Featured Post

Dear Alexandria

Dear Alexandria

Congratulations on the tremendous accomplishment you achieved in your election to the U.S. House of Representatives! You have made history- and you have made waves, no doubt about that. You have some very big ideas, and I won’t condescend to you by giving you a head pat and calling you naive, or by damning with faint praise all the ways in which you may be ahead of your time but out of your depth (I don’t think you are). You are obviously ambitious and smart and aware that your ideas, while popular with your constituents, will get push back. I likewise won’t patronize you by saying, hoo boy, is your idealism about to experience a rude awakening. I think you are savvy enough to have some idea how the sausage is made.

Let me go ahead and acknowledge up front that I am aware you have heard all of this before, and that it will sound trite and condescending no matter how I say it. But I want to see you succeed, so I’m going to say it all anyway.

Alexandria, you are overplaying your hand. I don’t necessarily believe in all of your ideas, but I do believe in smart, strong, ambitious young women. Others do, too- that is how you got where you are. But please, remember that others have gotten there first. Much as I am not sold on you as a harbinger of change I want to see, I am likewise not overly enamored with Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi. But I do respect her. She has been there for thirty years, never even coming close to losing her seat through 16 elections. She knows that, like it or not, if you want to be around to advance your agenda when it really counts, you have to play nice.

Once again I feel myself slipping into patronizing territory with my urge to tell you to pay your dues before you try to upend the institution in which you find yourself newly installed. And I know that you have sort of cultivated this reputation as a rogue, unconventional go-getter who won’t be a wallflower or simply fall in line. That’s great, because I think you will need that going forward. Washington is obviously no place for push-overs (or maybe it is and that’s a problem). But I think you need to consider that your support at home is only half the battle, and will mean nothing if you make powerful enemies of those who you will need as allies if you are to accomplish anything.

I do admire your guts, participating in a protest over climate change in Congresswoman Pelosi’s office only a week after winning the election.1 Nothing changes if nothing changes, after all. But she is likely to be the Speaker of the House again this coming term, and you may want to think carefully about making an enemy of her. To that end, I’d like you to consider how Ms. Pelosi responded to your sit-in:

In a response to the protests, Pelosi said in a statement that she was “inspired by the energy and activism of the many young activists and advocates leading the way on the climate crisis.”

“I have recommended to my House Democratic colleagues that we reinstate the select committee to address the climate crisis,” she said in the statement. “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.”

-from CBS News

This is the grace of a career politician. There is no denouncement of your protest or those involved, no bristling at the disrespect, no hint at all of the creation of any bad blood between the two of you. It could be out of the goodness of her heart; it more likely is optical awareness. Either way, you should take note. And recognize that she gave you a win with that committee recommendation. Maybe consider that a freebee and don’t squander the good will.

I am not suggesting that you should kowtow to the most powerful, or that they are somehow your betters. I’m just thinking that if you want to be able to be the catalyst for change that you were elected to be, you’re going to need to have your colleagues willing to vote with you. One single member of congress can’t pass legislation. Sure, grudges and interpersonal conflict should have no influence on legislative policy, but we are kidding ourselves if we think they don’t.

Everyone loves a plucky, unlikely heroine taking on the establishment. But be mindful- there is a point at which a “list of evils we must fight” crosses the line into “ways in which I am a victim”. For example, you received a lot of eye-rolling criticism for your musings about how you might afford an apartment in DC before your congressional salary kicks in. When you complained about it, your detractors spun it as a failure to plan financially for the realities of your win, and used it as fodder to further mock your economic knowledge.

And then, there was this:

This feels a little too on brand, too on the nose. But I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt that there are people working in the halls of Congress who made it through election season and still don’t know who you are, and that this not only really happened but happened more than once. I do relate. I am a female attorney who has been mistaken for a receptionist, a paralegal, an intern, and once even a criminal defendant. I get the indignity of it all, the righteous anger you feel, and the urge to put it out there.

But we get the point.

