One of the rules of political communications in Washington, D.C., has always been not to give oxygen to false and malicious attacks. But the rise of President Trump — from reality show star to counterpuncher in chief — has undermined that conventional wisdom, especially for a younger generation of politicians comfortable with social media.
Case in point: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
“I grew up seeing these attacks on Nancy Pelosi,” Ocasio-Cortez, the 29-year-old progressive freshman Democrat from New York, told NY1 in an interview that aired Monday night. “I grew up with these attacks on Barack Obama. I grew up with these bad-faith attacks, even on Hillary Clinton. And so we know what’s going on. And I feel like what I’ve chosen to do is break this fourth wall a little bit and respond to them.
“We saw how completely unfounded attacks, like the birther movement with President Obama,” she continued. “They were ignored because it was beneath the president to respond to these things. But then they started to grow, and as we say, they grow legs and start walking around.”
Why does @AOC respond to personal attacks on social media? She tells @errollouis that she wanted to “break this fourth wall a little bit” after seeing conspiracy theories that were ignored by politicians start to grow legs.
Obama was initially reluctant to respond to the conspiracy theory that he was born in Kenya, which first cropped up during the 2008 presidential campaign and then again in 2011, when Trump picked up the idea to generate publicity for himself and his NBC reality show “The Celebrity Apprentice.”
The White House eventually released Obama’s long-form birth certificate from the state of Hawaii because, as the president told reporters, the story was becoming a distraction to his agenda.
“We’re not going to be able to solve our problems if we get distracted by sideshows and carnival barkers,” Obama said in April 2011.
But by then it was entrenched on the right, and there are still some diehards who refuse to accept it.
Ocasio-Cortez has used her massive Twitter platform (and her 3.41 million followers) effectively to slay would-be rumors and distractions.
Just this week, she responded to a so-called exposé on the front page of the New York Post that the champion of the Green New Deal is known to ride in a car.