Why the disrespect toward Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez?

Folks have pointed me to mocking memes regarding Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, e.g., “It’s so cold, I had my hands in my own pockets,” in connection with her “Green New Deal” that “offers economic security for those unwilling to work.” (original draft)

But why not respect her for ably representing the interests of her constituents? Census data show that median household income in her district is about $58,000/year. That means more than half of the people she represents are eligible for welfare (less than $83,450 for a family of 4 entitles a New Yorker to public housing). More than half would also qualify for health insurance welfare (either Medicaid or subsidized Obamacare for those who earn less than 4X the official poverty line).

“Unwilling to work” should probably be understood as “unwilling to work given the existing system of incentives.” As of 2013, six years before Ms. Ocasio-Cortez took office, welfare in New York paid 110 percent of median income (CATO) and therefore it wouldn’t be rational for the typical person in her district to work. Why is it Ms. Ocasio-Cortez’s fault that Americans have voted to create a system in which work is irrational for anyone who can get welfare or child support after having sex with a high-income partner? She wasn’t old enough to vote when these systems were created.

Mitt Romney stated in 2012 as a simple fact that the 47 percent of Americans who don’t pay income tax weren’t going to vote for him (Politifact):

“There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what,” Romney said in the video. “All right, there are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it. That that’s an entitlement. And the government should give it to them. And they will vote for this president no matter what.

He didn’t say that these folks were stupid, irrational, or evil. They were rationally voting their interest. (Politifact says that the proportion with no federal income tax liability may actually have been as high as 51 percent.) Why can’t folks who disagree with AOC and who are differently situated in life compared to her welfare-qualified constituents credit her for faithfully representing her voters’ interests in Congress?

Personally, I’m kind of a fan. Her tweet that health insurance as a waitress was twice as costly as health insurance for a member of Congress was an inspired way to wake people up to absurdity of our health care and health insurance systems (my proposal for reform is different from hers).

Readers: Given her welfare-qualified constituents, is it fair to slam this young member of Congress for advocating for expanded welfare?

14 thoughts on “Why the disrespect toward Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez?

  1. Romney didn’t make much sense at the time. If he actually thought what he was saying was correct, he should have dropped out. He would have had to get nearly all (~96%) of the other 53% of voters to win. Maybe he knew that a large portion of people who are completely “dependent upon government” and pay no taxes are senior citizens. Romney won the senior vote 56-44. (https://www.nytimes.com/elections/2012/results/president/exit-polls.html)

    Of course, it’s also always worth noting that free national security is never included in the litany of free health care, housing, etc. Apparently spending on health is bad and spending on killing is great. It’s also worth noting that Romney built his fortune in the financial industry, which got a giant bailout just a few years earlier. So Romney’s rich pals on Wall Street should be included in the group of Americans who “believe the government has a responsibility to care for them”.

    Also, if you’re going to call any means-tested program “welfare”, keep in mind that extending Medicare to cover everyone would thus reduce the number of people on welfare. So anyone who is concerned about the number of welfare programs and welfare recipients should support Medicare for All.

    • Do you live in the US? Yes, 96% of the uncommitted votes is a long shot, but it’s not that crazy when you consider that he’s just as guaranteed to get at least his own ~47% of the total vote by sheer virtue of being the Republican candidate. Basically it amounts to hoping the 3rd parties have a rough year.

    • > Apparently spending on health is bad and spending on killing is great.

      Do you believe your country should not have a military that can deter other countries from starting wars? Failing to deter other countries from invading your soil has some poor health consequences for soldiers and civilians in the war zone…

    • “Apparently spending on health is bad and spending on killing is great”

      Soending on killing is neither great or bad…it’s just necessary. Freedom isn’t free.

    • The reason to have our armed forces in dozens of countries around the world can not possibly be to defend the territory and population of the United States. In fact, the decades-long (and also very expensive) efforts to influence the Middle East resulted in the attacks of September, 2001, the first attacks on the mainland in nearly two centuries. In other words, they made the population less safe.

      Even if all of that spending and killing made us all safer, you’re both ignoring my point. All of those people who don’t pay taxes are getting that wonderful national security for free! People like Mitt Romney are not at all bothered by that.

