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Most new incoming members elected to the U.S. House of Representatives move into their new positions with relative anonymity other than any interest shown by their local and state-wide media. Sometimes, though, incoming freshman Congress members can garner national media attention for various reasons, which puts them in the national spotlight, makes them household names, and makes them a quasi-face for their party.
While a number of incoming Congress members for the 116th Congress have attracted national media attention, such as the two first Muslim women and first-ever native American woman, two in particular have become household names. And the two—a Republican and a Democrat—couldn’t be more different from each other, well beyond their respective political orientations.
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) blasted into the national spotlight by winning her seat’s Democratic primary by defeating 10-term incumbent Joe Crowley, considered the fourth most powerful Democrat in Congress. The youngest women ever elected to Congress, Ocasio-Cortez also made waves by her position as a far-Left Democratic Socialist, with a platform that includes Medicare for all, free college education, cancellation of all student loan debt, federal jobs guarantee with $15 minimum wage, decriminalization of drug crimes, a “New Green Deal” to combat global warming, and the abolishment of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency.
With the stunning upset of Crowley and her Socialist platform, Ocasio-Cortez became the darling of the far Left, though perhaps a bit of a concern for more moderate House leaders. Ocasio-Cortez, who’s on-the-job experience includes short stints bartending, waitressing, publishing, educational consulting, and serving on Bernie Sanders presidential campaign, also opened herself to extensive criticism from the Right for numerous gaffes she’s made since her election.
Her discussions during interviews and direct responses to questions indicate that Ocasio-Cortez has limited understanding of the economy, foreign affairs, and basic civics. She has basically flubbed all questions pertaining to how America should pay the trillions of dollars needed to enact her platform policies, said that the unemployment rate is down because people are working two jobs, and has alternately supported Israel or the Palestinians when asked how she would work out that ongoing conflict. She showed initial confusion about Nancy Pelosi’s role in the House, doesn’t seem to understand the legislative process, and at one point said she was looking forward to her inauguration.
For Republicans, Ocasio-Cortez is like a gift that keeps giving—with the belief that the more she opens her mouth, the more inane she and her positions will appear to the American public. And, she’s further making Republicans smile with her attacks against more moderate Democrats. Last week she joined a protest at the office of Democratic Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, demanding the creation of a new Congressional committee charged with coming up with a 10-year plan to adopt 100 percent renewable electricity. This week she announced a campaign with fellow Democratic Socialists designed to challenge conservative Democrats in Congress during the next primaries.
Apparently, the freshman House member is not joining her fellow Democrats in Congress with a “how to win friends and influence people” approach. It likely won’t take long to see how that goes for her.
Now contrast Ocasio-Cortez with the freshman Republican House member that’s made the national spotlight. Texas native Dan Crenshaw, a highly decorated, retired Navy SEAL Lt. commander, first gained limited national attention when he was endorsed by Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) during the Republican primaries, during which Crenshaw managed to eke out one of two wins from among the nine-candidate slate, and then won the runoff election against the other remaining opponent.
The national spotlight focused more light on Crenshaw on Nov. 3, when Saturday Night Live comedian Pete Davidson joked about the candidate’s war injury, while referring to an on-screen photo of Crenshaw wearing his eyepatch. “You may be surprised to hear he’s a Congressional candidate from Texas and not a hit man in a porno movie. I’m sorry, I know he lost his eye in war or whatever….” Davidson and Saturday Night Live received extensive criticism for dishonoring a war hero, and Crenshaw went on to win his election on Nov. 6.
Crenshaw provided what could be a preview of his governance style on Nov. 4, when he took the high rode in response to the SNL insult on national TV. Rather than expressing any outrage or demanding an apology, Crenshaw simply said that vets don’t deserve to see their wounds used as punchlines for bad jokes. He also asked his supporters to resist “outrage culture” in which every public misstep results in the mob calling for people’s heads, such as what the Right was doing with the SNL comedian. In short, Crenshaw was especially gracious.
Graciousness that continued during the next episode of SNL, during which the newly elected Congressman received a personal apology from Pete Davidson, and the Congressman got to jab back at his antagonist and show his own comedic chops at the same time. The skit was highly amusing, but the apology within it, and onstage rapport with Davidson, was heartfelt, and SNL allowed Crenshaw a platform to express support for veterans and encourage civility between opposing viewpoints.
Crenshaw followed up his SNL appearance with an opinion piece in the Washington Post, where he further elaborated on how to restore civility to public debate. Noting that there are many ideas that the Left and Right will never agree on, Crenshaw suggested that both sides need to agree that “ideas are fair game. —If you think my idea is awful, you should say as much. But there is a difference between attacking an idea and attacking the person behind that idea. Labeling someone as an “-ist” who believes in an “ism” because of the person’s policy preference is just a shortcut to playground-style name-calling, cloaked in political terminology. It’s also generally a good indication that the attacker doesn’t have a solid argument and needs a way to end debate before it has even begun.
“Similarly, people too often attack not just an idea but also the supposed intent behind an idea. That raises the emotional level of the debate and might seem like it strengthens the attacker’s side, but it’s a terrible way to make a point.”
The freshman representative elaborated on these points in real time this past weekend on Face the Nation, when he politely called out two Democratic freshman House members for their hyperbolic criticism of Pres. Trump. He asked Rep.-elect Joe Neguse (CA) to provide a distinct example to support his allegation that Trump was undermining the country’s democratic freedoms and principles. “What democratic freedoms have been undermined? We just had an election where we switched power in the House. Democracy is at work. People are voting in record numbers. I always ask for examples . . . [b]ut this broad-brush criticism that the president is somehow undermining our democracy, I always wonder like, what exactly are we talking about?”
While Rep.-elect Chrissy Houlahan (PA) jumped in to suggest that Trump was undermining freedom of the press, Crenshaw calmly replied, “Well, how has he done that? Obama had . . . many press members under investigation. Trump has not. So what difference is there?”
Neguse tried to point to the ban on CNN White House Correspondent Jim Acosta, but Crenshaw quickly noted, “One reporter—not the whole news organization.”
Seems like Crenshaw will prove to be a fierce debater in Congress, and, if he can continue to successfully add civility to the equation, will serve as a breath of fresh air that might shake up what is a stale, intransigent legislative body. And, while Crenshaw doesn’t agree with all policy positions held by Trump and others in his own party, you’re not going to see him fomenting insurrection against other members of his party or camping out in protest at the offices of the party leaders.
Washington Post—SNL mocked my appearance. Here’s why I didn’t demand an apology
Face the Nation—New members of Congress spar over Trump’s treatment of the press