Has the Right-Wing Spin Machine Met Its Match?

Sean Hannity, FOX, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez
Photo credit: DonkeyHotey / WhoWhatWhy (CC BY-SA 2.0) See complete attribution below.
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Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is the perfect figurehead for the progressive movement in the US. At 28, she represents a new generation of Americans. As a Hispanic woman, she represents minorities. As a Democratic Socialist, she represents different solutions to the growing inequality in the US.

But don’t be surprised if conservatives, who will attack her for precisely the reasons listed above, will be the ones to talk about Ocasio-Cortez the most. To them, the Democratic Socialist who shocked the political world by beating Democratic incumbent Joseph Crowley in the primary for New York’s 14th Congressional District, is the ideal person to scare their base into action.

Because the conservative outrage/fear machine needs fuel to keep running at peak capacity. Here is how it works: Lots of research has shown that fear makes people more conservative. If you view the world as a scary place — one in which various brown people like MS-13 (the villains du jour), terrorists, Muslims, immigrants, thugs, etc. are trying to take things from you — then you are more likely to back the guys who promise security, walls, more prisons, huge defense budgets, and a return to the good old days. Especially if the same guys also say that they will fight the war on terror/drugs/crime/Christmas on your behalf.

So all you had to do is to convince people that the US is such a frightening place and you had yourself a winning formula — until now. President Donald Trump excels at this but even he can’t do this alone. Enter the aforementioned outrage machine, aka Fox News and the conservative media. They will not only amplify Trump’s message but also bombard you with tales of how danger lurks around every corner, courtesy of the “others.” As a bonus, they will make you believe that there is no such thing as progress and that life in the US is a zero-sum game, i.e., for anything good that happens to another group of people, something will be taken from you.

That’s why, at first glance, Ocasio-Cortez seems like such a great target for Fox News and the like. Who better to get the Trump base’s blood boiling than an “other,” a woman, a millennial, a socialist, and an East Coast elitist?

But the first broadside from the network’s flagship blowhard only invited ridicule. When Sean Hannity wanted to show his viewers just how radical Ocasio-Cortez’s platform was, his list of her “crazy” ideas included her support for women’s rights, seniors, Medicare for all Americans, cleaning up campaign finance laws, criminal justice reform, and curbing Wall Street gambling on the economy.

That might sound frightening to a multi-millionaire like Hannity, who would probably be asked to pay higher taxes, but, to young people, Ocasio-Cortez’s vision of a better America isn’t scary at all — it is in line with their views on fairness and equality.

In addition, Ocasio-Cortez is not at all apologetic about her platform or who she is. That is in sharp contrast to many Democrats who do not embrace progressive ideas because they are worried that doing so will hurt them with voters in the political center. As a result, they run on a platform that excites nobody.

This is one of the things that doomed Hillary Clinton, who ran a campaign trying to appease everybody and offend nobody. That’s not a recipe for building excitement.

On the other hand, there is no confusion about what or whom Ocasio-Cortez is for. She is an unabashed progressive and embraces her platform, which is why the conservative outrage and fear machine may prove to be much less effective against her.  

Because an attack of “She wants Medicare for all” doesn’t really work on somebody who doesn’t apologize for that position and instead says, “Of course I want good healthcare for everybody. Let’s talk about why you don’t!”

In addition, demographics are on her side. In 2016, young people (Gen X and Millennials), who tend to be more progressive, for the first time voted in greater numbers than old people (Baby Boomers and older), who tend to be more conservative. What was a small gap two years ago will be bigger in November and keep increasing as older Americans die and young ones become eligible to vote.

So when Ocasio-Cortez is attacked for voicing the ideas young people believe in, they take it as an attack on one of their own. That is very different from an attack on somebody like Clinton, Chuck Schumer, or Nancy Pelosi old career politicians with whom young people have no connection.  

Obviously it is too early to tell, but Ocasio-Cortez may have rocked the political world in two ways. Her victory undeniably provided young progressives with a blueprint for getting into Congress, i.e., by embracing a bold agenda and taking out incumbents (which is why establishment Democrats don’t really like to talk about her at all.) And her passion, appeal to young people, and embrace of a truly progressive platform, may cause any attacks on her to backfire: they only will rile up a new generation of voters looking to make their voices heard at the ballot box.

The cartoon above was created by DonkeyHotey for WhoWhatWhy from these images: Alexandria_Ocasio-Cortez caricature (DonkeyHotey / Flickr – CC BY-SA 2.0), Sean Hannity caricature (DonkeyHotey / Flickr – CC BY-SA 2.0), Donald Trump caricature (DonkeyHotey / Flickr – CC BY 2.0), and flags (Ryan Godfrey / Flickr – CC BY-SA 2.0).

