By the Republican response to the three most famous Democratic freshmen in Congress — Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Ilhan Omar of Minnesota and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan — you’d think these women were Shakespeare’s Three Witches rather than the three amigas seen chumming and laughing in countless photographs.
But then, you’d also infer from Democrats’ counterresponse that the GOP’s reaction has been solely an expression of racism, misogyny and anti-Muslim sentiment, rather than the result of legitimate observations of concern.
Let’s break it down.
First, shame on the media for giving these three women oh-so-much attention. Yes, they are unique and interesting. At 29, Ocasio-Cortez, or AOC, as she is sometimes known, is the youngest woman ever elected to Congress. Omar is the first representative to wear a hijab. And Tlaib, who is also Muslim, is the first Palestinian American woman to serve in the chamber.
Bravas all around. Their elections, as well as those of two Native American women, are all news- and noteworthy. After just a few weeks in office, AOC miraculously produced a big bill — the Green New Deal, a joint resolution co-introduced by Sen. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.). Of course, such bills don’t just happen overnight. Undoubtedly, lots of planning, strategy and little elves with pockets of political savvy pulled the legislation together and handed it off to Markey and the youngest member of Congress, ensuring a Big Green Splash and further burnishing AOC’s star.
A brief sidebar: Former representative Beto O’Rourke of Texas is experiencing a similarly sudden star turn. It’s easy to see why so many are attracted to him. He’s young (46), charismatic, has a beautiful family and appeals to a cross-section of Americans. But something about him seems manufactured. A leaner, lankier version of two likely role models, Bobby Kennedy and Barack Obama, his practiced performances tend to make one wish for the real McCoys. With unmistakable echoes of Obama’s cadences and Kennedy’s mannerisms, O’Rourke seems to have been created by an artificial intelligence that was informed by polls and demographic projections.
Tlaib, too, became newsworthy when the Detroit lawyer was caught on video early last month telling a MoveOn.org gathering that she had come to Washington to “impeach the motherf---er,” referring to President Trump. Like AOC, she’s a declared democratic socialist, and she has been a harsh critic of the Israeli government, calling for an end to U.S. aid to Israel.
Not least, Omar, too, has invited accusations of anti-Semitism for recently tweeting that Washington politicians push pro-Israel policies because they’re funded by lobbying organizations such as the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, or AIPAC. After incurring a firestorm from nearly all corners, including the Democratic leadership, Omar issued an apology that was both quick and appropriate, even though the president declared it “lame.”
Omar said she meant no offense to Jewish Americans and that “we have to always be willing to step back and think through criticism, just as I expect people to hear me when others attack me for my identity.” Trump, meanwhile, said she should resign, which is ridiculous. She, like Trump, was duly elected.
Regarding money, AIPAC, though a pro-Israel lobbying group, does not actually finance politicians. Omar was also quite wrong about the nation’s pro-Israel stance being “all about the Benjamins baby,” a reference to $100 bills. As most readers know, the United States supports Israel in large part because it is surrounded by countries, including Iran, that deny its right to exist, as well as other places that harbor or support terrorism, or are, in the case of Gaza, run by a terrorist organization. It is, in other words, in our national interest to support Israel.
But Omar is right on the money when she expresses broad concern about the degree to which legislators do receive contributions intended to curry favor. In her apology, she said she is being educated on anti-Semitic tropes — and is “listening and learning,” which is good advice for all concerned. Republicans, rather than trying to villainize these three new congresswomen and make them the faces of the Democratic Party, should bow to the positive while drawing important distinctions.
And isn’t it time Democrats discarded their own arsenal of tropes about Republicans? It isn’t racist to openly worry that Democratic newcomers are expressing anti-Israel views. The fact that the three are female is irrelevant. And, it certainly isn’t anti-Muslim to observe that expressed sentiments might be influenced by one’s heritage or religion.
A diverse country requires that all voices and perspectives be heard. An intelligent future demands that the best ideas, not the personalities presenting them, win the day.