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COMMENTARY

Jeff Simon: The brave new TV ad world of Ocasio-Cortez

Jeff Simon

"Women like me aren't supposed to run for office," she said in her two-minute introduction to 14th district congressional voters,

Women like who? Attractive, vibrant, smart, passionate and articulate? Why on earth not? One would assume even the most backward male troglodytes would understand her appeal.

No, what Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez meant was that she is 28 and a Democratic Socialist on top of everything else. If she wins in November, she'll be the youngest woman ever elected to the House of Representatives.

"I wasn't born to wealth or a powerful family," she said while we see her on the subway. Her mother is from Puerto Rico, she says, pronouncing the word "Pwerto" not "Porto" and with a trilled "R" too. Her father is from the South Bronx.

"This race is about people versus money," she said in her "hello, it's me" ad. "We've got people. They've got money."

And so she did indeed get more people.

Her two-minute video got lots and lots of people. It went viral in one day with more than 300,000 clicks after it was uploaded.

When I first saw it online--which was after I had learned that Ocasio-Cortez was the shocking winner of her primary contest over 10-term congressional veteran Joseph Crowley--I said to no one at all, "well of course she won, for pity's sake. With a campaign ad that good, how could a New York candidate lose?" Especially in a district that is one-half hispanic and one-fifth white?

And now a brief word from the new world of downstate politics and American media.

No sooner had Ocasio-Cortez' video become an instant viral sensation on the web than the candidate in that primary explained this: "one great thing about our campaign video: not a single consultant was involved. I wrote the script. My family is the closing shot.....Volunteers conducted the shoot."

Examine that paragraph more closely.

The video was made by a company called Means of Production, a couple of people in the Democratic Socialist Party in Detroit named Naomi Burton and Nick Hayes.

About the creation of their company, Hayes has said "it just didn't compute to us that the same people creating working class propaganda are essentially creating propaganda for corporations."

And that's what's so startling. This--everyone saw immediately in that viral video--is a candidate who isn't kidding. Her political beliefs, on the closest inspection, seem to fit with her campaign all the way down the line.

To imagine the opposite of that, consult (or remember, if you can) Michael Ritchie's classic political film with Robert Redford "The Candidate" which was written by Eugene McCarthy supporter Jeremy Larner. The unctuous slickery and cynicism of the political consultant who was modeled on Democratic guru David Garth (played by Allen Garfield in the film), made him the most epicene character in the movie.

Or, even better, go back and look up online the N. Y. gubernatorial campaign of drug store mogul Lew Lehrman, where the candidate rose from total obscurity to mere inches from the governor's mansion by dint of the Satanic genius of Republican political packager Roger Ailes (who later gave us Fox News, the gift that keeps on taking).

It's a long-accepted part of American folklore that very few people in this world are more cynical--or, often, more clever and sinister--than political consultants.

When a candidate writes her own ad explaining herself and puts her most ardent partisans in charge of illustrating it, something exciting has entered the world of politics. Especially when it stomps the competition flat.

Once again, one message it sends is "how could an ad that good lose, really?"

Easily, would be one logical answer to that question. Cynicism is what it is because it isn't just grounded in reality, it's chained to it.

Consultants in all fields (including media) make their dough by knowing what played well in the past, and pretending that maximum cynicism about that is the wave of the future. They don't necessarily have the vaguest notion what might play in the present.

Some in a consulting capacity in the camp of Ocasio-Cortez' opposition--a fellow whom some speculated might actually become the next Speaker of the House--told Crowley not to even bother debating his opponent. Just send a Hispanic surrogate instead. Not a good move.

When Ocasio-Cortez defeated Crowley on Thursday, she knew something new had entered her campaign when she found a couple of supporters who were 19--in other words, as she put it, "19-year-old voters in an off-year political PRIMARY."

That's a constituency that a well-paid consultant would have about as much experience respecting and deciphering  as they would a visitor from Mars.

Even the side issues of Ocasio-Cortez' primary victory approached hilarity. Crowley's way of conceding his defeat after 10 years in office, was to pick up his guitar and sing Bruce Springsteen's "Born to Run" in tribute to his opposition.

Obviously, Ocasio-Cortez' victory out of obscurity, afflicted the evening's loser with his own kind of euphoria.

Hard to blame the guy really. In a world where all the money and experts and consultants added up to nothing against a young newcomer whose benchmark is passionate Democratic socialism a la Bernie Sanders, the old rules no longer apply.

Packaging political newcomers used to be where political cynicism could make some of its most powerful stands.

What on earth would we do if it didn't stand a chance against guilelessness, passion and virtue?

Wouldn't it be fun to find out?

 

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