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Column: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s tear-down of Ted Yoho is the best TV I’ve seen in years

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez speaks on the floor of the House of Representatives on July 23.
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) speaks on the House floor July 23 about her confrontation with Rep. Ted Yoho (R-Fla.).
(Associated Press)

Oh, it’s a rare and beautiful day when the best, most rousing, pointed and important speech is brought to you by C-SPAN.

Remember when “The West Wing’s” President Bartlet launched a line-by-line tear-down of Leviticus after some conservative talk show host referred to homosexuality as an “abomination” because that’s what it was called in the Bible? Of course you do.

And now you’ll remember the day Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), speaking from the House floor, systematically dismembered Rep. Ted Yoho (R-Fla.) for thinking it’s OK to publicly call a woman a “f— bitch” if she’s doing something you do not want her to do.

I certainly do not want to impugn AOC’s sincerity by using the term “Emmy-worthy” (and with Emmy nominations just days away, she wouldn’t be eligible for this year anyway), but if that scene — and indeed the entire storyline — had been an episode of “Madam Secretary,” or “The West Wing” or even “Scandal,” it would have been a shoo-in for a nod on Tuesday.

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In this case, the “something” that Yoho did not want AOC to do was to suggest, as she had a few days earlier, that New York City’s recent crime spike could be due, in part, to unemployment and economic uncertainty. For the record, this is not a revolutionary idea — there are decades’ worth of studies that suggest a strong relationship between poverty and all manner of crime.

Neither is it extraordinary that many people disagreed with her; the relationship between poverty and crime is a frequent topic of debate, and AOC’s comments, coupled with recent calls to defund police departments, sparked some very strong language. White House spokeswoman Kayleigh McEnany called her assertions “preposterous”; the New York Post editorial board characterized her argument as “dishonest, callous and naive.”

That’s politics for you.

But only Yoho took it upon himself to confront her on the Capitol steps and, in front of reporters, call her disgusting, crazy and dangerous. And then, as an aside as he began to walk away, a “f— bitch.”

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Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s outrage over a Republican lawmaker’s verbal assault broadens into an extraordinary moment on the House floor.

After the incident was reported in the Hill, Yoho “apologized” for speaking to AOC in such “an abrupt” way but he denied using that last phrase — he claimed he said “bullshit” as a description of her policies — because “having been married for 42 years with two daughters, I am very cognizant of my language.” If his remarks had been “misunderstood,” he added, he was sorry for that too.

That’s politics too, but of a very different sort, which is why AOC made a 10-minute speech about the incident before the House on Thursday.

That’s gender politics, and affects every woman in America — all of whom, as AOC said, have had to deal with those words, or words like them “in some form, some way, some shape at some point in our lives.”

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Seriously, will any woman who has never had that phrase hurled at her, whether by a colleague, a boss, a boyfriend, a guy in behind you in line or just some random dude who didn’t think you left him enough space when you changed lanes, please stand on her head?

The “Harry Potter” author reminds us of the bizarre fears that drive transphobia, including an obsession with the magical powers of the public restroom.

That a congressman would use those words in public is a bit shocking — though given the language our president regularly uses, not to mention all those years of “Veep” and its liberal use of governmental vulgarity, maybe not as shocking as it should be.

Neither was AOC’s refusal to let it stand — you slap, she slaps back. But her speech was not about slapping back, at least not on a personal level. It wasn’t about Yoho disrespecting her politics or her title. It was about a woman refusing to accept words that, as she said, amount to “harassment” and “verbal abuse.”

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Words that undergird a “boys’ club” mentality that maintains its hold on authority in so many arenas.

“Dehumanizing language is not new,” she said. “This is a pattern of an attitude towards women and dehumanization of others.“

The words Yoho reportedly chose — not just the profanity but the “crazy” and “dangerous” — could have been plucked from a textbook on sexism. Throughout history they have been used to demean and dismiss half the humans on Earth. To exclude women from power and debate by insisting that a woman’s beliefs, should they contradict a man’s, stem not from an opposing viewpoint or a different life experience but from mental illness and/or a hateful need to thwart that man in some way.

You don’t have a different opinion; you’re just being a bitch.

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Since a court decision loosened restrictions, the expletive has been showing up everywhere -- often to great comedic effect. But is there a larger trend at play?

Women have been trying to reclaim that word for years, and in some circumstances, it has managed to shed the weight of history. But as a response to an essentially political disagreement, it remains a term of complete dismissal and attempted degradation.

That’s what AOC couldn’t let stand — not the words but the disdain they represent. And she didn’t stop there; she calmly and methodically informed Yoho, and anyone unclear on the subject, that being married to a woman, and/or fathering daughters, is not proof that he is fair-minded.

Hey, Henry VIII married a bunch of women and had two daughters too.

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“I will not stay up late at night waiting for an apology from a man who has no remorse over … using abusive language towards women,” AOC said. “But what I do have issue with is using women, ‘our wives and daughters,’ as shields and excuses for poor behavior.

“Having a daughter does not make a man decent. Having a wife does not make a decent man. Treating people with dignity and respect is what makes a decent man. And when a decent man messes up, as we all are bound to do, he does apologize. Not to save face. Not to win a vote. He apologizes, genuinely, to repair and acknowledge the harm done, so that we can all move on.”

Wouldn’t that be nice? To think that this powerful statement of the obvious would settle the matter, retire the slur and then we could all just move on and get some actual work done?

Yes, it would. But these days, even a brief and shining moment of clarity and conviction seems pretty good too.


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