Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) is not particularly happy that Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi continues to criticize her and other members of “The Squad” (kill me), a group of upstart, rabidly liberal freshmen congresswomen who act as a thorn in the side of Democratic leadership.
“When these comments first started, I kind of thought that she was keeping the progressive flank at more of an arm’s distance in order to protect more moderate members, which I understood,” Ocasio-Cortez told the Washington Post Wednesday. “But the persistent singling out … it got to a point where it was just outright disrespectful … the explicit singling out of newly elected women of color.”
Less than a day later Ocasio-Cortez was shocked, simply shocked to learn some people thought she was accusing Pelosi of racism! “No, no, absolutely not!” she responded when asked if she thought Pelosi was racist. “That’s stupidly untrue,” she added later when asked if she was playing the race card.
“I think it’s really just pointing out a pattern, right?” she said. “We’re not talking just about progressives, it’s singling out four individuals and knowing the media environment we’re operating in, knowing the amount of death threats we get, knowing the amount of concentration of attention, I think it’s worth asking why.”
That talking point is of course a time-honored way of posing crazy accusations you know you can’t publicly support. 9/11 truthers are just asking questions, “Clinton Murders” conspiracists frequently just point out patterns. In this case, there’s no need at all to wonder about a “pattern” or why Pelosi targeted those four members of Congress; they were the only four to vote against a Democratic leadership-supported bill. Pelosi said as much.
We have a situation in which Pelosi targeted four individuals for a clear and straightforward reason, but which Ocasio-Cortez cast as an “explicit singling out” of “women of color.” Now she is trying to claim that she wasn’t playing the race card or accusing Pelosi of racism. When asked about the motivation behind Pelosi’s actions, she declines to give any sort of explanation. This comes a few weeks after Ocasio-Cortez’s chief of staff tweeted that moderate Democrats “seem hell bent to do to black and brown people today what the old Southern Democrats did the 40s.”
The “race card” is the most baffling. Pelosi criticized the women in a context divorced from race and made no mention of race. Ocasio-Cortez subsequently invoked their race. If “playing the ___ card” has any sort of meaning in the course of ordinary English conversation, surely this qualifies?
This playbook is more or less identical to the one I pointed out in my last piece on the freshman Democrat, headlined simply “Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Thinks You’re Stupid.” Then it was Ocasio-Cortez saying that border detention facilities were “concentration camps,” helpfully adding “Never Again.” When that metaphor was criticized by those who noted there was no comparison between temporary detention centers and the Holocaust, Ocasio-Cortez insisted that oh no, she never meant to compare it to death camps, you “shrieking Republicans.” By “concentration camps” and “Never Again” she meant, idk, Japanese internment.
The play is simple. Step one: heavily, heavily imply a line of criticism that deep down you recognize is ludicrous and cannot state outright. Step two: express shock and dismay at the people who pick up on the clear implication. There’s also a secret step one-and-a-half: generate goodwill and admiration from hyperpartisans who agree with your implication and recognize your denials to be lip service necessary to stay in the middle’s good graces.
This is a common enough form of duplicity, although if it has a formal name it escapes me; it’s not quite a “dog-whistle,” and it isn’t “gaslighting,” a term never used correctly by writers. Call it the ol’ “Imply and Deny.” Other instances include when Trump insisted he was saying Megyn Kelly was bleeding out her nose, or when Joe Biden insisted telling a black audience that Republicans would “put y’all back in chains” meant, uh, banks or something.
Ocasio-Cortez keeps going back to it though, and why not? While it’s insulting the intelligence of the average observer, the media to date seems perfectly content with being insulted. It’ll be interesting to see if that changes now that the target is the Democratic Speaker of the House. I’m not holding my breath.