  2. Phil, I had a similar thought as you that she was going for what her constituency wanted. The number of votes she received is 25% of the number of people who filed a tax return in her district. Pelosi, for example, received votes that total over 50% of the number of people who filed a tax return in her district.

  3. I haven’t had a chance to reply on this despite the thousands of words of amazing analysis I have to contribute. For now, I’ll just say this: No, nobody should blame AOC for representing her constitutents, or at least being the Democrat Disruptor to cleave the party and push at least a large fraction of it to the left, which is what she is doing with no inconsiderable success. It was only a matter of time before a candidate like her wound up being elected. It so happened to be in New York State, which could also have been predicted fairly well. She’s going to have long legs unless she really screws up very badly. She’s by far the most energetic and engaged Socialist the Democrats have had to contend with since George McGovern and maybe prior to that. She’s also extraordinarily aware of her potentialities and she exploits them very well.

    In a sense I think of Jesse Ventura when I think of her. How’s that for weird?
    I remember the Harper’s Magazine cover “Minnesota Elects a Toy Governor” when Ventura made it. He was later brought to Harvard so that presumably they could study the modern incarnation of Piltdown Man. But I digress. AOC is a smart chick and she knows what she’s got right now and I expect her to continue using it real well.

    Disagreeing with her on policy is a very different matter.

    • Thanks for that map. I wonder if this is still consistent with the original post, however. New York is #1 in spending on state and local government (see https://taxfoundation.org/state/new-york/ ). NYC spends even more than the rest of New York State. Could it be that a lot of folks who live in Western Queens have jobs in government and/or the welfare industry? When government expands it is not just the people receiving handouts that benefit, but also (and probably more so!) the people who are processing handouts.

    • No doubt there are lots of government workers in western Queens, as there are in all areas of the map. This is New York City after all, and they are everywhere.

      Also keep in mind that this was not a general election in some Midwestern district. It was a Democratic primary in NYC, where both contestants would likely vote the same way in Congress.

      So does the “protect government jobs” hypothesis hold up? I think the relevant question is, where is the incidence of government workers highest? For that I would go to the Bronx section of her district, which heavily Hispanic/Italian/Irish 2nd and 3rd generation Americans, relatively middle class, not much college education, and with lots of families. It’s a great place to meet the NYC residency requirements for government workers! But despite her (dishonest) boasts of being a “Bronx girl”, she didn’t do terribly well there.

      She also did her worst in areas that are heavily black, which are also likely places to find government employees. There are actually very few blacks in her district (Parkchester, Bronx and East Elmhurst, Queens), but they clearly rejected her.

      So what sticks out about Western Queens and Jackson Heights? These are the places that are being increasingly populated by highly-educated, young, white people — like the ones who bought nearby condos in anticipation of Amazon HQ2 (whoops!). And even though they’re a minority, they probably outvote everyone else because A) The remaining population is generally comprised of relatively poor immigrants who are probably too busy working long hours in dry cleaners and grocery stores to find the time (or interest) to vote, and B) I suspect many are not even eligible to vote. And note that this immigrant population also exists in central Queens — though without the white kids — and she didn’t receive overwhelming support there.

      So you’re left with lots of “energized” young white kids who were probably rather eager to vote for the personification of their progressive narratives, and even better, packaged in the body of a millennial woman “of color” instead of some old white guy. And her rhetoric is exactly what they want to hear. The got what they voted for!

    • Interesting. So the white voters voted for the “person of color” and the black voters voted for the “old white guy”! Yet the media tells us that the country is more racially polarized than ever (and we can all agree on whom to blame, I hope!).

  4. I think the problem here is that she’s declared war on the Upper East Side and the Financial District. And probably most of Manhattan. The rich love their money more than they love their own family. And she is trying to take it away from them. They are probably saying something like we say in Texas. “You can have my money when can pry it out of my cold dead hands.” Except we say that with guns. It’s a bumper sticker seen on the bumpers of many gun enthusiasts’ cars. And generally a good idea to avoid them. Can we maybe just boycott big companies instead?

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