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Double Standards and Magic Asterisks

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Great piece by Laura McGann on the ridiculous double standards being used to judge not-even-freshman Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Speaker of the House Paul Ryan:

Writing at the Daily Beast, Matt Lewis offered the “telegenic it girl of the left” some advice: “You have the potential for a very bright future. Don’t blow it. Take your time. Avoid overexposure. Bone up on the issues. Do the hard work. There’s no reason to be in a rush.”

Ocasio-Cortez pulled off an incredible political achievement, she’s been courted by candidates nationwide who want her endorsement, and her résumé stacks up against the men her age in Congress — but that’s not good enough.

Research in science, business, and many other fields has shown again and again that when women go for a job, they’re held to a higher standard than the men around them. Ocasio-Cortez’s critics are acting out the same story in politics. In a town where male politicians are allowed to get policy facts wrong without losing credibility, Ocasio-Cortez’s mistakes are held up as evidence that she’s not up to the task.

The Washington Post’s Fact Checker columnist Glenn Kessler wrote a robust listicle that’s become the foundation of Ocasio-Cortez skepticism. Kessler unpacks statements that she’s made in recent months, concluding that quite a few are “false.”

In one example, Ocasio-Cortez calls an Obamacare premium a tax, which it’s not. “This appears to be an example of not understanding policy nuances,” Kessler wrote.

Ocasio-Cortez has been criticized for a variety of comments — on Israel and Palestine, on the cost of Medicare-for-all, and on a remark about what it costs when people die without health care. Her answers aren’t all great; she misspeaks, or she just gets things wrong.

Many politicians do the same. “The average member of Congress might easily make many bloopers over the course of so many live interviews,” Kessler writes. The difference is what happens next. No one demands those politicians go back to school, or shut their mouth for a few years until they’re more seasoned. The standard in Washington allows politicians to say things that are untrue without harming their reputation as a serious policy thinker and political operator.

For example, Paul Ryan’s been fact-checked for years and he’s still considered an ideas man. PolitiFact has collected some of Ryan’s “pants on fire” claims, like:

“We’ve got dozens of counties around America that have zero insurers left.”
“We got to a point that our Air Force pilots were going to museums to find spare parts over the last eight years” under President Obama.
“Because of Obamacare, Medicare is going broke.”
Obama “has doubled the size of government since he took office.”

No one saw these statements and said Ryan is unfit to serve in Congress. No one told him to go put training wheels back on. No one told him he wasn’t ready for primetime.

His legacy as a smart policy thinker is secure. Even in a farewell piece in the New York Times Magazine, Mark Leibovich describes listening as Ryan took a call from President Trump, who wanted to compliment him on a Fox News appearance. Ryan, Leibovich wrote, “used the opportunity to steer the conversation to the subject of trade policy.”

This isn’t an argument to hold members of Congress to a lower standard. We should scrutinize their ideas and their plans and question whether they should represent us. But we shouldn’t use that standard for some candidates like Ocasio-Cortez and give a pass to men who we think look the part of a politician, like tall, blue-eyed Paul Ryan.

Paul Ryan was treated by a generation of reporters as a policy innovator and sophisticated wonk even though he was neither innovative (offering utterly bog-standard Reagan orthodoxy) not sophisticated (his massive tax cut/spending cuts for everything but the military plans were rife with magic asterisks.) But conservative white guys in suits who talk about cutting entitlements never have to prove themselves.

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