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Looking at Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and seeing Sarah Palin

Globe staff; AP

Call me sexist, but I, too, thought about Sarah Palin while listening to US Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez on “60 Minutes” the other night.

Max Boot, a conservative columnist for The Washington Post, is taking heat from “AOC” and others, for raising that comparison. But when Ocasio-Cortez was asked by Anderson Cooper about her fuzzy math, and answered, “I think there’s a lot of people more concerned about being precisely, factually, and semantically correct than about being morally right,” it actually made me wonder: What if Palin said something like that?

No one in the media would have rushed to the defense of John McCain’s running mate. Instead, her words would be fodder for more delicious Tina Fey ridicule.


I celebrate the social conscience, not to mention the social media genius, that Ocasio-Cortez brings to Washington. My 25-year-old daughter, who is not a constituent, follows her on Twitter and sees presidential timbre. It’s great to see a smart woman and fellow Boston University alum take on the establishment and prevail. And now, for the sake of all those young fans in your district and beyond, please don’t squander that platform you so gloriously won.

I’m with Whoopi Goldberg, who said about Ocasio-Cortez, “You just got in there and I know you’ve got lots of good ideas, but I would encourage you to sit still for a minute and learn the job.” And I don’t think it’s sexist to say that. Men who sound like they don’t know what they’re talking about can also get called out as vacuous. Ronald Reagan was once derided as an “amiable dunce” and Dan Quayle was basically written off as a dumb blond. I also don’t think it’s sexist to ask Ocasio-Cortez to explain how she would pay for an agenda that includes free health care and free college tuition. Bernie Sanders was asked to do the same.


Believe me, I know the bar is set higher for women. And acknowledging that reality may be another one of those generational divides that separates boomers from millennials. But no matter what your age or gender, it’s still better to dig in and do your homework than to get spanked by the Washington Post Fact Checker, which has documented several factual errors from Ocasio-Cortez. One was her pronouncement that unemployment is low because everyone has two jobs. Another, which earned her four Pinocchios, was her assertion that the Pentagon has a secret $21 trillion pool that could be put toward the cost of Medicare-for-all.

Who cares if her misstatements are not as numerous or as bad as President Trump’s? She was just sworn into office. Besides, the low bar set by Trump shouldn’t be the measuring stick for anyone.

As Boot points out, what happened to Palin is a cautionary tale for young female politicians. Palin had many problems. But her biggest failing was falling for the glamour and celebrity of the moment and never trying to grow in a way that showcased the skills that got her elected governor of Alaska. Maybe she was as limited as portrayed or maybe she just never hunkered down and did her homework.

For all her cool, Ocasio-Cortez does seem to understand the stakes. After the “60 Minutes” interview generated some negative buzz, she tweeted, “Fact-checking is critically important. It’s not always fun. But that’s okay. It pushes me to be better.”


She’s also luckier than Palin, who got no love from the media. So far the early mistakes of a Democratic Socialist are much more forgivable, even when they show a lack of depth or knowledge. But over time, every fact-check or critique can’t be written off as misogyny.

Joan Vennochi can be reached at vennochi@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @Joan_Vennochi.