achievement. It’s a bubble that may not last. But for now, AOC and the media are in a codependent relationship that benefits both sides.


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