Related front page panorama photo credit: Adapted by WhoWhatWhy from Alexandria_Ocasio-Cortez caricature (DonkeyHotey / Flickr – CC BY-SA 2.0) and crowd (Espen Sundve / Flickr – CC BY-SA 2.0).

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15 responses to “Has the Right-Wing Spin Machine Met Its Match?”

  1. Burnis E Tuck says:

    MacKenzie, I beg to differ about the rampant corruption meaning we can’t use government for good. The Social Security Administration is one of the biggest Federal Agencies, has the lowest costs to run and almost no “corruption” as far as I know, of any of our Federal Agencies. It’s just woefully underfunded unlike some other sinkholes, like our 17 year old war in progress…It’s the Pentagon and funding for our “clandestine” agencies, with their “off the books” operations, what ever that costs (no one seems to know), where the big money corruption resides. Medicare for All should not be administered by the Pentagon, I think we can agree on that?

    • MacKenzie says:

      Except Social Security is corrupt. The entirety of the Social Security “trust fund” has already been spent by Congress. Social Security bought treasuries (not regular treasuries but rather “special issue” securities that Social Security can sell only to the US Treasury). The Treasury pays for these via borrowing and taxation. In short, the trust fund only has IOUs, which means it’s essentially broke.

  2. MacKenzie says:

    The post above this one on the homepage is “Afghanistan: 17 Years of Incompetence, Corruption, and Waste” yet this article is celebrating the idea of the trusting the government to be in charge of “Medicare for all Americans”.

    • Jeff Clyburn says:

      Do you have a more focused point? Or do you prefer to hope we get your meaning? If you’re trying imply a contradiction somehow, it’s important to note there are widely different agencies of government, led by very different kinds of men and women. You get this, right?

    • MacKenzie says:

      I agree that there are widely different agencies of government led by different kinds of men and women. However, point out to me which agency of government that deals with trillion plus dollar budgets doesn’t suffer from incompetence, corruption and waste? I think it’s a fallacy to believe “if we just get the right people in there, it will all work out”. When you consolidate the kind of money/power that would be required for “Medicare for all” this type of stuff is inevitable.

  3. Michael Calder says:

    She defeated a Democrat who had the full support of the Democratic party. Bet it is the Democrats who are trembling as they are losing their base.

  4. Michael Calder says:

    You conveniently left out she defeated an entrenched Democrat who had the full support of the Democratic party. Her election is a rejection of the Democratic party as much as anything else. Bet it is the Democratic Party that fears her more than the Republicans.

  5. Alexander says:

    This perspective is based in a moral economics. Ethical capitalism American-style is not what is happening in Venezuela. Trying to conflate the two is typical right-wing fear-based scare tactics. Won’t work on this new generation of engaged active voters. Look out conservatives on the Left and the Right.

  6. Pappy says:

    What is the difference between her type of socialism and the socialism that is destroying Venezuela?

    • Larry says:

      Do your own research, Pappy. Lazy citizenry is the reason the U.S. is in a mess. BTW, you seem not to know that the U.S. and some of its more cretinous and slavish allies have been conducting a financial and economic siege on Venezuela for several years, strictly because of ideology. There’s your source of Venezuelan misery. Venezuela had been on the upswing till that began. Cheers!

    • JMO says:

      You are right that the US and others have used economic tactics to punish and pressure Venezuela. No doubt about it. Its even possible the US attempted to assassinate Hugo Chavez, Venezuala’s former president.

      But I challenge your assertion that this is the “source of Venezuelan misery”. Is it possible it may ‘also’ have something to do with their authoritarian-socialistic government? I think so. Let’s not give that a pass.

  7. Pete says:

    I signed up to this site because they said it was balanced but found it has attacked Fox news. It gives the impression Fox is bad not mentioning hundreds of government-backed news sources twisting the daily news to advance their agenda….for just another fake news site.

    • Jeff Clyburn says:

      Conveniently vague, as if it makes a point. “Hundreds of government backed news sources.” What in the world are you talking about? Paranoid cons are actually arguing that there are “hundreds” of news entities being funded by the state? Dude, get some fresh air.

    • Larry says:

      Exactly, Jeff. Poor troll quality is a leading indicator of the GOP’s downfall.

    • Larry says:

      Hahahahahaha. Oh you’re so convincing. Are the right-wingers recruiting 3rd graders now to troll their opponents?