A funny thing happened to Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, New York Democrat, on her way to political stardom. She ran into Tall Poppy Syndrome.
Tall Poppy Syndrome occurs when someone gets cut down to size after becoming too big for her britches, too important too fast, too superior to those around her. The tall poppy must be pruned back, lest she think she can easily dominate her peers. She must be taught a lesson.
At age 29, Ms. Ocasio-Cortez thundered into Congress after unseating a longtime Democratic congressman. With her relative youth, Taylor Swift red lipstick, deft use of social media and unapologetic embrace of socialism, she became an instant political celebrity. The mainstream media panted after her and her radical ideas (Medicare for all, a green “new deal,” a 70 percent top tax rate), her dripping sarcasm on Twitter and even her announcement of a “self-care” break before being sworn in.
The media loved her even more when, just a week after being elected, she joined a climate change sit-in in now-Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office. The Democratic establishment? Not so much. She was the stereotypical millennial who at her first job interview asks for the corner office and eight weeks’ vacation.
The Tall Poppy needed to be taken down a notch.
The first to warn publicly of her hubris was Sen. Claire McCaskill, who, after losing re-election in November, described Ms. Ocasio-Cortez as “a bright and shiny new object who came out of nowhere.” And after crediting Ms. Ocasio-Cortez with generating enthusiasm, Ms. McCaskill added, “I’m not sure what she’s done yet. I wish her well.”
In response, Ms. Ocasio-Cortez blistered Ms. McCaskill for losing her race by failing to support progressive ideas.
The trademark Ocasio-Cortez snark, which helped get her elected and earned her media plaudits, also attracted the attention of leftist powers-that-be, and not in a good way.
When the House adopted a “pay-go” provision requiring any new spending to be paid for by either spending cuts or tax increases, she blasted the move on Twitter rather than expressing her concerns privately to leadership. That set off some eye-rolling among her new colleagues.
When Ms. Ocasio-Cortez’s name came up on “The View,” Whoopi Goldberg warned her against arrogance, saying, “You just got in there, and I know you got lots of good ideas, but I would encourage you to sit still for a minute and learn the job. Before you start pooping on people and what they’ve done, you’ve got to do something, too.”
As the Democratic establishment took note of Ms. Ocasio-Cortez’s haughty dismissal of those she considers too old or not progressive enough to lead the leftist revolution, it also began to remind her who’s boss.
When she requested the seat of the congressman she ousted on the powerful Ways and Means Committee, a position usually reserved for senior members, she was slapped down. The seat went instead to a more moderate New York Democrat, Rep. Tom Suozzi. (Fellow Democratic newbie Rep. Rashida Tlaib requested a seat on the equally powerful Appropriations Committee and was similarly denied.) Know your place and wait your turn, neophytes, or risk getting scorched again.
New York state issued its own rebuke, fining her campaign $1500 for failing to provide workers’ compensation coverage.
Not that any of these slapdowns are modifying her behavior. When Joseph Lieberman — former vice presidential nominee of her party — rightly warned of existential danger to the Democrats if they cast their lot with the radicalism of Ms. Ocasio-Cortez, she tweeted back: “New party, who dis?”
Her refusal to play by the rules and show proper respect is only stirring more angst within her own ranks. After speaking with about 20 of her Democratic colleagues, Politico reported their concerns over her support of a far-left group, Justice Democrats, two of whose top leaders now work in her congressional office. The group works to defeat moderates with social-justice progressives in Democratic primaries, the route Ms. Ocasio-Cortez took to Congress.
“I’m sure Ms. Cortez means well, but there’s almost an outstanding rule: Don’t attack your own people,” Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, Missouri Democrat, told Politico. “We just don’t need sniping in our Democratic caucus.”
To try to get in front of her runaway train, establishment Democrats, according to Politico, have embarked on a “behind-the-scenes effort to rein her in.”
Good luck with that. The younger radicals are staging a coup within the party, and the old guard is trying to maintain its power and at least the facade of electoral palatability. The younger radicals don’t care much about that. Now that they’ve seized power, they want all of it — rules, norms and politesse be damned.
The Democratic establishment, which long winked at socialism and encouraged youth activism, now realizes that it’s created a monster it won’t be able to control for much longer. As Ms. Ocasio-Cortez is demonstrating, the Tall Poppy can be pruned back, but it eventually grows back taller than before.
• Monica Crowley is a columnist for The Washington Times.
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