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writing for godot

Who's Afraid of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez?

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Written by Carl Peterson   
Monday, 14 January 2019 14:37

Who's Afraid of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez?

 

If you want to see how the anti-democratic American political and media Establishment responds to a perceived threat to its long unchallenged dominance of the American political power structure, behold the  disproportionate, and unbalanced reaction to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC), coming from some well-known members of this Establishment.  Because these reactions were evoked by inordinate fear, they never had much of a chance of being balanced or particularly intelligent, but on the other hand, they reveal the insecurity of an Establishment that has for decades wronged regular Americans, and, maybe out of a guilty conscience, is frightened by the thought that AOC heralds an unwelcome change in the political winds.

CNN's Chris Cillizza's Very Slippery Slope of Poor Analysis

I could now point to any of a number of overboard, disrespectful and silly remarks made by various Establishment journalists and politicians in reaction to AOC: just recently from Claire McCaskill (likening AOC to a "bright, shiny new object" (Silly)); Max Boot (AOC is in danger of becoming another Sarah Palin (Absurd)); Joe Lieberman (hopes AOC is not the future of the Democratic Party.(Sad))  I won't even count what comes out of Fox News. but focus below on Chris Cillizza of CNN because he writes under the heading of "Analysis," which means that he claims to be doing analysis and not merely reflecting the anxiety of an Establishment frightened by the prospect of real change that AOC represents.

Cillizza's article, titled Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez's very slippery slope on facts, published January 10, 2019, is available here: https://www.cnn.com/2019/01/07/politics/alexandria-ocasio-cortez-facts/index.html.

In the article, Cillizza focuses on AOC's misunderstanding of and consequent misstatement about facts concerning the amount of money that could go toward funding American healthcare if "Pentagon accounting errors" were eliminated.  AOC had tweeted:

"$21 TRILLION of Pentagon financial transactions ‘could not be traced, documented, or explained.’ $21T in Pentagon accounting errors. Medicare for All costs ~$32T. That means 66% of Medicare for All could have been funded already by the Pentagon. And that’s before our premiums." *

Cilliza's main point of analysis is to liken AOC's false conclusion drawn from information about Pentagon accounting errors to press secretary Sarah Sanders' falsely implying that 4,000 terrorists have been apprehended trying to enter the US at the southern border.  So, according to Cillizza, there is an important equivalence between the erroneous tweet of a first-term, first-year Congresswoman who had never before run for any kind of public office, and a deliberately misleading statement made on a national news program by the president's press secretary.

Cillizza explains, "Sanders' response [upon being apprised by Chris Wallace that her statement about terrorists apprehended at the southern border is false] -- "It's by air it's by land it's by sea, it's all of the above" -- employs, essentially, the same logic Ocasio-Cortez is using (my underline added for emphasis): My specific fact may be wrong, but the broader point I was making still holds."

Cillizza--not unusual for him--is incorrect in his analysis, and his problem begins with a false equivalence he asserts between AOC's erroneous tweet and Sarah Sanders' deliberate attempts to mislead the American people.  AOC in her recent 60 Minutes interview, did not explicitly admit to the error in her controversial tweet, but did obliquely acknowledge it while unskillfully (according to the precepts of accepted Establishment political discourse) attempting to make a larger, very important and valid point:  AOC said, "If people want to really blow up one figure here or one word there, I would argue that they're missing the forest for the trees. I think that there's a lot of people more concerned about being precisely, factually, and semantically correct than about being morally right."  Cillizza understands AOC's "broader point," acknowledging, "Ocasio-Cortez likely skimmed the study from which the $21 trillion figure comes and saw it as a way to make a broader point about how our government is totally fine spending trillions of dollars -- much of which is not well accounted for -- on defense, but blanches at the cost of creating a national insurance program to cover all Americans."  Yet the headline for Cilliza's article chides AOC for being on "the slippery slope" with her facts, and does not praise AOC for attempting, though clumsily, to raise a very important point that should embarrass both major parties: it's easy to spend tax payer dollars on the military, but so far impossible to get healthcare for all.

If you watch the video of the exchange between Sanders and Wallace you will see panic in Sanders eyes when she is challenged by a journalist she had assumed was on her team.  When Wallace informs her that the State Department has confirmed that there is "no credible evidence of any terrorists coming across the border from Mexico," Sanders--because she is fully aware that she has been caught falsely implying that 4,000 terrorists had been apprehended at the southern border--quickly diverts the focus of Wallace's point, responding, "It's by air, it's by land, it's by sea, it's all of the above," when the subject until that moment had been the lack of security at the southern land border.

