“Yes, AOC’s Dress Was Performative Politics, But She Got Her Point Across”

Yves here. I’ve been reluctant to say much about AOC because readers have such strong opinions about her. And those opinions seem to reflect unrealistic expectations about what she can do as a single and generally isolated representative (if you think I’m making that up, just look at the hearings on private equity in 2020 and see how nearly all the Dems were just as fawning towards the industry as Republicans). The press creating and playing up “The Squad” is another manifestation. It represents the frankly condescending view that women of color of course must make common cause, when they each represent different districts with distinct priorities. And even with the Democrats having a thin majority in the House, they don’t constitute a swing bloc.

Having said that, I don’t buy the progressive loyalist view that AOC’s “tax the rich” gown gambit was a success. Both Sanders and Warren had ambitious (but sadly not well conceived1) plans for taxing wealth that got a good bit of attention during their campaigns. So I don’t see AOC’s photo op advancing the cause. Aside from toying with ending stepped up basis at death, the Biden tax proposals go only after income, not wealth and so are vastly more modest.

However, I don’t think the Met appearance hurt AOC either, despite the photos of her, unmasked, with servers wearing their Covid cooties gear.

But I do wonder if AOC has been in DC so long that she’s lost some of her political theater skills. It would have been a much more powerful gesture for her to have set up hard by the runway into the Met, in that same dress, and been feeding homeless people. Having homeless people swarm the approach to the event would have been vastly more awkward for the monied guests than having AOC’s dress in the room with them. It would have taken some planning, since dispensing hot food would likely have gotten into all sorts of regulatory thickets. But what about big care packages, maybe also including rain ponchos? Perhaps distributed from cars and trucks with MD plates (the police let those vehicles, like ones with diplomat plates park anywhere)? It would have taken more effort, but it would have carried more punch…and might inspire other political organizers and homeless groups to stage similar feedings outside other big ticket charity events.

It also seems sad that what passes for the left is so desperate for any hint of success that it will over-hype the actions of its allies.

By Sonali Kolhatkar, the founder, host and executive producer of “Rising Up With Sonali,” a television and radio show that airs on Free Speech TV and Pacifica stations. She is a writing fellow for the Economy for All project at the Independent Media Institute. Produced by Economy for All, a project of the Independent Media Institute

New York’s Democratic Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s recent Met Gala dress caused a stir for sporting the bold message “Tax the Rich.” The progressive lawmaker, who is known for being media-savvy, donned a simple white gown with the blood-red wording emblazoned across the back, designed by a Brooklyn-based brand called Brother Vellies.

Attending the gala on a free ticket (wealthy elites usually pay tens of thousands of dollars to be seen at the annual event known for its outrageous and eye-catching fashion), Ocasio-Cortez seized the opportunity to amplify her simple, yet powerful, political message. She explained to the press, “When we talk about supporting working families and when we talk about having a fair tax code, oftentimes this conversation is happening among working and middle class people (on) the senate floor.”

She added, “I think it’s time we bring all classes into the conversation.” In other words, she was aiming her message of higher taxation of the wealthy directly at the faces of those elites, with the press as witness.

The congresswoman’s dress, however, was criticized not just by the right—Donald Trump Jr. called her a “fraud” because she wore, “[t]he ‘tax the rich’ dress while she’s hanging out with a bunch of wealthy leftwing elites”—but by liberals too.

CNN host Chris Cuomo bizarrely ranted that because “she is a member of Congress for a poor district,” she should “be fighting their fight all the time.” He added, “I think she was having it both ways. I think there’s a poser aspect because she likes to be with those people,” implying that Ocasio-Cortez likes to hobnob with wealthy elites while ignoring the fact that it took courage for her to confront those same elites with a bold call to tax them.

Some on the left balked at the dress for similar reasons, such as John Ganz writing for Gawker. Ganz, who called Ocasio-Cortez a “working-class hero” and ostensibly supports her, critiqued her Met Gala dress as “lame. And juvenile. And sad.”

His appraisal, which appears to reflect much of the liberal and left-wing critique of the congresswoman, is based on the question of “whether it makes sense to demand taxation of the rich while evidently enjoying the celebration of glamour and wealth.”

Had Ocasio-Cortez showed up at the Met Gala with her complimentary ticket making a fashion statement based purely on apolitical theatrics (like other celebrity attendees), she likely would have received even more criticism from all sides. Perhaps her critics would have been happier with her forsaking the opportunity to make a political statement altogether by refusing to attend.

