“They will never forget you till somebody new comes along.” – The Eagles, New Kid in Town
"AOC" meant something else around the halls of Congress for decades.
To the uninitiated, "AOC" stands for "Architect of the Capitol." There have only been 11 Architects of the Capitol in the history of the republic. The president nominates a candidate. It's subject to Senate confirmation. The position is vacant now as former Architect of the Capitol Stephen Ayers retired last year.
But "AOC" now means something else in the Congressional lexicon. AOC is ubiquitous shorthand for Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., the freshman from the Bronx.
"AOC" shocked the political world last June when she defeated former Rep. Joe Crowley, D-N.Y., in the primary. Few saw the upset coming. Political handicappers thought Crowley had a good chance to serve as House Democratic Leader or even House Speaker. Now Crowley is gone. Far more people know about Ocasio-Cortez than they ever did about Crowley, despite his two decades in Congress.
Congress-ing is a rough business.
During the first day of the House freshman orientation, Ocasio-Cortez joined protesters conducting a sit-in at the office of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. Then Ocasio-Cortez led seminars, giving Democrats tips on how to improve their social media interactions. Ocasio-Cortez is now one of the most recognizable figures in American politics, right up there with President Trump, Pelosi and Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt.
Ocasio-Cortez touts Medicare for all. She issues dire warnings about the environment. Along with Reps. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., and Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass., the New York Democrat wrote a letter to colleagues calling for the current border security conference committee to reduce spending for the Department of Homeland Security.
Some portray the ideas of Ocasio-Cortez radical. Extreme. Socialist. Revolutionary. AOC wields an innate ability to convulse the political system. To rattle traditionalists on both sides of the aisle. To even scare some.
Are the ideas radical? That’s in the eye of the beholder. But the story of America is based on radicals. Those who balked at the crown. How radical was the idea of devolving power from a monarch to not one but two legislative branches? Alexander Hamilton's radical idea of a nationalized financial system, binding the states and debts together? Radical moves by Lincoln, FDR and Martin Luther King, Jr.?
It’s too early to assess Ocasio-Cortez's staying power and if her ideas will fundamentally alter the system. But for now, Ocasio-Cortez is one of the biggest things in politics. Is she a game changer? Ask us in a few years. America’s political coastline is flecked with the jetsam of flashes-in-the-pan, one-hit-wonders and sundry political flameouts. But by definition, the disruptors who evoke the most change in America usually are cast as radicals and dangerous. It’s not fair. But that’s because the system is crafted to resist change. Therefore change appears so radical.
Here’s what we do know: Ocasio-Cortez may be cutting edge now. But she won’t always be. As the Eagles sing, "they will never forget you till somebody new comes along." That lyric is a guaranteed certainty in politics. The attacks on Ocasio-Cortez are nothing new. Political leaders who are effective, dial up a resonant sweet spot or break through the noise are almost always targeted – often in ad hominem fashion.
Pelosi knows this as well as anyone. Some thought that Pelosi may be on the outs last fall, arguing time passed her by. By the same token, Republicans revealed at portraying Pelosi as too liberal for Democrats. Just last week, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., declared that Pelosi “is out of step with her party.”
Music critics deride AC/DC as a band which recorded the same album "17 times." AC/DC doesn’t dispute that charge. In fact, guitarist Angus Young embraces it. AC/DC will tell you they have a bona fide formula which works and sells records. So why change?
Republicans have long pilloried Pelosi. It’s an effort to toxify her as the face of House Democrats - taking pains to link more moderate Democrats to a San Francisco liberal. Much like AC/DC, Republicans have cut the same album about Pelosi 17 times. Too liberal. Passed Obamacare. Cap and trade. Used her special “plane” to jet around the country. But Republicans maintain the Pelosi strategy because it works. They don’t need to find a new sound for the next album. Republicans are naturally after Pelosi again because she’s Speaker of the House and the GOP is mired in the minority. So, they’ll haul out everything they have against Pelosi.
Pelosi has withstood the challenge after years of attacks. That’s why the knives are out for her again.
This also explains why the knives are out for Ocasio-Cortez, too. She’s different. She has a lot of supporters now. It’s natural that opponents – both inside the Republican and Democratic ranks – angle for her. That’s one of the ways political opponents undercut political figures and introduce a “new kid in town.” If someone steps too close to the fire, there are plenty of people willing to shove them into the inferno.
The same phenomenon is true right now in the Democratic 2020 presidential sweepstakes. Lots of new kids in town there: Sens. Cory Booker, D-N.J., Kamala Harris, D-Calif., Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., and Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawaii. And those are just the ones on Capitol Hill who are either running or quasi-officially eyeing a bid. The Democratic primary will be brutal.
We haven’t even talked about issues in the Democratic party and prospective bias in favor of Hillary Clinton over Bernie Sanders in 2016.
Look at how the “establishment” came after President Trump in 2015 and 2016. Few gave Trump a chance. Then the president surged ahead of more established GOP politicos like Sens. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., Marco Rubio, R-Fla., Ted Cruz, R-Texas, Rand Paul, R-Ken., former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and former Ohio Gov. John Kasich. The president was the quintessential “new kid in town.”
So, "AOC" is new on Capitol Hill. There are whispers about primary challengers and long-range plans. Ocasio-Cortez isn’t the first person in Congress or presidential politics to find herself in this position. She’s simply one of the most recent.