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  • Writer's pictureMadeline Kim

Ocasio-Cortez must debate to depolarize political climate

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez seemed to have emerged out of nowhere. She defied odds by winning the Democratic primary in the 14th congressional district, replacing Democratic Caucus Chair Joe Crowley. Ocasio-Cortez, an outspoken 28-year-old Latina woman, stands tall and echoes the new direction of the Democratic Party: abolishing the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), raising the hourly minimum wage to $15, and having Medicare for all, to include a few. This captured the interest of many across the nation, leading to her being deemed as the “future of the Democratic Party” by Democratic National Committee (DNC) leader Tom Perez.

If she truly is the so-called “new face,” we have a reason for concern regardless of our respective political stances. Recently, Ben Shapiro, famous conservative commentator and editor-in-chief of The Daily Wire, challenged Ocasio-Cortez to a debate. “I would love to have a real conversation about the issues.” He addressed that he understands why Ocasio-Cortez Shapiro may be hesitant to debate, but he offered to give $10,000 to her campaign for an hour debate on his show. He ended the request by saying that he wants to “make America a more civil and interesting place.”

Her response? “Just like catcalling, I don’t owe a response to unsolicited requests from men with bad intentions. And also like catcalling, for some reason they feel entitled to one.”

Shapiro is famous for saying “facts don’t care about your feelings,” and this is truly the case in this scenario. Facts don’t care about where you lie on the political spectrum, but facts do care to show that this is yet another example of political dialogue further shutting down. Regardless of your views on either Ocasio-Cortez or Shapiro, the fact that the “future of the Democratic Party” insinuates that a man initiating a woman to debate is morally equivalent to “catcalling”is troublesome.

Perhaps I’m naive in believing that Shapiro would challenge Ocasio-Cortez if she were male; however, Ocasio-Cortez used Shapiro’s sex to insinuate that she is a victim. By labeling him as a man “with bad intentions” and as morally devoid as a catcaller, she shut down any chance of dialogue. However, she has yet to respond to debate requests from female conservative commentators. I want to believe that she is too busy to check Twitter, studying up on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in light of her recent PBS interview with Margaret Hoover or improving her campaign and looking for outlets where she can resonate her message to voters. Realistically, however, if she saw Shapiro’s tweet and the several people tagging her, she most likely saw at least one of many debate requests and is not putting debates very high on her campaign to-do list.

Perhaps this sort of response appears to be justified given that Trump and his administration gets to avoid giving clear answers by calling off the liberal “fake news” media bluff. Of course, that lack of transparency and deflection is also harmful to our country and its political climate. However, regardless of whether there is a worse bluffing in the White House or not, her response — and the respective support she received consequently — further reinforces this new norm that we are enabling.

Former President Barack Obama garnered attention by telling a passionate rally quote “Don’t boo; vote!” Additionally, former presidential candidate Bernie Sanders showed great opposition against banning controversial speakers, such as Ann Coulter, from university campuses, encouraging opponents to argue her instead of silencing her. When thinking about contemporary progressive politicians, Obama and Sanders are among the first to come up in people’s heads. This was the image that portions of the Democratic Party have attempted to illustrate to its voting base, and we are taking a sharp turn by showing the same voting base that it’s okay to demonize those who challenge our views.

There are some possible factors leading to Ocasio-Cortez not taking up Shapiro’s debate: one being the debate is hosted by Shapiro himself. Because the debate would take place on Shapiro’s show, the respective audience would largely consist of Shapiro supporters. Therefore, it makes sense that being on his show probably may not have been the most fruitful use of her time regardless of the monetary gain from the debate. However, her response did not just shut off her willingness to debate with Shapiro; her response shut off her willingness to debate, period. Additionally, if it was just the fact that she did not want to be on the Ben Shapiro show, she would not have ignored the other requests from conservative voices.

Another reason that she may not be willing to debate lies in the strength of her campaign, or lack thereof. Politico, a political fact-checker, has repeatedly disproven several of her claims. The Washington Post went so far as to even award one of her claims “Three [out of Four] Pinocchios” due to how misleading her claim on Medicare was. Her PBS interview with Margaret Hoover didn’t help her image, especially when she backpedaled her claim that Palestine is being “occupied” by claiming that she is “not the expert on geopolitics on this issue”. More likely, Ocasio-Cortez is not ready to enter the political scene, especially when she blames the criticism raised from fact-checkers on sexism.

Ocasio-Cortez cannot have her “I won’t debate you” cake and eat it, too. Conservative commentator Allie Beth Stuckey had challenged Ocasio-Cortez, which had not warranted a response. However, a satirical interview that she posted resulted in Ocasio-Cortez speedily tweeting that “Republicans are so scared of me that they’re faking videos and presenting them as real on Facebook because they can’t deal with reality anymore.” How long did it take to respond to the satirical video? One day. The debate request? We’ve yet to find out.

I want Ocasio-Cortez to succeed. I want to see strong progressive leaders who fight for socioeconomic equality and bring up policies that protect Americans’ right to chase life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. However, I do not think that, at least at this moment, she is in a position to represent Americans or even the Democratic Party. In such a politically hostile climate, it pains for me to see another political actor entering the scene and adding another layer of polarization. She had opportunities to pull in new voters and challenge opposing viewpoints, but it appears yet again that we are in our echo chambers and making assumptions about those outside.

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