If Ocasio-Cortez’s Met Gala stunt was performative, it was by design and at the very least consistent with her political persuasion as a democratic socialist and her support of bills and proposals to levy hefty tax rates on millionaires and billionaires.

Recall the Kente cloth scarves that liberal Democrats wore while they knelt for cameras at the Capitol to mark a moment of silence for George Floyd whose police killing sparked a national uprising. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), who were among those kneeling, subsequently failed to introduce or even support the BREATHE Act championed by the Movement for Black Lives that was meant to hold law enforcement accountable for racist police brutality. Instead, Schumer, Pelosi, and other Democrats backed the reformist Justice in Policing Act, indicating that their support for Black Lives Matter has been largely performative.

Meanwhile, for an example of right-wing performative fashion that was just as sincere as Ocasio-Cortez’s (albeit appallingly callous), one need look no further than former First Lady Melania Trump. Her infamous green jacket worn during a 2018 visit to an immigrant child detention center sported the sentence, “I really don’t care, do u?” The message on her jacket, clear as day, was an intentional performance that reflected her lack of concern about the optics of family separation.

Regardless of whether or not Ocasio-Cortez’s dress was appropriate, she provoked a strong reaction, which in turn sparked a discussion of the words adorning her dress. Coming at the same time that Congress is considering a massive $3.5 trillion spending bill that includes a modest rewriting of the U.S. tax code to garner more revenues from the top earning tiers, the message on the dress was apropos.

It was also fitting that Ocasio-Cortez donned the controversial dress right around the 10th anniversary of the Occupy Wall Street (OWS) movement, which aimed a razor-sharp focus on the world’s wealthy. That movement sparked a new level of class consciousness among the American public using language such as “we are the 99 percent” to identify the obscenely rich as the source of unequal power and wealth and put them on the defensive.

The right-wing pushback against taxation of the rich has been relentless, eager to cast the wealthy as benevolent caretakers of the economy. Fox Business echoed a popular statistic, saying, “The richest households paid 40.1% of all federal income taxes in 2018,” adding that, “[t]he share of taxes shouldered by the nation’s richest individuals has climbed over time,” as if to suggest that wealthy Americans are becoming more generous.

That assessment conveniently plays down the critical fact that the rich suck up a disproportionate (and increasing) percentage of all earnings. The mistaken notion of the wealthy as generous revenue generators, as Jonathan Chait explains, “turns the fact that rich people account for a massive share of the income pool into a reason to see them as mistreated.” Chait also reminds us that the statistic that Fox Business cited focuses only on federal taxes, not all taxes. When accounting for all taxes, the rich pay a much lower percentage of revenues.

Increasingly, higher taxation of the rich is a very popular proposal, rejected by only the very wealthy and their allies, which is why the reactionary responses to Ocasio-Cortez’s dress are so puzzling.

When put into the context of the modest proposals to restore the tax code to pre-2017 levels, the message is hardly radical, and indeed, some on the left have used the “tax the rich” message as a jumping-off point to pithily demand it’s time to “eat the rich.”

Others have expanded the conversation to remind us that the Met Gala is an opportunity for wealthy Americans to write off donations, suggesting that Ocasio-Cortez’s dress could have sported the (somewhat less catchy) slogan, “This Event Is a Tax Loophole for the Rich.”

USA Today used the story of Ocasio-Cortez’s dress as a jumping-off point to identify who qualifies as wealthy enough to face higher taxation and to clarify that “[m]ost U.S. households will not see a tax increase.” This is an important counterpoint to head off the standard right-wing argument against higher taxes, which plays on fears that taxes will rise for all Americans.

The dress also sparked a conversation around the fact that the U.S. tax system has become regressive over time and that the Democrats’ modest proposal to increase the top marginal income tax rate and add a surcharge on incomes of over $5 million, “will barely dent America’s long slide from progressive taxation.”

Ocasio-Cortez herself has continued the conversation, explaining in her Twitter post about the dress that the increased tax revenues are necessary for funding bread-and-butter progressive policies. She wrote, “The time is now for childcare, healthcare, and climate action for all. Tax the Rich.”

____

1 You can pull in pretty much the same amount of tax over time, ie, achieve as much wealth redistribution, through a much tougher estate tax than annual wealth taxation. But I despair of it working; the IRS has lost every large estate tax case since the early 1990s and there’s no reason to think a beefed up agency would fare much better.

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87 comments

  1. Basil Pesto

    Having homeless people swarm the approach to the event would have been vastly more awkward for the monied guests than having AOC’s dress in the room with them.

