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Pinna: Ocasio-Cortez on the Road

“In the face of all of this evidence, let’s give Cortez another shot and ask one more question: why does it even matter if she was hypocritical? Aside from her being an elected official that people are supposed to trust, it’s because she made it matter.”

Last weekend, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez responded to an excellent New York Post exposé, which had featured yet another case of her rampant hypocrisy. This time it was from back during campaign season.

Instead of using a subway station that was but “a one-minute walk” from her campaign headquarters, the environmentalist had opted to leave a significantly larger carbon footprint: she spent nearly $30,000 on car services, including over 1,000 separate transactions with car services like Uber and Lyft.

So what did the Twitter warrior “clap back” with? That, “living in the world as it is isn’t an argument against working towards a better future.”

While a conservative’s “razor-sharp BS detectors” activated at the first character of that sentence, it’s important to note that for the 195,000 people who liked her tweet, such logic actually makes sense. With that in mind, we need to be doing more than just calling Ocasio-Cortez out on her hypocrisy, it is also necessary to explain exactly where and how she contradicts herself, without alienating those who support the Green New Deal.

The point of the Post’s piece wasn’t to further the debate on the Deal but rather to point out the severe character flaws and personal mistakes of the freshman congresswoman. Fresh off a major PR defeat over losing Amazon—which drew the ire of powerful state Democrats like Governor Andrew Cuomo—Ocasio-Cortez’s image, and even electoral future, could be in jeopardy. 

Her defenders might argue that she is  simply acting out of necessity within an unjust system, one that leaves someone with no other choice but to practice what they consider to be wrong. Unfortunately for the representative, “the world as it is” in New York’s 14th District not only has the aforementioned subway line down the block from her HQ but also a plethora of bus routes as well. She wasn’t forced to use Uber and Lyft. She chose to use them instead of the cheaper and more environmentally-friendly option of public transit.    

“But wait,” she would say, “I needed to take all of those Ubers so that I could effectively make change and get elected to this position!”

I completely understand the sentiment underlying that objection. Sometimes, campaign business often calls for quick trips that are best done by car, especially when traveling to areas in the district that aren’t as covered by public transit. The New York Post, however, explained that away: “Max Rose—whose district is more than twice the size of Ocasio-Cortez’s and, like hers, spans two boroughs—listed only 329 transactions for car services, totaling $6,091.29, campaign filings show.”

This realization is made even more poignant when one considers the fact that Congressman Rose’s victory over incumbent Republican Dan Donovan in New York’s 11th congressional district, which includes Staten Island and parts of Brooklyn, was actually an “upset.” Unlike Cortez, who effectively won her district after the primaries, Rose was fighting up until the very last day to flip his district (It is an R+3, according to the Cook Political Report). If anybody needed to spend almost 5 times what Rose had used, it was Rose himself, not the one resting on her laurels in a D+29.

In the face of all of this evidence, let’s give Cortez another shot and ask one more question: why does it even matter if she was hypocritical? Aside from her being an elected official that people are supposed to trust, it’s because she made it matter.

In a now viral video, the Congresswoman, in a fit of braggadocio, pushed back against her critics, proclaiming that “[she’s] trying, and [they’re] not.” It called back to her comments that people are too focused on being “factually and semantically correct than about being morally right,” particularly when she also remarked that “the power is in the person who’s trying, regardless of the success” and that “until [they] do it, [she’s] the boss.”

In short, the leg that Ocasio-Cortez is attempting to stand on is that despite the Green New Deal’s perceived shortcomings, she is morally right in her actions and thus fit to lead the Green Movement.

That leg is kicked out from beneath her when it’s revealed that personally, she isn’t trying at all. If a progressive doesn’t think that hypocrisy is immoral, then at the very least, they have to admit that what Ocasio-Cortez did was entirely lazy—the polar opposite of “trying.” She might acknowledge that climate change is a serious problem, but, given some of her choices, she’s arguably the last one who ought to be leading the charge against it.

Matthew Pinna is a student at the University of Chicago.

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