Scoff at this all you want, but on this point Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez sounds more mainstream — and bipartisan — than most would admit. During his 60 Minutes interview with the new House member, Anderson Cooper confronted Ocasio-Cortez with a whopper about Pentagon spending that earned her four Pinocchios at the Washington Post. Ocasio-Cortez replied that being “morally right” means never having to account for facts:
“There's a lot of people more concerned about being precisely, factually, and semantically correct than about being morally right,” @AOC says in response to criticism that she’s made factual errors. https://t.co/sKf3sHl9F6 pic.twitter.com/xKc2eB7GEk
— 60 Minutes (@60Minutes) January 7, 2019
COOPER: One of the criticisms of you is that– that your math is fuzzy. The Washington Post recently awarded you four Pinocchios —
OCASIO-CORTEZ: Oh my goodness —
COOPER: — for misstating some statistics about Pentagon spending?
OCASIO-CORTEZ: If people want to really blow up one figure here or one word there, I would argue that they’re missing the forest for the trees. I think that there’s a lot of people more concerned about being precisely, factually, and semantically correct than about being morally right.
COOPER: But being factually correct is important–
OCASIO-CORTEZ: It’s absolutely important. And whenever I make a mistake. I say, “Okay, this was clumsy,” and then I restate what my point was. But it’s — it’s not the same thing as — as the president lying about immigrants. It’s not the same thing at all.
Actually, it’s precisely the same thing, and gets to my first point about this attitude being a lot more mainstream than either side wants to pretend. Earlier in the day, Chris Wallace dressed down Sarah Huckabee Sanders for doing the same thing with border security claims — misusing statistics and taking data wildly out of context in service to a moral claim:
“But Special Interest Aliens are just people who come from countries that have ever produced a terrorist. They’re not terrorists themselves,” Wallace said to Sanders after showing a clip of Nielsen’s remarks.
“And the State Department says that there is, quote, their words: no credible evidence of any terrorist coming across the border from Mexico,” he added.
Sanders responded: “We know that roughly, nearly 4,000 known or suspected terrorists come into our country illegally, and we know that our most vulnerable point of entry is at our southern border.”
Wallace said he studied up on the issue because he knew Sanders would bring it up.
“Do you know where those 4,000 people come — where they’re captured?,” Wallace asked her. “Airports.”
“Not always,” she said.
“At airports,” he insisted.
“The State Department says there hasn’t been any terrorists that they’ve found coming across the southern border with Mexico,” Wallace continued.
Back to AOC, Aaron Blake points out that this wasn’t a one-off:
But that $21 trillion estimate isn’t necessarily waste; it’s just sloppily accounted for, according to that study. It’s also not just money the Pentagon spends; it includes money coming into the Pentagon. And that $32 billion price tag is an estimate for the first 10 years of “Medicare for All,” while the Pentagon number accounts for a 17-year period. Ocasio-Cortez’s numbers weren’t just wrong on the margins; her conclusion made no logical sense in light of the actual facts. What’s more, this isn’t the only claim she’s made that has been debunked; The Post’s team documented five false claims she made during an August media blitz following her primary upset of Rep. Joe Crowley (D-N.Y.).
What might be most problematic about Ocasio-Cortez’s defense, though, is the idea that people should care less about specific facts and more about being “morally right” — as if this is a zero-sum game in which the two can be weighed against one another. She’s practically saying, “Well, maybe I was wrong, but at least my cause is just.”
But this is the slipperiest of slopes — the kind of attitude you can use to justify pretty much anything to yourself. And it also just so happens to be the underlying ethos of the entire Trump presidency.
Yes indeed it is, but it’s one that didn’t start with Donald Trump, either. In the previous administration, Barack Obama told his share of whoppers, including the “if you like your plan you can keep your plan” lie regarding ObamaCare for the sake of the moral rightness of government intervention in insurance marketplaces. Remember the whopper about a YouTube video being the catalyst for the attack on our consular office in Benghazi? That was also told in service to a sense of moral rightness, the need to keep from blaming radical Islamists for terrorism … and the Obama administration for negligence in preparing for it.
It’s fair to say that this attitude seems more mainstream recently. What else did “Take Trump seriously, not literally” mean? Why wouldn’t that apply to Ocasio-Cortez as well? That’s the reason why standards matter, and why they’re worth more than rationalizations. There’s nothing new about people using the latter to claim that the former doesn’t apply to them. Perhaps what’s new is all the support they get for doing so.