Liberty University has invited Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-New York, to speak to students at one of its weekly convocations.
This invitation came, as many things do nowadays, in the form of a tweet — part of a Twitter flame war last week in which Liberty Chancellor Jerry Falwell Jr. called the left-wing sensation “dumb” and “a liar.” She accused him of Islamophobia. Not long after interrupting that insightful back-and-forth to issue the invitation, Falwell went on to mock the congresswoman’s views on the connection between cattle and climate change. Falwell Jr. talked about his cows and tweeted “I would just love to watch a 29-year-old bartender from the Bronx @AOC chase them. That would be top notch entertainment for sure!”
First, might we gently suggest that this is not exactly high-minded conversation? When did it become acceptable for people in high positions — or people anywhere, for that matter — to mock one another? Can we no longer have a civil debate about, well, anything? You’d think the chancellor of a university would aspire to raise the level of public discourse, not lower it. In any case, we will not cleanse the Augean stables of social media today. But we can do what Falwell Jr. did not, and take a more serious look at the substance of the matter — not the issues that he and Ocasio-Cortez went back and forth on (climate change, guns, Islamophobia, just to name a few) but his invitation for her to visit Liberty. She hasn’t responded, and may not have taken the invitation seriously. We wish she would because, on that at least, we take Falwell Jr. at his word. The invitation was both sincere — and clever.
Sincere, because the conservative university in Lynchburg does have a good record of bringing in liberal speakers — likely a better record than some so-called liberal schools do of inviting conservative speakers. Bernie Sanders spoke to a Liberty convocation in 2015. A former Democratic president — Jimmy Carter — was last year’s graduation speaker. Other prominent liberals have been invited, and declined. (On the other hand, in 2008 Liberty kicked out its College Democrats chapter, calling it “a club whose parent organization stands against the moral principles held by Liberty University.”)
Clever, because conservatives are doing more to elevate Ocasio-Cortez’s standing than liberals are — for them, her self-professed “democratic socialism’ becomes a useful foil and a way to paint all Democrats with the brightest of blues (which would be red in any other political system).
Regardless, whatever Liberty’s motives in inviting Ocasio-Cortez to speak, we hope she accepts — although not for the same reason that Liberty does, and not for the same reason that many of her fans do, either.
For better or worse, Ocasio-Cortez has become an important voice on the Democratic left, and it would be good for her to learn more about a part of the country that is very different from her district in New York City. For instance:
n “Electoral realities.” she came to Lynchburg, she’d be in the 6th Congressional District. Last year, Democrats nominated an unapologetic liberal for the seat — and Jennifer Lewis polled just 40 percent of the vote. In the past 67 years, the only time Democrats managed to win that district was when they nominated a retired corporate executive who was pretty middle-of-the-road — Jim Olin, who served from 1983 to 1993. Not the kind of Democrat that Ocasio-Cortez would like. Ocasio-Cortez has set herself up as a kind of minister of ideological purity for Democrats, which has prompted the Alabama-based Democratic pollster John Anzalone to complain that “my main gripe about AOC is that while I respect her voice in the party, I don’t think she respects mine or anyone else’s who differs with her on policy or comes from a different political electoral reality.” The 6th District represents a very different “electoral reality.” How does Ocasio-Cortez propose Democrats win there? Perhaps they don’t. That district is the second-most Republican district in the state. Next door, though, is the 5th District, which is also pretty Republican but, unlike the 6th, was considered competitive in last year’s mid-terms. Democrats there also nominated a candidate pretty far to the left in Leslie Cockburn, and saw her turn a potentially competitive race into a clear defeat. How does Ocasio-Cortez propose her party win there?
Economic growth outside “superstar” cities. Ocasio-Cortez gets the credit (or blame, depending on your point of view) for running Amazon out of New York. If she came to Virginia, she’d be in a state that has enthusiastically welcomed the online retailer. Furthermore, polling has found that the parts of Virginia most welcoming to Amazon were those most distant from Northern Virginia — specifically Southside and Southwest Virginia. We surmise that’s because those parts of the state are the ones most desperate to see any kind of economic development, and are inclined to cheer economic growth anywhere. Ocasio-Cortez sees herself standing up for working-class voters who might have been displaced by the gentrification Amazon would have brought, and would not benefit from its high-tech jobs. We can’t deny that reality, but here’s the reality we see: She comes from one of the richest cities in the country — and the rich are getting richer, just a different group of the rich than she’s concerned about. What we see is that 80 percent of the venture capital in the country is going to just five metro areas – San Francisco, New York, San Jose, Boston and Los Angeles. She can afford to run 25,000 high-paying jobs out of her city; parts of the country like ours are so desperate for them that we’re willing to pay for them. How does she propose to redistribute some of that wealth our way?
The Green New Deal. Lynchburg isn’t coal country but coal trains at least rumble through there. Converting entirely to renewable energy would undoubtedly be a good thing for the planet; but what does she propose for the parts of the country whose economy depends on fossil fuels? The Green New Deal is mostly silent beyond some vague language about “directing investments to spur economic development . . . in frontline and vulnerable communities that may otherwise struggle with the transition away from greenhouse gas intensive industries.” How, exactly, would that work? This is a pressing question for us, whether the Green New Deal passes or not.
Ocasio-Cortez need not come to Liberty to answer these questions, but she ought to come anyway. Everybody might learn something.