There are 102 new members of Congress consisting of 93 members of the House of Representatives and nine senators. If you follow the coverage in the print and social media, you would think that there were only two: Rashida Tlaib and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Neither comes from a congressional district from which you would expect such a buzz. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has become so well known that some refer to her by her initials AOC. Some of her detractors refer to her by other initials (OCD – Ocasio-Cortez Democrat).
Ms. Tlaib is from the 13th district in Michigan. It is made up of portions of Wayne County, including some areas of the city of Detroit. The population is 674,157 and demographically 54 percent black, 34 percent Caucasian, and 8 percent Hispanic. The high school graduation rate is 83.2 percent, and college graduation rate is 16.1 percent. The median household income is $35,365, and 29.6 percent live below the poverty line (censusreporter.org ACS-2017).
Ms. Ocasio-Cortez’s district, the New York 14th, includes portions of Queens and the Bronx. The population is 691,813 and demographically 48 percent Hispanic, 24 percent Caucasian, 18 percent Asian, and 9 percent black. Forty-seven percent are foreign born and 67.8 percent speak another language besides English at home. The high school graduation rate is 78.4 and the college graduation rate is 26.7 percent. The median income is $58,331.00
These two members of Congress are Democrats and members of the Democratic Socialists of America. They are the only two Congressional members who belong to the Democratic Socialist Party. It is a small organization. In November 2016 there were 8,500 members, and as of July 2017 there were 24,000 members. In contrast, the Green Party in 2018 had more than 250,000 people who listed their party affiliation as Green (gp.org). Many of their positions are similar to Ms. Tlaib and Ms. Ocasio-Cortez’s.
The secret to their success is that they have taken a page out of the Trump playbook: Do whatever is necessary to get media attention. It does not matter whether it is good or bad. The more media attention you receive leads to the impression of importance. The assumption is that only important and influential people are media stars. They have been so successful that Trumpians and traditional Republicans have exaggerated their importance in order to attack Democrats as having extreme ideas. They have become the faces of the “new” Democratic party.
For example, Ms. Tlaib and Ms. Ocasio-Cortez made sure they were the two most-talked-about freshmen after the swearing in. Ms. Ocasio-Cortez wore a white dress and Ms. Tlaib was sworn in by Jefferson’s Koran. Subsequently, Ms. Tlaib used a profanity in describing the president and said she was going to impeach him. Of course, that got everyone’s attention including the president. She then doubled down and was unapologetic. It was no surprise that Ms. Ocasio-Cortez came to her defense.
Also, someone had come into Ms. Tlaib’s congressional office and put a sticky-note of the word Palestine over the map of Israel. Ms. Tlaib made sure that reporters saw it. Of course, this generated a firestorm, especially in Jewish papers. This was exactly what she wanted.
These are not the first freshmen members of Congress who engaged in such tactics. The most famous example is Senator Joseph McCarthy who, starting in 1950, whipped a red frenzy and destroyed many careers of individuals by wrongly accusing them of being communists. Fortunately, his tactics were discredited in June 1954 when he accused the US Army of being infiltrated by communists and was then censured by the Senate. It took four years and a lot of innocent people being hurt before he was stopped.
I expect that Ms. Tlaib will take a trip to Palestinian camps and attack Israel. It will probably get more attention than the yearly trips to Israel made by new elected officials. Again, it is important not to fall into the trap of over responding.
The best way to deal with people such as Ms. Tlaib and Ms. Ocasio-Cortez is to ignore them publicly. It is not easy to do. Do not give them the attention they want. If you ignore them, that will cut down their perceived influence. Meanwhile, privately reach out to the power brokers to make sure that they limit Ms. Tlaib’s and Ms. Ocasio-Cortez’s influence such as by keeping them off important congressional committees.
It is a waste of time trying to change Ms. Tlaib. She is an ideologue and clearly has an agenda. It is possible that Ms. Ocasio-Cortez is like the president in another area. She may be willing to modify her position to help advance her career. Privately, she has to understand that it is in her political interest, besides being the correct thing to do, to support Israel or at a minimum not getting involved in the issue.
It is hard, but sometimes saying nothing is better. Don’t give these freshmen fringe members any more importance than they deserve. If the situation gets out of hand, there may be a need to change course. However, this is not the time.
Warren S. Hecht is a local attorney. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org