Commentary

The belligerent ignorance of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez

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Oh, Alexandria.

Ever since she won a stunning upset victory over her democrat primary rival, incumbent New York Representative Joe Crowley, self-described “democratic socialist” Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has become the far left’s new “it” girl, appearing in a nauseating number of puff media appearances, showing up in hyper-liberal candidate fundraising appeals, and generally just being everywhere.

Including Maine. But I’ll get to that in a minute.

Of course, her rising media star hasn’t actually been a good thing for her. The candidates she has endorsed have been almost universally trounced. She made an abject fool out of herself when trying to fake her way through a discussion of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, short circuiting when her interviewer asked for follow up after she called Israeli settlements an “occupation.” And she has repeatedly been reduced to babbling incoherence when asked simple questions like, “would you support Nancy Pelosi for Speaker?” and “how do you pay for your ideas?”

This is enough to make anyone wince, especially if you consider that she holds — wait for it — a degree in economics and international relations from Boston University.

Let that sink in for a minute.

Her belligerent ignorance is always on display, nowhere more acutely than on Twitter. This was shown as recently as last weekend, when she decided to come to Maine and visit, and just couldn’t resist the uncontrollable urge to flaunt her cluelessness.

After visiting Acadia National Park, she tweeted the following:

Ugh.

It can be difficult to know where to begin with this, but let’s start here: Ocasio-Cortez is making a very typical, if very wrong, surface level argument that socialism — “democratic” or otherwise — equates to “any involvement by the government at all, for any reason, and in any way.”

This, of course, is not what socialism actually is. Taxation is not socialism. Government spending is not socialism. These things have literally existed in every nation in world history, in both socialistic and laissez-faire capitalistic societies, since the dawn of human civilization.

The ideology that Ocasio-Cortez continually claims to advocate is actually very different. At its core, socialism is about social ownership of the means of production. Democratic socialists want to institute supposed “democratic management” of the various economic institutions created under their utopian vision. The bedrock American concepts of private property, and private ownership of business are typically things that a democratic socialist would seek to eliminate. They often claim to the contrary, but taking “social ownership” of the means of production typically means using centralized state authority to claim that ownership for “the people” before that same central authority then disburses it.

There is a reason that I need to explain Ms. Ocasio-Cortez’s own ideology to her. The reality is, she is — like so many people crying out for socialism today — responding to a form of trendy political hipsterism. The need to signal her own virtue as a radical, counter-culture, ahead of her time, rebelliously egalitarian icon is powerful, and adopting a once scorned label and trying to make it cool is a great way to do that.

She doesn’t have to actually understand socialism at all, she can just make up whatever she wants and call it socialism. Indeed, she can position herself as mainstream and her opposition as extremist by suggesting that any and all government action, tax collection or spending is an example of socialism. “What, do you hate road, highways and schools, you troglodyte?”

To Sanders, Ocasio-Cortez, and their ilk, positioning themselves in this way allows them to ridicule actual opponents of socialism as little more than anti-government anarchists who believe the government should never do anything, anywhere, for any reason. This is, perhaps, the king of all strawmen.

Which means, ultimately, that Ocasio-Cortez is not even a socialist, no matter how much she might want to call herself that. She is a big government statist who believes in little more than confiscatory taxes, bloated spending, and a government program for every problem in America.

Ironically, this makes her that which she least wants to be: a boring, fairly typical liberal, the likes of which we have seen in this country for a hundred years. Not new. Not trendy. Not fresh. She is essentially a 28 year old Walter Mondale.

Yes, I understand why Ms. Ocasio-Cortez’s philosophy can be mistaken for actual socialism. They both have in common their fetishization of big, powerful government. They both have a slavish devotion to the state. They both require restrictions of personal freedom. The both worship at the alter of egalitarianism. There’s no doubt, they do share a lot in common, and I don’t think there is any question that Ocasio-Cortez’s actual philosophy paves the road for her stated philosophy.

But it is important to say without equivocation that actual socialism is, in fact worse than the agenda of the typical American liberal, and I think we need to start making that plainly clear, so that we don’t ever open the door to socialism — real socialism — being implemented in this country.

One of the reasons that socialism has been such a miserable failure — worldwide — over the course of the last hundred years, is because it inevitably takes a very strong, centralized government command economy that restricts civil, political and economic freedom to force society to behave in the way that socialism demands. This isn’t FDR or Barack Obama’s big government, we are talking about. This is Venezuela’s big government.

There actually aren’t very many countries left that practice true socialism. Those that do, (like the aforementioned Venezuela) are rife with political corruption — which flows inexorably from a powerful central authority —  as well as economic instability, languished growth, and virtually non-existent personal freedom.

But to socialists, Venezuela, Cuba, the Soviet Union and every other failed state that practices socialism is not “real” socialism. No, they are fake socialism. They were just doing it wrong.

Fake socialists and real socialists alike will tell you that today there are in fact socialist success stories, like the Scandinavian countries, which are constantly held up as shining “see, I told you so!” examples of socialism in action.

This, predictably, is a faleshood.