We know you are a young woman of color from a modest background, a demographic which stands out in Congress. I appreciate your attempt to relate to other young people by pointing out that you face the same struggles. But I am afraid that how you do so degrades your message and your ability to deliver it effectively. It can make you look unserious, weak, or incompetent.  Sure, it is absolutely a bunch of garbage when conservatives laugh at a young woman who dares not to be independently wealthy before winning a seat in congress. It’s frustrating when someone takes one look at you and the assumption is “wife” or “intern”, as though you couldn’t possibly be more than that. Fight that not by whining, but by winning.

But what you see as using your own situation and struggles to highlight those issues is being used against you. As someone said in the replies to your tweet, “act like you’ve been there before.” I know you haven’t- and I know that’s part of your appeal: you are a newcomer, an outsider, the anti-establishment. But the whining about your own situation is a bad look. I would much rather see you highlighting the difficulties a middle class family has trying to find housing in DC, or the marginalization of a woman of color who has not won a seat of power in congress.

You have agency, Alexandria. You’ve won yourself some privilege through your hard work and ambition. So calm down a little. You don’t have to keep pointing out all the ways in which you are just a regular girl from the Bronx- we all know. I love the perspective that will give you when you argue and fight for your ideals and I wouldn’t for a moment suggest you forget your roots. I won’t tell you to shut up, get down off the table, and sit down. I don’t think you will. But showing some polish, some strength in your position is crucial, if you are to be an influencer among your colleagues.

You have a lot to be proud of- even before your run for office, you were impressive by most any measure. And your win was historic. But that novelty can only carry you so far; if you want to make anything of it, you’ll need to learn the ropes.

In short, Alexandria, be careful who you decide to make enemies out of, and act like you belong there. I promise, we won’t fault you for that.

 

  1. This originally stated that Ocasio-Cortez “staged” the protest; further reporting suggests she merely attended and spoke to the other activists. Furthermore, to be clear, the protest was to urge action on climate change, not to protest Pelosi herself. -EC []

Senior Editor
Twitter  

Em was one of those argumentative children who was sarcastically encouraged to become a lawyer, so she did. She is a proud life-long West Virginian, and, paradoxically, a liberal. In addition to writing about society, politics and culture, she enjoys cooking, podcasts, reading, and pretending to be a runner. She will correct your grammar. You can find her on Twitter.

Please do be so kind as to share this post.
Share

34 thoughts on “Dear Alexandria

  1. Reality in the US House is that important legislation is written by — or at the very least, heavily constrained by — the committee chairs supervising committee staff. The Democrats assign committee chairs using a very seniority-oriented arrangement. I was looking at the seniority list for the current House and the ranking Democrats in the major committees all seem to have put in 20-30 years (or more).

    The Republicans made seniority much less important to their chair assignments back in the 1990s. This let/required them to move younger members into higher positions — most notably Paul Ryan, who at age 48 has chaired Budget, Ways and Means, and is the retiring Speaker. This was almost certainly a factor in the number of long-time Republican Congress critters who did not run again this year — term-limited out of their chairmanships, unwilling to return to life as a back-bencher.

    I will be surprised if AOC has the patience. Heck, I’m surprised that any of the junior Democrats have the patience needed to move into leadership and committee chair positions.

      Quote  Link

    Report

    • The Republicans made seniority much less important to their chair assignments back in the 1990s. This let/required them to move younger members into higher positions — most notably Paul Ryan, who at age 48 has chaired Budget, Ways and Means, and is the retiring Speaker. This was almost certainly a factor in the number of long-time Republican Congress critters who did not run again this year — term-limited out of their chairmanships, unwilling to return to life as a back-bencher.

      That decision also led to heavier reliance on lobbyists for drafting legislation. After all, one reason you’re placed low down on a committee to begin with is it’s rather unusual for you to know much about the topic, much less be expert enough in both the topic and people skills to lead the committee.

