You did not have to be her ideological soul mate or even a Democrat to appreciate the stirring speech Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) delivered on the floor Thursday — an emphatic rebuke of the misogyny displayed by Rep. Ted Yoho (R-Fla.), who reportedly verbally accosted and cursed her on the steps of the Capitol earlier in the week. Yoho had tried to get away with a non-apology, refusing to acknowledge his language and defiantly insisting, “I cannot apologize for my passion or for loving my God, my family and my country” (as though any of that justified his conduct).
Ocasio-Cortez’s entire speech is well worth watching and rewatching:
She was poised, focused and defiant — the embodiment of American women who no will longer put up with the condescension, the insults and the abuse of male peers. In shredding an excuse wielded by so many generations — “What I believe is that having a daughter does not make a man decent. Having a wife does not make a decent man. Treating people with dignity and respect makes a decent man.” — she managed to connect with millions of women. Her remarks transcended partisan differences (and even gender and race), striking a blow for anyone who has had to put up with the ugly conduct of someone in a position of power.
Moreover, it was a moment when we could see how a critical mass of women can transform an institution and the parameters of acceptable conduct. “She was joined by more than a dozen Democratic colleagues who seized the moment to rail against sexism and reject the common explanation from men that they would never disrespect a woman because they have wives and daughters,” The Post reported. There certainly is power in numbers.
In an interview on Friday with MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) praised the freshman congresswoman from New York. “She’s not taking any insult from him. . . . We couldn’t have been prouder.” Millions of American women could nod in agreement.
Ocasio-Cortez’s stirring words came during a time when “cancel culture" has been hotly debated. While it is hard to find a reasonable person who disagrees with the premise that free speech is a necessary component of our democratic society, and that no one should be fired for his or her political beliefs, everyone is accountable for their conduct — even white, male congressmen. The First Amendment means the government cannot punish you even for hateful, bigoted and cruel utterances. That does not mean you are spared from the wrath of those you insult.
Ocasio-Cortez did not “cancel” Yoho. She exposed and denounced his behavior, deprived him of traditional excuses and demonstrated that women — and especially women of color — do not have to silently absorb abuse that has been routinely leveled at them. In doing that, she reminded us that we all have agency, that we all must be responsible for our behavior and that we all are entitled to respect.
For all that we can say, well done, Rep. Ocasio-Cortez.