Countries like Sweden, Norway and Denmark are not socialistic. As the Foundation for Economic Education pointed out two years ago, in Scandinavia (like virtually all wealthy, economically developed western countries) the means of production is mostly owned by private individuals. It is not owned by the government, or the local community.

More importantly, resources are not allocated by central government planning, but rather by various capitalistic markets. Scandinavians operate under a privately owned, market economy.

People think that the Scandinavians — and the rest of Europe, while we’re at it — are socialist because they have a very extensive social safety net, and heavy government spending. Conservatives have historically reinforced this perception, using the term “socialist” to describe them because they associate high taxes, profligate spending, and big government with socialism.

But once again, government programs and the welfare state — whatever your opinion on their wisdom — are not examples of socialism. The Nordic model so frequently cited as a success is really just the European concept of “social democracy,” which ultimately boils down to public welfare mixed with a capitalistic economy.

The Scandinavians themselves reject the socialist label. Speaking in a lecture at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government during the last presidential election, Prime Minister of Denmark Lars Løkke Rasmussen didn’t mince words.

“I know that some people in the US associate the Nordic model with some sort of socialism. Therefore I would like to make one thing clear. Denmark is far from a socialist planned economy. Denmark is a market economy,” Rasmussen said.

“The Nordic model is an expanded welfare state which provides a high level of security for its citizens, but it is also a successful market economy with much freedom to pursue your dreams and live your life as you wish,” he added.

But let’s get back to Ms. Ocasio-Cortez, and her tweet while visiting Maine.

Just to drive home the point about her own incoherence about the term socialism, let’s start with her contention that Acadia National Park is an example of “democratic socialism.”

Neither Acadia itself, nor the national park system, is “socialist” in any way. It is a mix of public goods and government maintenance of park land. There is nothing about Acadia that interferes with private property rights or private economic activity in the least bit.

Indeed, if she knew the history of Acadia National Park — which she clearly doesn’t — it actually is a tremendous example of private philanthropy by the evil wealthy business owners she reviles so much. The park was born of the mind of Charles Eliot, a landscape architect, and its original establishment came from the donation of privately held land voluntarily given by George Dorr and Charles Eliot’s father.

More importantly, though, the utility of the park was driven principally by John D. Rockefeller, who is responsible for funding, designing and ultimately building the network of carriage trails that run throughout the park. The stones along the pathways that run through the park to this day — the ones that Ocasio-Cortez undoubtedly walked next to and perhaps even sat on — are known as “Rockefeller’s Teeth.”

Yes, the government is involved in the maintenance and operation of the park, but once again, that is a government program that supports land that was ultimately donated by wealthy private property owners, for the enjoyment of the public.

Ocasio-Cortez also cited co-ops in her tweet, and yes, there is a somewhat reasonable argument that such co-ops may be somewhat socialistic. However, I still dispute the notions because there is no state mandate involved, or any community or local government involvement at all. Cooperatives are created and owned by the employees of the company, who all enter into the arrangement voluntarily, the property is still held privately, and they are still participating in a capitalistic market economy. It is, in short, an expression of economic and political freedom.

And Planned Parenthood, as opposed as I am to what they represent, certainly is no example of socialism.

Planned Parenthood is a 501(c)(3) corporation which receives a government subsidy to underwrite its operation. A subsidy they operated perfectly fine without for the first 54 years of its existence, but a subsidy none the less. Using tax money to give funding to a group or corporation is not socialism, it is welfare, in this case, corporate welfare. You might also call it crony capitalism.

So, as usual, she showed her complete and total ignorance about her own beliefs. But it does make you wonder how this keeps happening to her.

The thing is, she — and millions of people like her — have not arrived at democratic socialism based on a thorough understanding of the ideology, or a well-reasoned belief in it as a solution to the country’s problems. They arrived at democratic socialism for one reason: it is the most popular vehicle for their contempt.

People like Ocasio-Cortez are mad, and want to “get back” at certain groups of people, most often identified as the wealthy, big businesses, and evil conservatives. They hear similar rage channeled by people like Bernie Sanders, people who call themselves democratic socialists, and they become elated. They hear the most superficial sales pitch — phrases like “fair share” and “tax the rich” and “redistribute wealth” — and they see it as a way to stick it to those they hold in such contempt.

They don’t have to understand what true democratic socialism is. To them, this is all a game. A game that has tribes. Our tribe and their tribe. And in our tribe, we love the government, we hate the rich, and we think corporations are the focus of all evil in the world. The rest doesn’t matter.

Unfortunately for people like Ocasio-Cortez, when they decide they want to run for political office, people are going to actually ask them some questions and are curious to find out what their actual core beliefs are. What motivates them. Where are they coming from.

But when your philosophy isn’t a philosophy at all, as is the case here, the general public starts to find out that there isn’t a lot of there, there.

About Matthew Gagnon

Matthew Gagnon, of Yarmouth, is the Chief Executive Officer of the Maine Heritage Policy Center. Prior to his tenure at MHPC, Matt spent eight years working in national politics in Washington, D.C., most recently as a senior strategist for the Republican Governors Association. A Hampden native, Matt is a nationally recognized political strategist and communicator.

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