      That doesn’t even factor in things like being able to assemble the proper staff, one targeted on your areas of responsibility. A pure seniority system has quite a few flaws, but abandoning it led to a number of Republican-led committees by people who clearly did not understand the matters before them, at least any more than the average person on the street did, which led to them either proposing rather stupid things or relying heavily on lobbyists (industry experts) to craft their proposals for them.

        Quote  Link

      Report

    • Cain’s comment is the first and IMHO the most relevant. There is a pretty big disconnect between what a first-term member of congress does and what people are pretending that they do. Before gen years ago (i.e. before social media), we would barely know who AOC was. There’d be some press coverage of her primary upset and then she’d fade into the obscurity of a first-term Representative, which is kind of like being the new guy in a war movie. No one bothers to learn your name, because you probably won’t be around long.

      The D.C. rent thing is the perfect example of this. Does a first-term member who lives four hours or less away from D.C. even need an apartment in D.C? How many first-term members maintain residences in D.C? I ask because I don’t know. And I don’t know because there doesn’t seem to be anyone in the press curious enough to report on it. I do know that Chuck Schumer famously lived in a beat-up town house with a bunch of other top Dems. They do this because members of Congress don’t actually spend that much time in D.C. They spend as much time as possible back in their districts raising money and doing constituent services because that’s the only way that they’re going to get re-elected.

      Maybe AOC is something different. Maybe social media makes this a sea change. I guess we’ll find out.

        Quote  Link

      Report

      • Again – AOC was complaining about having housing in DC in between the time she was elected and inaugurated, not railing against the idea of sleeping in her office or sharing a place with other Congressfolks when she has access to an office and is actually drawing a salary.

          Quote  Link

        Report

      • Does a first-term member who lives four hours or less away from D.C. even need an apartment in D.C? How many first-term members maintain residences in D.C?

        Yes to the first question. If the chamber convenes at 9:00 am, adjourns for an afternoon of committee work, and there’s an evening meeting with experts/lobbyists/donors, eight hours of daily commute is impossible. Joe Biden used to admit that having a 90-minute commute, mostly by train where he could work, was an enormous advantage. Hotel rooms at DC or surroundings rates eat up the $174,000 annual salary for House members in a hurry. At least for male members, it is not uncommon for three or four members to have a condo and share the rent and cleaning expenses. This year there may be enough female members for that to work for them as well.

        One of the arguments in favor of ‘s desire to put the capitol district in a central middle-of-nowhere location (ie, North Platte, NE) is that it would be necessary for the government to provide all the members of Congress with an apartment (plus cleaning, laundry, etc).

          Quote  Link

        Report

        • Frankly, we should just build Congressional apartments and require them to live there. Offer unfurnished or pre-furnished. Pet friendly. Gyms, pools, local cleaning services (maid and dry cleaning). Shuttle or car service to Capital Hill.

          Make them big enough to host gatherings up to 20 people, have event rooms and such for larger gatherings. Enough bedrooms for even fairly large families.

          It’d simplify security, make being a Congressmen more affordable to people who aren’t rich.

            Quote  Link

          Report

        • Perhaps Congress needs their own “Motel 6” for all these junior representatives. When someone makes more than double my salary and complains about it, I use the same phraseology as the article’s author: it’s not a good look.

          Military bases have TLQ (temporary living quarters), why not Congress? In fact, the Presidential Inn at Joint Base Andrews lists visitor’s quarters for $60 a night. JBA is only 10 or so miles from Capitol Hill.

          Makes sense to me…

            Quote  Link

          Report

          • I have a friend who now works at the FCC — he lived in some sort of government housing for several weeks after he started while he was looking for a house (his family remained here in Colorado while that was going on). I understand that most federal agencies pay a per diem when someone is temporarily assigned to DC (and there are a number of places in DC that offer modest furnished housing within the per diem). Most states pay their legislators a per diem during the session. Members of Congress don’t get one. I suppose someone thought it would look bad if the Congress critters were getting $50-60K per year for housing on top of their salaries and other benefits.

