Oca­sio-Cortez breaks the rules and that scares her op­po­nents

The Fresno Bee (Sunday) - - Opinion - BY RUBEN NAVARRETTE JR. Reach Ruben Navarrette at [email protected]­navar­rette.com.

Who’s afraid of Alexan­dria Oca­sio-Cortez? A whole lot of Repub­li­can white men, it seems. I can smell the fear com­ing from Fox News host Tucker Carl­son, ra­dio host Rush Lim­baugh, pod­caster Ben Shapiro and oth­ers.

Congress has more than enough lawyers. What it could re­ally use is a few more bar­tenders.

The lat­ter of­ten have good so­cial skills. They tend to un­der­stand cus­tomer ser­vice. And they’re usu­ally good lis­ten­ers. It also turns out that some of them can have a lot of grit.

Oca­sio-Cortez de­fied ex­pec­ta­tions and earned her mem­ber­ship in the club. The 29-year-old Demo­crat built an up­start cam­paign from scratch, stared down her party’s es­tab­lish­ment with­out flinch­ing, clob­bered by 15 points a Demo­cratic in­cum­bent who had been in of­fice since she was in el­e­men­tary school, and won her seat in Congress fair and square.

Not bad for a Puer­toRi­can kid from Brook­lyn.

Who could pos­si­bly have a beef with that ver­sion of the Amer­i­can Dream?

See above: A whole lot of white Repub­li­can men.

The for­mer mixol­o­gist turned congress woman elect won’t be sworn in un­til Jan­uary. She hasn’t even of­fi­cially moved to Wash­ing­ton, D.C., yet, hav­ing an­nounced that she can’t af­ford rent in the na­tion’s cap­i­tal un­til her first con­gres­sional pay­check rolls in.

Yet, as be­came clear dur­ing her re­cent trip to Capi­tol Hill for ori­en­ta­tion meet­ings, she has al­ready cap­tured the pub­lic’s imag­i­na­tion. Tourists ap­proached her for self­ies. She’s the toast of the town. Ex­cept with Repub­li­cans, es­pe­cially white males. They want her to be toast.

They pick on her. They mock ev­ery mis­step even though they over­looked sim­i­lar blun­ders by Repub­li­can politi­cians they likely sup­ported.

You can see why they’re so in­tim­i­dated by Oca­sioCortez. Just look at how hard she worked to get this far in life. She’s no trust fund baby. She didn’t get into col­lege as a legacy.

Oca­sio-Cortez doesn’t fol­low tra­di­tion, wait her turn, or de­fer to elders. Her Demo­cratic pri­mary foe, Joe Crow­ley, is 56 years old and had ev­ery ma­jor en­dorse­ment in the district locked up. All those bless­ings, and a war chest full of money, was sup­posed to scare off his young chal­lenger. It didn’t.

She doesn’t get pushed around, even by her own party. Af­ter she beat Crow­ley, her win was min­i­mized by Demo­cratic Mi­nor­ity Leader Nancy Pelosi and she got talked down to by As­sis­tant Demo­cratic leader James Cly­burn. Both Pelosi and Cly­burn worked closely with Crow­ley, and they seemed to take his de­feat per­son­ally. But that’s still no ex­cuse for at­tack­ing the fel­low Demo­crat who beat him.

Oca­sio-Cortez can take a punch and re­turn it with gusto. When Sen. Lind­sey Gra­ham of South Carolina con­de­scend­ingly sug­gested she be­come more ed­u­cated af­ter she said that refuge “isn’t a crime” for Cen­tral Amer­i­cans any more than it was for “Jewish fam­i­lies flee­ing Ger­many,” she hit back. She brought up Gra­ham’s re­cent tele­vised quip about how he feared a DNA an­ces­try test might re­veal he was part Ira­nian and sug­gested he be­come more cul­tur­ally sen­si­tive.

Be­cause the con­gress­woman-elect has youth on her side, she could spend many more years needling op­po­nents in both par­ties. Pelosi and Cly­burn are 78, while Demo­cratic Whip Steny Hoyer is 79. That over-the-hill gang has spent a lot more time grum­bling about Trump than groom­ing suc­ces­sors.

She knows who she is, and she doesn’t seem to care much what you think of her; she in­vites In­sta­gram and Twit­ter fol­low­ers to fol­low her rou­tine, jokes about her wardrobe, and seems to take her mis­sion much more se­ri­ously than she takes her­self.

That last one — know­ing who you are — is a po­tent weapon for any elected of­fi­cial, pre­cisely be­cause it doesn’t ap­ply to many politi­cians. A lot of them seem to be who­ever their con­sul­tants tell them to be.

A lot of un­for­tu­nate things can hap­pen to de­rail an oth­er­wise promis­ing ca­reer in pub­lic ser­vice, but Oca­sio-Cortez got into this game the hard way. No one greased the wheels. Un­der­es­ti­mat­ing her tends to be a costly mis­take.

SARAH SILBIGER The New York Times

Rep­re­sen­ta­tive-elect Alexan­dria Oca­sio-Cortez, D-N.Y., speaks to re­porters on a break from the House Demo­cratic Cau­cus meet­ing on Capi­tol Hill in Wash­ing­ton, D.C., on Nov. 29.

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