    Even better: invite some in as her guests instead of the dress’ designer and their arm candy

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      She could take in only one, so the impact would have been limited. And they may have been able to block him (presuming a man) for not meeting the dress code, for not having a jacket and tie (of course, if they had anticipated threadbare dress attire….). Plus it would not do any general good and inspire follow-ons, a homeless feeding would.

      But I agree it would have been better than what she did. Far more in your face.

      1. Basil Pesto

        And it would not do any general good and inspire follow-ons, a homeless feeding would.

        unless they smuggled out the canapés and amuses-bouches and redistributed them outside 😈

    2. Soredemos

      She couldn’t do anything like that because 1. then she wouldn’t be able to fully enjoy the party, and 2. it would actually ruffle feathers, and she can’t do that either. She hasn’t lost her performance skills; shes deliberately not employing them because she’s being subsumed into the party hivemind.

      1. John k

        Most attendees and the party hive-mind hated what was painted on the dress. The message got a lot of publicity and support from her base, not least in her district. elite carping pleased the donors and other elites, imo likely did not resonate at all with the 90%.
        MMT not withstanding, taxing the rich is critical to pushing back inequality, and hits the argument we can’t afford nice things. It’s important to turn donor thinking towards ‘either tax the rich, slash military, or stop moaning over deficit spending. Pick one.’
        I’ve been disappointed by some of the gang of four’s choices, but I’m not on the front lines and have little (no) knowledge of their constraints and opportunities. Plus there are very few real progressives in congress… the four are less than 1% of the house. Granted both houses are very close, but I see Manchin’s power to obstruct in the senate differently – many dems are pleased they don’t have to vote no bc he’s happy to do it. House progressives have few quiet supporters in their chamber.
        Bernie similarly has few progressive allies in the senate. I see him as doing what he can, influencing bills on the margin. If we want more change we need to elect more progressives.

        1. Lambert Strether

          > taxing the rich is critical to pushing back inequality

          Taxing the rich to the proper level:

          1) Eliminates dynastic wealth

          2) Prevents the rich from buying the government with their loose cash

          3) Minimizes the psychological torment of inherited wealth for the children of the rich

          1. JTMcPhee

            I guess one would have to include “Citizens United” corporations and outfits like the Chamber of Commerce, ALEC, AIPAC and such in the definition of tax-rich, since corporate and coordinated bribery is likely more connected to the buying of legislative votes and the insertion of rich-interest bills drafted by lobbyists and outfits like ALEC. Individuals do get some licks from the legislature, but i bet corporate and association cash are a bigger chunk of the corruption.

          2. ian

            A couple of comments:

            Re 1: How many of the richest people in the US inherited their wealth? Most of the real power players I can think of are self-made.

            Re 2: One of the most effective ways of bribing people still in office is to give lucrative sinecures to those who have left office. The amount of money involved for say, Hillary’s speaking fees or Joe Biden’s ‘professorship’ is chicken feed. It’s a bribe to those still in office because it is in effect saying ‘toe the line, and this will be yours too someday’.

    3. Harold

      I thought it was fine. I don’t understand why people are piling on her. Tax the rich is a good thing. While I am ready to be convinced by MMT that where the government gets its money is another issue, taxes also serve another important function — to equalize incomes. They don’t need and shouldn’t have so much money because it is unhealthy for the body politic — that’s like political science 101. Many wealthy people already understand this, but it would help if more of them did. The scandal is that it is a controversial opinion

      1. Monkman

        They are piling on to her because they are superficial, too. No matter, the shelf life of the whole thing is actually over just past the end of this sentence.

          1. Jeff

            This. Political stunts and empty gestures, and saying one thing while voting otherwise are what AOC is now known for. Caricature of woke instead of real progressive positions and actions.

            1. BlakeFelix

              I don’t think that she is really in any great position to be doing much more than she does. It’s easy for the peanut gallery to call for scorching the earth, but she has a job to do. Getting invited and going to an expensive party isn’t a great look, but I don’t know what wearing a hair shirt all the time and walking everywhere would really accomplish either. If you want an ascetic in congress then get one elected.

              1. Soredemos

                Except she has had at least one chance to do something potentially meaningful, and revealed herself to be a creature of the party.

              2. Jeff

                She has the bully pulpit. Let’s not pretend she’s some unknown congresswoman from northeast Oklahoma.

                She seems to be wasting her time posturing instead of acting.