              Quote  Link

            Report

      • I wasn’t commenting on what AOC said. I’m sure that she’ll find a place to stay. I was commenting on the reporting on the comment and the surrounding conversation.

        @Michael_Cain

        I’m not suggesting that members of Congress don’t need a place to spend week nights in DC. I was wondering how many actually go so far as to “get apartments” as in sign leases on their own places versus sleeping in their office or shacking up with colleagues. A little bit of reporting on that would have put her comments in the appropriate context and spared us the back-and-forth name calling and caping. But as I am won’t to say, the back-and-forth name calling and camping seems to be the whole point.

          Quote  Link

        Report

        • I was wondering how many actually go so far as to “get apartments” as in sign leases on their own places versus sleeping in their office or shacking up with colleagues. A little bit of reporting on that would have put her comments in the appropriate

          Virtually all. I think there’s only a handful that commute or sleep in offices. Virtually every one of them rents or purchases a place to live, depending on their wealth. A small number, as noted, rent together.

            Quote  Link

          Report

          • Here is a Bloomberg story from earlier this year saying that as many as a 100 members of congress sleep in their offices: https://www.bloomberg.com/opinion/articles/2018-04-06/u-s-lawmakers-shouldn-t-be-sleeping-in-their-offices

            If true, that makes the “virtually all” estimate a bit off. Generally, I think that people overestimate the amount of time that members of congress, especially junior members, spend in DC. At least until they get some standing and a sizable war chest, almost all of a House member’s work is back in their districts working on getting the-elected. The biggest barrier to running for office isn’t finding a place to sleep in DC. It’s most likely the ability to raise money.

            As for building housing for Congress, I say if they are going to live in public housing, it should be the public housing that other people live in.

              Quote  Link

            Report

  2. You might want to rethink the idea that AOC was protesting Pelosi.

    The ‘rest of the story’ as they used to say is here

    Relevant bits: the narrative that Pelosi was being “protested” by AOC came from AshLee Strong, Paul Ryan’s spokeswoman. Not exactly a reliable and unbiased source on Democrats, eh?

    From the thread:

    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: AOC: 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.***

    So, while I agree that AOC should back away a bit from complaining about DC’s longstanding gender and age prejudices, and agree that Pelosi is very good at dealing with politics with impressive grace, the idea that AOC, because she’s brash and naive, is leading some insurgency against the likely Speaker is more than a little questionable.

      Quote  Link

    Report

    • To be fair I didn’t say she protested Pelosi.. I said she led a “protest” at Speaker Pelosi’s office over climate change… is that not what it was? I didn’t say it was an insurgency or some sort of coup to take her out of power. Just that she was at a sit-in at Pelosi’s office.
      Obviously, to outsiders looking in, it would appear adversarial, which is my point.

        Quote  Link

      Report

      • “Obviously, to outsiders looking in, it would appear adversarial, which is my point.”

        Em is right here (by the way, is it cool to call you Em?) Perception is a huge part of politics.
        I would even say it is the major part of politics, as the rest is really just admin work. I think AOC will get there as more and more people come of age that share her style of communication. But there is still the old guard that will need to be dealt with.

          Quote  Link

        Report

      • Ok. I just wanted to make sure the situation was clarified and anyone reading wouldn’t automatically assume this was AOC being a pushy stupid kid, or another ‘Dems in Disarray!’ thing.

        I suspect that there was some staging and discussion between the two women beforehand actually. Most of the push against Pelosi becoming Speaker again seems to be coming from the more moderate and right-of-Democratic-center members. This event both highlighted the youth passion and activism on the more leftward side, and gave her cover for “agreeing” to move some of these younger, newer representatives into more powerful positions than freshmen could generally hope for.

          Quote  Link

        Report

      • Em Carpenter: Obviously, to outsiders looking in, it would appear adversarial, which is my point.

