If you click on only one thing today, let it be Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s Thursday morning speech, delivered from the House floor and directed to a fellow member of Congress, but really to us all.
For those who’ve been in a coma or otherwise out of touch, Ocasio-Cortez (familiarly “AOC”) was responding to an encounter with Rep. Ted Yoho (R. Fla.) on the steps of the U.S. Capitol. He was angered by a claim she had made during a discussion of crime, linking a spike in criminal behavior to poverty and unemployment; he called her “disgusting,” he said she was “out of [her] freaking mind,” and when the discussion ended, and she walked into the Capitol to cast a vote, Yoho turned to another congressman and said–in a voice loud enough to be heard by the reporters who were clustered at the foot of the steps– “fucking bitch.”
As a report of the incident in The New Yorker noted, Yoho approaches matters of criminal justice from a decidedly conservative perspective, having recently voted against making lynching a federal hate crime. (He claimed that such a law would be a “regrettable instance of federal overreach”–to the best of my knowledge, he has yet to weigh in on the considerably more significant degree of “overreach” exhibited by sending federal goons to Portland and Chicago…)
The incident received considerable publicity, and Yoho found it prudent to come to the floor of the chamber and make a non-apologetic apology, in which he
invoked his wife and daughters and said that he objected to Ocasio-Cortez’s views because he had experienced poverty when he was young. “I cannot apologize for my passion or for loving my God, my family, and my country,” he said. It was unclear who had asked him to apologize for his religious faith, his patriotism, or his love of family, but he was ardent all the same.
AOC began her “point of personal privilege” by saying she hadn’t planned to respond at all; as she noted, as someone who has waited tables and ridden the New York subway, the terminology was hardly foreign to her. And (in a passage I particularly applauded) she expressly disdained the pose of a “hurt” woman, a victim. She said she’d decided to respond only after Yoho’s non-apology on the House floor, and her target wasn’t Yoho–it was the cultural misogyny that permits men to behave despicably to women “with impunity.”
She took especial aim at the “pervasive and ludicrous concept that sexist men listing their female family members is an ironclad defense against charges of sexism — as if Harvey Weinstein, Bill Clinton and Donald Trump haven’t had wives and daughters.” As Hesse put it,
Most important, she made it clear that her grievance was not with a profane sentence, but with the story it appeared in — a long history of casual misogyny disguised as “passion” or even, God help us, as patriotism. Rep. Yoho presented his own explosive emotions as righteous, while allegedly casting Ocasio-Cortez as the b—- who made him explode.
It is worth noting that while Ocasio-Cortez lays all of this out, she does so in a tone of voice that never veers above mild irritation. In her floor speech, which totals about 10 minutes, she never raises her voice or resorts to calling names. She is exactly as measured as women are always expected to be, and as men are always assumed to be. And she made it clear that, to her, none of this was personal.
I found AOC’s conclusion especially powerful:
Having daughters is not what makes someone a decent man,” she said. “Treating people with dignity and respect is what makes a decent man. And when a decent man messes up, as we all are bound to do, he does apologize. Not to save face. Not to win a vote. He apologizes, genuinely, to repair and acknowledge the harm done, so that we can all move on.”
I have previously had mixed reactions to AOC; while I respected her intellect and tended to agree with her on policy (not always, but a good deal of the time), I’ve been put off by her disinclination to sit back and learn the ropes before jumping into the spotlight.
That reaction is probably generational, and her response to Yoho has converted me.