I planned on writing about a different topic this week, but after the fifth or sixth time a Huffington Post headline reading “Conservative Men Are Obsessed With Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez; Science Tells Us Why” appeared on my social-media timelines, I felt compelled to toss out a few thoughts on the new Democratic congresswoman from New York (and conservatives’ alleged obsession with her).
Let me start by conceding that the headline isn’t completely baseless. A lot of center-right folks do indeed talk about AOC (as she’s known) — perhaps even as often as she’s talked about by her progressive admirers (that include several in the media) who love her youth, energy, and democratic-socialist ideas. It’s not uncommon, after all, to see the 29-year-old’s name turn up in right-wing headlines and in conservative circles on social media.
And of course there was that much parodied dance video from her college days:
Toto – Africa pic.twitter.com/5R5qBjo0dr
— AOC Dances To Every Song (@aoc_dances) January 4, 2019
So how does “science” factor into all of this, you may be wondering? Well, according to a neuroscientist cited in the HuffPo column, conservatives tend to be more responsive to fear than liberals are. Thus liberal columnist Laura Bassett has concluded that conservatives, in fact, are afraid of AOC.
Cue the song!
This scientific finding of course begs a couple more questions: Why do they fear her, and why is this obsession coming from conservative men (and not conservative women)? Fortunately, Bassett has the answers to both:
“Ocasio-Cortez’s power is a direct threat to conservatives because her very existence in Congress as a young, Latina, working-class woman threatens to upend the social order that has kept white men in the ruling class for centuries. (Eighty-eight percent of House Republicans are white men, most are over the age of 50, and the party’s voters are majority white and male.)”
In other words, it’s AOC’s ethnicity and youth that are making conservative men quake in their boots.
Additionally, Bassett explains that conservative men are horn-dogs, citing a sexualized click-bait piece on the Daily Caller and a tweet from an anonymous Twitter user. She also quotes Caroline Heldman, a gender and politics professor at Occidental College:
“Alexandria presents a challenge, because conservative men or men in general who are encouraged to objectify women are attracted to her, but she’s also ‘unmanageable’ in that she doesn’t exist for them. She is a woman who not only has now formal power, but a lot of informal power, in that she doesn’t give a damn what they think of her. I think it’s a disconcerting place for men who may be used to attractive women seeking their validation.”
There’s much more cognitive liberal-speak throughout the piece, but you probably get the jist of it.
Now, at the risk of coming across as anti-science (as many on the left tend to portray us conservatives anyway), I’m going to offer a much simpler explanation of why conservatives talk about AOC so often:
And before people start accusing me of sexism, racism, ageism, and whatever other isms they might be inclined to whip out, it’s important to understand that the reactionary sentiments I’ve described are demonstrably blind to nearly everything but the rhetoric itself.
The reality is that when a populist politician is routinely saying outrageous things that generate a lot of media coverage, people on both sides of the aisle are naturally inclined to weigh in. In such cases, political and ideological allies spin the uncouth oratory with phrases like “truth to power”, “anti-establishment”, and “for the people,” while foes launch into full-blown mockery and condescending Internet memes.
Sound a bit familiar?
One might say that Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is the Donald Trump of the Left. And the reactions the two generate aren’t all that different from each other; the teams are just reversed.
It’s not about demographics. It’s about demagoguery.
AOC may sit lower than Trump on the political totem pole, but she and our president actually have a ton of things in common, as The Bulwark’s Jonathan Last described quite well in a recent piece. From the refusal to back down from false and offensive statements, to the incessant tribal pandering, to the fervent use of social media, to the internal mudslinging, these two could be considered kindred spirits.
Yet, no one is attributing the Left’s “obsession” with Trump to his age, his ethnicity, or (hold your laughter) his attractiveness. And any fear they have of him is tied to either competence or policy… not his “very existence.”
So I dare say that when it comes to political compulsion, the science isn’t settled after all.