        What do you figure are the odds that this was planned collaboratively between Ocasio Cortez and Pelosi? For presentation to outside observers, to prop up the respective images of the two as fiery crusader and seasoned stateswoman, open the Overton window and maintain the “appropriate” positioning of the two relative to its centre and outer edge, etc.?

        This is the first I’ve heard of this demonstration, so I may be missing some things that strongly suggest yay or nay…

          Quote  Link

        Report

        • I guess that’s possible. We won’t know, though, will we? It may well have been a performative display.

          I am going to make a slight edit to my piece, which I will note in a footnote, because I am getting a lot of push back here and elsewhere that I am describing AOC as having “protested Pelosi”, which is not what I meant or said but seems to be the takeaway,

            Quote  Link

          Report

  3. Of course she overplayed her hand: just like very new Congress critter does. They run on the claim that they will go to Washington and knock some sense into Congress. They don’t run on the claim that they will go to Washington to be back benchers, learning how the game is played and, if they are reelected multiple times, over the years working their way up the ladder until they have the seniority to occupy a position of real power. That would be more honest, but less likely to get them elected.

      Quote  Link

    Report

  4. I think AOC is fine, and those of us who support Democrats need to be careful to not be trolled or disrupted by outsiders trying to stir things up.

    In contrast, I don’t think this is so fine.

    I mean, I think Marcia Fudge right in thinking that America, and white people, including the caucus is a little bit racist. It’s impossible to grow up white in America, to watch TV and read the newspaper, and not get a bit of that attitude. I think it might even seep over to you if you’re black, but I’m not as good a judge of that.

    The thing is, what’s she trying to accomplish, other than throwing bombs? Replace Pelosi with Steny Hoyer? She’s not saying. I guess she ran on not voting for Pelosi as Speaker, and she needs to figure out how to keep that promise?

    I think there’s a world of difference between AOC and Marcia Fudge, and let’s not get them confused.

      Quote  Link

    Report

  5. On one level I’m right there with the OP but on another level I think any amount of dissension w/in the Democratic party that stays civil and stays on-message about Trump and the GOP is absolutely fine, including Fudge’s.

    Why? Because it keeps people *interested* and interested people show up and vote.

    Interested people who have a faction, especially.

      Quote  Link

    Report

    • Fair enough. My goal would be to lower the temperature a bit, so we don’t start some intramural war that wrecks stuff.

      Also, Fudge seems to be animated by an anti-LGBT stance, and well, it should be no surprise that I don’t support that. This is personal with me, it affects friends and family members.

        Quote  Link

      Report

      • Given that I’m fairly loudly out both as bisexual and genderfluid/trans/nonbinary – and I know you and I have discussed that on here before – it should be no surprise to you that saying I’m fine with Fudge’s dissent if it stays civil and on-message about Trump, does not at all mean that I’m fine with Fudge throwing LGBT people under the bus, in any circumstances, let alone campaigning against us specifically. To the best of my knowledge, her current mutterings about Pelosi have not included that message. If they do, I retract my fineness with them. if they don’t, well, it’s not super-high on my priority list despite my obvious objections to her as a politician.

        Much like I’m fine with Manchin winning his seat, and not so fine with many of his positions.

          Quote  Link

        Report

  6. “Everyone loves a plucky, unlikely heroine taking on the establishment. But be mindful- there is a point at which a “list of evils we must fight” crosses the line into “ways in which I am a victim”. For example, you received a lot of eye-rolling criticism for your musings about how you might afford an apartment in DC before your congressional salary kicks in. When you complained about it, your detractors spun it as a failure to plan financially for the realities of your win, and used it as fodder to further mock your economic knowledge.”

    Um, this is actually mostly untrue. Even Republican’s on Twitter who had absolutely no problems dunking on AOC for her economic views have backed her up about the issues she’s having between winning the election and actually being sworn into office.

    The only people making fun of her about this are the hardcore partisans, who have no actual information about what’s actually going on.

    Put it this way – when you have John Podhorertz saying she has a point about housing between election and inauguration if you’re not independently wealthy, it’s not exactly whining anymore.

