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Opinion: Beyond word salads, AOC has nothing to offer our politics

I’m going to say this as delicately and as respectfully as I can: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez doesn’t have any idea what she’s talking about.

I’ll be the first to admit that I haven’t followed her very closely, haven’t availed myself to the content that she has disseminated, haven’t analyzed her speeches and public appearances with any regularity since she burst on the scene as the young, female version of Bernie Sanders.

I remember writing about her roughly a year ago after her bizarre, largely incoherent responses to questions posed to her by MSNBC’s Chris Hayes left me asking why anyone was still pretending she was a serious person. This was the interview where she likened the battle against climate change to World War II, by chirping out this rambling word salad:

“So we talk about existential threats, the last time we had a really major existential threat to this country was around World War II. And so we’ve been here before and we have a blueprint of doing this before. None of these things are new ideas. What we had was an existential threat in the context of a war. We had a direct existential threat with another nation, this time it was Nazi Germany, and axis, who explicitly made the United States as an enemy, as an enemy.”

Working every day with passionate, but sometimes intellectually green high school students, I immediately picked up on a similar strategy in the language of Ms. Cortez: find smart-sounding buzzwords (like existential, context, threat, and blueprint), repeat them often, mix them together with a call to action, and pretend you’ve said something meaningful.

The only problem is, it’s not meaningful. It’s nonsense. And I’m sad to say after watching Ms. Cortez’s speech endorsing fellow socialist Sanders for president, a year in Washington has apparently failed to deepen her understanding of the complex issues she encounters. If you doubt me on that, behold:

This is an even longer, less articulate word salad than what she produced a year ago. And this one came from prepared text. Even leaving aside the garbled sentence structure, the confused pauses, the overly-telegraphed and ill-timed applause lines, consider the singular policy idea that actually emerged from this uncomfortable few moments. Cortez demanded a movement in America that would bring about “publicly owned” (meaning “government run”) systems in areas like healthcare and education. She insisted,

“The future, and our future, is in public systems, and it’s publicly owned systems, because we need to take power over our lives again. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want Mark Zuckerberg making decisions over my life. I don’t know about you, but the Waltons have already been making decisions over our lives. And what we got was nothing. We need a, uh, a  United States that really, truly, and authentically is operated, owned, and decided by working and all people in the United States of America.”

This is breathtaking naiveté. It’s almost as though Cortez doesn’t realize that demanding public ownership of healthcare, economics, and education actually strips power from the individual.

Asserting to raucous applause that we must “take power over our lives again,” while simultaneously promoting the idea that such a step can be accomplished through surrendering power over our lives to government bureaucrats? That is a frightening display of either political manipulation of the ignorant masses, or an utterly witless politician speaking to a crowd that is equally clueless. Either way, it’s precisely how freedom dies.

I understand we are in the midst of an era of identity politics. I understand that we are a people who currently indulge an absurdly foolish obsession with youth. But the sooner adults in media and on both sides of the political aisle acknowledge that it’s time to put away childish things and ignore childish voices, the better off we’ll all be.