AOC. Image Credit: CNN Screenshot.
AOC. Image Credit: CNN Screenshot.© Provided by 1945

Back a few months ago, Tara Palmeri had a piece with Puck titled ‘The Remaking of A.O.C.’ It is well worth your time. 

“Five years into her legislative career, a more subdued and party-line-toeing Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is inciting all kinds of curiosity. She’s either playing three dimensional chess en route to the Senate and beyond, or she’s diligently earning her stripes on the Hill. Which is it?” Palmeri asks.

Palmeri’s piece operates under the premise that AOC is only now subdued and party-line-toeing, whereas when she entered Congress, AOC was a trailblazing, authority-defying progressive.

Is that so?


Or has AOC always tended to cater to the whims of the establishment Democrats?

Some critics have been arguing for years that AOC was all bark no bite, and that she lacked the courage of her conviction. To those critics, the contemporary, subdued AOC that Palmeri describes was always AOC’s true self, despite the blustery progressive rhetoric.

Has AOC changed?

In AOC’s earliest years on Capitol Hill, Palmeri asserts, “she was a #resistance hero, an inspiration, a right-wing target and a trigger, and a veritable power center all her own. And yet, amid the chaos of the Trump years,  she also posed a material challenge to leadership, a frustration to Democrats who wanted to stay united above all,  and a font of vexation to policy wonks, who viewed her Green New Deal as the most well-known non-binding resolution of all time.”

There’s plenty of truth in Palmeri’s depiction of AOC; AOC was a hero and an inspiration to many, and she was definitely a right-wing target and trigger.

But to what extent did she really pose a material challenge to leadership?

Was it a material challenge? Something real? Or was it the occasional, non-material, snarky tweet?

Breaking Down AOC

I don’t want to put too much emphasis on one moment but I think it’s important to remember something that Palmeri leaves out of her early-years-AOC characterization: AOC campaigned on the promise that she would not vote for Nancy Pelosi as Speaker of the House. Then, AOC’s very first act as a member of Congress was to vote for Nancy Pelosi as Speaker of the House.

That’s a subdued and party-line-toeing AOC on day one.

Maybe she has had her moments of leadership-contesting since – but there were some pretty strong and pretty early indications that AOC had the capacity for getting in line with the establishment.

Fast forward to the present day and Palmeri and I seem to be more closely aligned. One point I’ve often made about AOC, and which Palmeri implicitly backs up, is that AOC is a celebrity-first, legislator-second.

“Other members may have written, introduced and passed a bill or two by their third term on their own, or landed a spot on a powerful A-committee, like Appropriations, Ways and means, Energy or Commerce. A.O.C. has barely done either,” Palmeri wrote. “The Center for Effective Lawmaking named Ocasio-Cortez one of the least effective members of Congress in 2021, for introducing bills that never became law or moved in committee.”

She Is Still a Political Rockstar with a Future

But no matter her legislative performance, AOC is still well-positioned for future success.

As one person familiar with AOC’s thinking told Palmeri, “ recognizes in this moment that she’s not in a powerful position within the caucus because of the way she came in. She sees that she’s set up for something bigger down the line. Only insiders care about policies and committees. The public doesn’t care. Donald Trump was president. What did he pass to get elected?”

Fair enough. And frankly, the AOC-Trump comparison is apt; each emphasized optics over substance.

Harrison Kass is the Senior Editor at 19FortyFive. An attorney, pilot, guitarist, and minor pro hockey player, Harrison joined the US Air Force as a Pilot Trainee but was medically discharged. Harrison holds a BA from Lake Forest College, a JD from the University of Oregon, and an MA from New York University. Harrison listens to Dokken.