    But hey, civility above all, right? Don’t want to be too mean to the people calling you a lying idiot bartender who knows about economics or politics who got into office because of dumb millennials, right? When they go low, we go high?

      Quote  Link

    Report

    • Actually I’ve seen quite a bit of criticism of her about the apartment thing from both the left and the right, not within DC, but outside of it. If you haven’t seen it, you haven’t seen it, but it’s definitely out there.

      I think you underestimate how willingly people will criticize a woman for speaking her mind, and/or discount her for her youth and supposed inexperience, something which the OP has a fair amount of personal experience with (as referenced in the OP).

        Quote  Link

      Report

      • Oh, I think there have plenty of people saying dumb things about her – but my point was people who would actually know better about DC who have had no issue slamming her on economic issues when they disagree have actually pointed how dumb it is to attack her on the apartment stuff.

          Quote  Link

        Report

        • OK, but then it’s not “mostly untrue” that she received a lot of eye-rolling criticism from her detractors.

          It’s mostly true, with the caveat that the folks she was receiving said eye-rolling criticism from were not the ones in the know.

            Quote  Link

          Report

        • I could write another post with dozens of links to criticism and mocking of her for the apartment issue, from Twitter and elsewhere. I didn’t make it up.

          “But hey, civility above all, right? Don’t want to be too mean to the people calling you a lying idiot bartender who knows about economics or politics who got into office because of dumb millennials, right? When they go low, we go high?”

          I’m not sure what you are getting at here. Where did I say she should be nice to those people or not defend herself?

            Quote  Link

          Report

  7. Her district, while mostly inland, has several areas hard-hit by Hurricane Sandy; they were without power for a long time. She promised them action on climate change. Demanding a new committee in the House isn’t ‘upstart,’ it isn’t pushing the boundaries, it’s doing what she told her voters she’d do if they elected her.

    I think you’re instinct here, “it will sound trite and condescending no matter how I say it,” was on the money. Because I think it’s written from the perspective of judging women for appearances, not on substance.

    I don’t mean this as criticism; but by your own words, it sounded trite and condescending, and I think this is why; you understand that, based on appearances of what happened, she’s failing at ‘appearing’ to act acceptably. That’s a deeply ingrained way to frame how we discuss women.

    It’s good to resist that impulse. A woman had to get permission to bring her newborn to the Senate floor. Another had to get permission to use campaign funds to help pay for day care. This particular woman, the youngest in the House, does not need your permission or my permission to carry out representing her district, she has the permission of the voters in her district to represent their interests in the House.

    Did she do that, when she confronted Pelosi about the importance of a committee on climate change?

    I thinks she did, and she should be commended for doing so, not told it appears un-girlish and uppity.

      Quote  Link

    Report

  8. She lives in NYC and what, assumed DC is cheaper, didn’t think about the next step, whatever? So what?

    She’s an empowered self actualized woman…she’ll figure it out. My only issue is that she’s complaining about it. “Woman up and solve the problem instead of bitching about it”. That’s what the rest of us do.

    Rent a crash pad in Montgomery county and take the metro in.

      Quote  Link

    Report

  9. This article mentioned specifically that she’s smart. Now, I don’t always read people the same way as others but I’ve never gotten the impression that she’s smart. She’s a poor speaker – she clearly starts a sentence before she’s thought out the whole thing. Her positions are tightly clustered around an ideology, which isn’t proof that she hasn’t thought them through, but if she had, I’d expect her to give more thoughtful explanations of them. I don’t think Hispanics are dumb, or women are dumb, or people who are surprised by the DC housing market are dumb. She seems dumb.

    I should add one other thing, a quote from P.J. O’Rourke that I’ve been thinking about a lot lately: “Seriousness is stupidity sent to college.” I realize she’s on the spot, and trying to run a campaign that’s high profile even by Congressional standards, but I haven’t seen any sign of a sense of humor. That would go a long way toward conveying a sense of intelligence.

      Quote  Link

    Report

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *