A Predictably Stupid Scandal Threatens AOC
The Performance Culture Of Modern Leftism Blows Up In Her Face
AOC is in trouble.
Rep. Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez (D-New York), one of the key figureheads of the modern progressive movement has found herself in the middle of an ethical conundrum. Last week, the House Ethics Committee announced it would expand its investigation into AOC’s attendance at the 2021 Met Gala, where she famously wore a white gown with the words “Tax The Rich” written on the back.
The Met Gala is an annual fundraiser for the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute. The event, which takes place at the museum on the Upper East Side and always has a theme, is usually attended by a wide array of celebrities who wear fashions by top designers. It is considered one of the most important events in the fashion world.
AOC attended the 2021 event, themed “Fashion in America,” in the white gown designed by Aurora Jones. She wore it to call attention to one of her top policy priorities – raising taxes on the wealthy to find social programs like healthcare and education that have had an axe taken to their budgets for decades. Though the dress made news, it was mocked by many on social media, including conservative pundits who noted the irony that she was calling to tax the rich at an event exclusively attended by the rich.
AOC openly said the dress stunt was a protest. Though it did not lead to any policy change – taxes have not been raised on the rich – AOC defended the stunt as a means to call attention to the need for a tax hike.
Now, like a tragic character in a Russian novel, her own stupid actions may threaten her career.
Last year, the Office of Congressional Ethics referred a complaint against AOC regarding her attendance at the Gala to the House Ethics Committee. In the complaint, the office suggested AOC violated rules that prohibit members of Congress from accepting "a gratuity, favor, discount, entertainment, hospitality, loan, forbearance, or other item having any monetary value” as a gift. According to the report, released last week, AOC was provided with "a couture dress, handbag, shoes, and jewelry,” as well as “hair, makeup, transportation, and ready-room services."
The House Ethics Committee, now under Republican control, has decided to further the investigation.
This left me wondering. Was it worth it?
In January, I wrote about how progressive activists were beginning to do things that undermine their own causes. From twerking at a nurses’ strike to using migrants to advocate for unrelated pet causes, leftists are now valuing performance over substance and giving us no tangible results to credit them for. In some cases, the performance only backfires, leading to worse policy outcomes and people treating progressive activists as unserious showhorses. This has led people who previously supported their causes to begin to think progressives have no strategy to actually deliver – or worse, they have no intention to.
AOC’s dress incident is another example of that. Wearing the dress did not do anything to further the goal of raising taxes on the rich. No one was convinced of it, no member of Congress changed their vote on a tax hike, no law was passed, and no policy changes were made.
I have my theory on why this is happening. I think 2020 was an inflection point here. I alluded to this in my early February piece:
…a lot of progressive activists have lost sight of how they won in the first place, or are unable to adapt to the changing political reality. The tactics that worked pre-2020 are no longer working, and not knowing what else to do, they are just double-downing on what they know; be loud, disruptive, and unapologetic.
It’s too early to know for sure how deep this scandal may go. A similar scandal hit AOC’s former colleague, U.S. Rep. Carolyn Maloney, whose district included the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Maloney was defeated in a primary last year, but the Office of Congressional Ethics still opened an investigation into Maloney surrounding a request for an invitation to the Met Gala in 2016 after she had not been invited. Such a request would likely be a violation of House ethics rules. The OCE has not yet issued any recommendation or report on that case.
It’s possible this AOC dress scandal just floats out of the news cycle and leads to nothing. I don’t see her being forced to resign or being expelled. Nevertheless, AOC is one of the most controversial politicians in America. She always has a target where “Tax The Rich” was written that night, and her political opponents control the House. Any missteps are going to be used against her and help further the type of polarization that has made her less and less effective over time. At the very least it will be another thing to use against her to prevent her from seeking higher office in the future, but at the very most, she may go to prison.
And all for a performative protest that amounted to nothing.
Prison seems extraordinarily unlikely.