Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez quickly became an incandescent figure of inspiration to progressives far beyond her New York district by exhibiting an indomitable — and very skillfully expressed — willingness to challenge her own party’s leadership and conventional wisdom. But in admitting she rebuked her former chief of staff for inflammatory attacks on House Democratic colleagues, she has indicated that there are limits to confrontation-for-the-sake-of-confrontation, as the Daily News reports:
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez scolded her ex-chief of staff Saikat Chakrabarti on Wednesday for comparing some of her centrist colleagues to racist Dixiecrats, calling his comments “divisive” and revealing she gave him a good talking to after the fact.
In an exclusive interview with the Daily News at her district office in Jackson Heights, Ocasio-Cortez said Chakrabarti’s recent resignation had nothing to do with his June 27 tweet comparing members of the moderate Blue Dog Coalition to “Southern Democrats” in the early 20th century who opposed desegregation efforts.
However, for the first time, Ocasio-Cortez distanced herself from Chakrabarti’s controversial post.
By insisting that Chakrabarti’s departure to run a pro–Green New Deal advocacy group was long planned (it was certainly a more credible excuse than the usual “leaving to spend more time with my family” b.s.) and had nothing to do with his tweets, AOC avoided throwing him under the bus. But she did say he was taken to the woodshed for getting carried away with criticism of those House Democrats who helped Republicans pass an emergency border funding bill:
“I think it was divisive,” she said, adding, “I believe in criticizing stances, but I don’t believe in specifically targeting members.”
This kind of targeting is especially damaging when you are calling these members, many of whom are facing general-election competition unlike any AOC will ever encounter in her safe Democratic district, no better than the architects and defenders of Jim Crow. And since Chakrabarti’s slur included not just the Blue Dogs but the House New Democratic Coalition (which has, by my rough count, 12 African-American and nine Latino members), it was by any measure poorly targeted.
So perhaps AOC is signaling a more calibrated strategy of speaking truth to power, which will improve her relationship with her Democratic colleagues without giving up any principled turf. If you can stop well short of calling your party colleagues bigots, you still have a lot of confrontational room to maneuver.