A tale of two fresh(wo)man members of Congress

By VOA — https://www.voanews.com/a/palestinian-american-congressional-candidate-source-of-west-bank-pride/4519493.html, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=75701495
By US House of Representatives — https://ocasio-cortez.house.gov/about, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=75556027

Newly elected member of Congress Rashida Tlaib turned some heads recently when she argued at an event that Democrats would “impeach the motherf*cker.” The result was the usual wringing of hands by those who said that this was a new example of the decline of civility in government, and those who said that the statement demeaned her office. A hoax tweet circulated claiming that she also talked about “raping and pillaging.” This was proven to be completely untrue. Donald Trump and his supporters, for their parts, called her “disgraceful.” Donald Trump knows something about disgrace.

Interestingly, when one hears the actual context of her speech, it brings a new spin to the words. Talking about her son and bullying, she said “when your son looks at you and says: ‘Mama, look, you won. Bullies don’t win.’ And I said, ‘Baby, they don’t.’ Because we’re going to go in there and we’re going to impeach the motherfucker.”

Trump is certainly a bully. He is a coward who fires people by tweet. He has proven himself to be one of the most nonredeemable people ever to hold the highest office in the land, and that is really saying something. But that is not what this post is about. I want to discuss Rashida Tlaib and her fellow freshman Democrat Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, or AOC as she has become known.

AOC, of course, was the surprise winner in an insurgent campaign against a member of the Democratic Congressional leadership. Had Joseph Crowley taken her campaign seriously, he would probably still be in office. But the ego-stroking that comes with high office frequently results in people losing touch with where they came from. Crowley was just the latest victim of this common disease.

AOC seemed to be completely unprepared for the media firestorm that would result from her victory. She happened to win her primary at a time when there was little else for the media to focus on, in New York, the center of our media universe. As an unrepentant Democratic Socialist in the mold of Bernie Sanders, she immediately became a media darling. She started touring the country in support of other progressive candidates, even in places as far away as Kansas. For this level of attention, she was not ready.

Shortly after her election, she made a number of comments that made people think she was a lightweight. She claimed, for example, without basis, that the reason the unemployment rate is so low is because everyone has two jobs. The well-respected journalists at Politifact rated her claims “pants on fire.”

Since then, AOC has gotten serious. Realizing that she needed some schooling on policy, she consulted a number of the nation’s top economists. While her recent proposal to increase the top marginal tax rate to 70% has resulted in howls from the right, many economists actually support her position. She deftly parried various attacks against her after a video was released showing her dancing in college, and she gave an interview on 60 Minutes that was splendid. She has, in short order, turned into an impressive public official of substance. In fact, I would daresay that the Democrats would have been better served by AOC giving the party response to Trump’s prime time address on the wall than Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer with their impression of the painting American Gothic.

Tlaib, for her part, is only just getting the kind of exposure AOC has been dealing with for some time. Like AOC, she is also an impressive person, though she is a bit older. She is an attorney who served for a time in the Michigan state legislature. The attention a state legislator gets, however, pales in comparison to the attention a member of Congress gets. It is just a much bigger stage.

I expect that like AOC, Tlaib will quickly grow into her position. Clearly she didn’t expect that the focus of the speech she gave would be her choice of words, and she has already said she regretted that. Her initially avoiding the press after making that statement also did not serve her well. But my guess is that she will take this experience and learn from it, and will be much more careful with her choice of words in the future to make sure that her message gets the attention, not just her language.

Ironically, after the election, many had hoped Donald Trump would grow into his position. That was probably wishful thinking. Unlike Trump, however, AOC is already well on her way to mastering the big stage, and Tlaib is actually a good person with a record of working hard for what she achieves. As a result, Trump’s inability to mature is likely an outlier position, and Tlaib and AOC will far outclass him in relatively short order.

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Mike is an Assistant Professor of Management for Legal and Ethical Studies at Oakland U. Mike combines his scholarship with practical experience in politics.

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