OPINION | Some free advice for AOC

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REPRESENTATIVE Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is feeling a little blue. One sympathizes.

In her first year in office, AOC showed all the signs of someone making the callow error of believing her own publicity: She was arrogant, vain, petty, foolish, and vindictive, to say nothing of embarrassing and ignorant. You remember: “We’re in charge — and you’re just shouting from the cheap seats,” it’s more important to be “morally right” than “being precisely, factually, and semantically correct,” her cocksure illiteracy on Middle Eastern issues. Perhaps you would have done a great deal better if you had taken a seat in the House at 29. I am not confident that I would have.

Since then, she has suffered a one-two punch: She arrived in Washington thinking she was going to be a force for radical change but ran into the immovable object that is Democratic complacency, discovering that she was an idealistic young Latina representing the Bronx and Queens in a party run by Nancy Pelosi and other rich old white people who like things the way they are — politicians second, socialites first. And then she learned that a great many of the non-white middle-to-lower-income voters she believes to be her semi-private fief do not share her taste for socialism and boutique radicalism on the Bernie Sanders model and threw their support to Joe Biden instead.

She was the only Democrat to vote against the $484 billion coronavirus bill. This troubles her.

“Our brains are just designed to experience a lot of excruciating pain at the idea of being alone,” she tells the New York Times, in an excellent profile written by Mark Leibovich. “When you cast those lonely votes, you feel like your colleagues respect you less, and that you are choosing to marginalize yourself.” Naturally, she lapsed into her self-romanticizing mode, imagining herself starring in a movie called The AOC Story: “I walked home in the rain,” she said. Of course she walked home in the rain. “I was very in my feelings, big time, and I felt very discouraged.... I was just, like, heartbroken,” she said. “I have, like, existential crises over it.”

Those final “likes” make mockery all too easy. But take her seriously for a moment.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez holds an elected office, but she is not a creature of politics — she is a creature of media, from cable news to Twitter. She has much more in common with fellow New Yorkers Sean Hannity and Bill O’Reilly than she does with such House predecessors as Sam Rayburn and Tip O’Neill. And even as she imagines adolescent little cinematic vignettes for herself, soulfully walking home through the rain and all that silliness, she is not the lead writer on The AOC Story — only an actress. She cannot control the media story arc any more than anybody else can. “I felt like my colleagues were making opinions about me based on Fox News,” she told Leibovich. “It almost felt like instead of them actually talking to the person who was next to them, and physically present in front of them, they were consuming me through television. And I think that added a lot to the particular loneliness that I experienced.”

Like most people in the media business, I am familiar with what she is trying to talk about.

We are all caricatures in the monkey-minded discourse of social media and cable news. The human brain has only so much processing power, and so we tend to shove people into categories and then to treat them categorically rather than understand them as individual human people with individual human minds, just like us. (That is the subject of my book “The Smallest Minority.”) The first category we are inclined to push people into is “Enemy.” If you are on the enemies’ list, then that is all we need to know about you. Everything else can be tailored as necessary. As William Makepeace Thackery put it in “Vanity Fair”: “One of the great conditions of anger and hatred is, that you must tell and believe lies against the hated object, in order, as we said, to be consistent.” That’s the root of the Left’s “Everybody who disagrees with me is a racist!” canard. Ocasio-Cortez, who indulges in that sort of thing herself all too often, should give that some thought. She is part of the problem.

A very few politicians are the sort who do not need politics. Sen. Ben Sasse, for example, seems to enjoy politics, but he does not seem to need it. You get the sense that he could be happy doing any number of other things with his life. George W. Bush would have had a great life if he’d never been a governor or president. Condoleezza Rice has made it very clear that she does not need politics. Daniel Patrick Moynihan never quite gave himself over to elected office. But much more common are the Lyndon Johnson type, the Hillary Rodham Clinton type, the Al Gore type, who desperately need to act out their dramas in the theater that politics provides for them. They are the sort of people who fear that they will stop existing if people stop paying attention to them — tedious in a party guest, crippling in a political class.

“Even if you are a minority of one, the truth is the truth,” Mohandas Gandhi advised. Some people find that advice easy to accept but difficult to live. To be alone can be hard. It is difficult to learn to be appropriately indifferent to criticism, but it is even more difficult, and even more necessary, to learn to be appropriately indifferent to praise. Representative Ocasio-Cortez has obviously enjoyed her 15 minutes of Warholian celebrity and has developed a mild addiction to praise — not from the people dying in droves in her district in New York City, but from the man on the television, the faces on social media, the New York Times, the celebrities. She liked doing those fashion spreads with Kerry Washington. And who could blame her?

But unless she learns to meet praise and criticism with exactly the same scorn, she will never be of any real use to the people in her district, who have been dying of Covid-19 in shocking numbers.

And surely they deserve an occasional thought, too.

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