Here Sanders is using a deliberate technique of misdirection, not forthrightly conceding, as Cillizza claimed,  that [her] specific fact may be wrong, but the broader point [she] was making still holds.  Sanders did not make any such concession, but instead swiftly shifted tactics, attempting to distract from Wallace's point while portraying the US as under terrorist invasion by land, by sea, by air, all of the above.

Nimble in her prevarication in support of the president's drive for a Wall on the southern border, Sanders quickly followed that stratagem with another attempt to deceive the American people:  "But one thing that you're forgetting is that the most vulnerable point of entry that we have into this country is our southern border..."  Note Sanders' use of the word forgetting, a deliberate ploy to establish in the listener's mind an unconscious acceptance of an established "truth:" that the southern border is America's most vulnerable point.

However, one does not forget a fact that one never knew in the first place.  Sanders was trying to get Wallace and the American people to accept that everyone knows that the southern border is our most vulnerable point, it's just that some of us forget that. In truth, the American people do not know that the southern border is "America's most vulnerable point." Sufficient evidence has not been provided to the public to establish this "fact," that according to Sanders, some of us have may have forgotten.  Even less do we know that a Wall will make the southern border more secure, which was what the president was claiming in the first place.

Sanders' tactic to gain acceptance for her claim about the vulnerability of the southern border seemed to work on Wallace.  He did not respond by asking Sanders how we know that the southern border is America's most vulnerable point.  Had Wallace done a proper follow-up, Sanders probably would have reached for yet another decoy to prevent clarity and honesty from beginning to characterize the discussion.

So much for Cillizza's claim of equivalence between AOC 's erroneous tweet attributable mostly to her political inexperience, and the president's press secretary's deliberate, repeated bad-faith attempts to deceive the American people about terrorists at the southern border.

Cillizza then deepened the problem with his analysis: "Fudging the facts in pursuit of "being morally right"--as Ocasio-Cortez puts it--assumes that moral righteousness is an agreed-upon thing.  As Trump's decisions to institute a travel ban or build a wall around the country show, it's not."  Here Cillizza is apparently making an analogy between AOC's erroneous tweet intended to support a certain moral position, and the president's repeated misrepresentations regarding the travel ban and the Wall.  Cillizza is pointing out that not everyone accepts AOC's moral positions and not everyone accepts the president's moral positions.  Again, Cillizza's analogy between AOC and another very dissimilar political antagonist seems to be meant to demean AOC through an unwarranted association.  It is not clear why Cillizza believes "fudging the facts in pursuit of being 'morally right' ...assumes that moral righteousness is an agreed-upon thing."  This claim is probably not clearly understood even by him.  Does Cillizza believe fact-fudging would be Ok if moral righteousness were "an agreed-upon thing"?  In any case, AOC is probably very well aware that her moral position on healthcare diverges from the president's, from Sarah Sanders', from the Republican party's, and from the moral position on healthcare of many Establishment Democrats.  AOC's "broader point" was that her moral position is that healthcare ought to be an American right, and that for her this moral right to healthcare is more important than whether she made a mistake, even a big mistake in her understanding of the meaning of Pentagon accounting disabilities.  She's right.  It is.  The Establishment, comprising most of the mainstream media, all of the Republican party and its plutocratic associates, and too much of the Democratic party and their plutocratic associates, has so far generally responded to AOC with fear that drives them to pounce on every opportunity to attempt to make her look bad.  It is noteworthy that although Cillizza just seems to be bad at analysis, his poor analysis usually seems to come out in favor of Republicans.

 

Note: The Washington Post (WP) evaluated AOC's tweet and awarded it Four Pinocchios, the rating WP reserves for "Whoppers," that is, the most egregious public falsehoods.  I take issue with WP for using the Pinocchio rating without clearly distinguishing between whether the claim being evaluated is merely mistaken or is a deliberate lie.  Pinocchio's nose did not grow because he mistakenly made false statements, but because he deliberately lied in an effort to mislead.  When discussing its standards and methods for fact-checking the Washington Post boasts of the pains it takes to achieve objectivity; however, failure to clearly distinguish between mistaken falsehoods and deliberate attempts to deceive inevitably leads to inconsistency and misrepresentation in WP's Pinocchio system for rating public falsehoods.  Furthermore, it is doubtful that WP has even earned the right to issue Pinocchios to anyone after it has repeatedly published Charles Koch op-eds that are misleading and propagandistic from start to finish, yet has never given any of these op-eds a Pinocchio.

 

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