  2. Maritimer

    “…the increased tax revenues are necessary for funding bread-and-butter progressive policies.”
    ********
    Hopefully that is Artisan bread handmade from stoneground ancient Egyptian Upper Nile flour and butter made from handmilked Holstein Friesan cows which are luxuriosly pastured and kindly treated on organically fertilized manually maintained pasture. Same food the folks in the Hamptons and other wealthy enclaves munch on which keeps their minds and bodies sharp and attentive so that they may go about their daily chores in the most productive manner possible.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      Whoops, thanks for highlighting that section. I failed to call out the assumption that the Feds need to tax to spend (they don’t). Taxing is to contain demand, redistribute income, and incentivize/disincentivize activities.

  3. Kevin Carhart

    It’s not a zero-sum garment. So I don’t know why not. She can do a different tactic four hours later.

  4. 430MLK

    Performative art is exactly what jazzes up the progressives in my gentrified neighborhood and it’s parent neighborhoods down the way.

    Of course, those are the same art-forward people green lighting publicly funded modern art hotels, a world class park for the tourists to visit next to the basketball arena (designed by a MacArthur genius, they swoon!), and a 90% underfunded affordable housing trust fund with nice loopholes to get their just-graduated college kids into a nice starter home nearby the (national grant-funded) new upscale foodie hall.

    I’m guessing AOC hit her performative mark exactly.

    1. Michael Ismoe

      When you think your Twitter feed is really your constituency, then sometimes, you yearn for Joe Crowley.

      1. Sue inSoCal

        Good subject Yves. I’m not sure what to think. She definitely likes the limelight. Personally, I’m not fond of antics, but I like the idea of “this event is a tax loophole!” if she felt she needed to attend and protest with the use of the dress.

        Lambert, that list is dynamite! (With all due respect to Monty Python and the Holy Grail’s rabbit… :)

  5. JohnA

    Apart from the masked servants, AOC needed several minions to carry the train of her dress. Maybe she should have pointed out it was a kind of job creation scheme. That usually works when it comes to spending squillions on ‘defence’ procurement.

  6. Glossolalia

    I worries me that she would even *want* to be inside with those people, even if its in a supposedly subversive way. The wealth, power, and prestige at that event are like the One Ring, seemingly impossible to resist. When AOC eventually gets her 8-figure book deal will she have a top tax attorney find a way to reduce her taxes owed to practically zero? I guess we’ll have to wait and see.

    1. lordkoos

      I’m sure she wanted to be there precisely because of the media exposure it would give her and it didn’t cost her anything to attend. A vast majority of Americans are already on board supporting higher taxes for the wealthy, so I’m not sure who AOC felt she was going to convince by wearing that dress. Sanders and Warren have been talking about the same thing for years… but it made the news big time, so mission accomplished, I suppose. I would have liked to see her wear a dress that said “general strike”.

      1. John k

        It’s why big lies, like russia3, are told over and over, and why corps spend so much on repetitive advertising. Repetition works.

  7. David Jones

    I noticed yesterday a far better method of protest.Bush Junior got up to give a speech to the supine and
    adulatory and smirked with the expectation of receiving the usual sycophantic approval.Instead a vet started questioning his record and reminding him that he was a war criminal.

    Why not carry this to the endless list i.e Clinton,Obama,Blair et. al. ? Make them aware that – especially about their public roles – they will be challenged.Seems a very cheap way replete with free speech etc to make ones point and really make these people feel some pain.

  8. Deuce Traveler

    Your hated Libertarian Lurker here…

    I’m not a Democrat or a Socialist, so I’m not the target audience of her stunt. I can only speak for myself. Despite not agreeing with her politics, when AOC first came into office I really admired her for stirring things up in her political party. I have always had a soft spot for the lonely malcontent dedicated to his or her own values and marching to the beat of his or her own drum. I also enjoyed how AOC made Republicans crazy, because it’s always fun to watch Fox News talking heads screaming into the wind and spewing their daily nonsense.

    But I’ve never been a fan or style over substance. Her going to a $30,000 a plate gala while wearing an expensive dinner gown painted with a meme has resulted in a change of opinion on my part. To me she’s no longer admirable, but a depressing example of how her narcissistic generation talks the talk, but then stops way too short from walking the walk. It gets even more depressing when you realize that AOC really does believe she did something bold here.

    How many more years until AOC changes completely into her generation’s Pelosi? Into someone who thinks they are a force for change, but in actuality is just another cog in the established machine? Where are today’s political lions? How long can this broken system continue to neuter or assimilate opposition to it? Perhaps we will need some sort of cultural revolution before we will see a political one, as the fault is not in our stars but instead in ourselves.

    1. Rolf

      Perhaps we will need some sort of cultural revolution before we will see a political one, as the fault is not in our stars but instead in ourselves.

      It would seem we surely need something fairly tectonic, as the Democrats seem for the most part oblivious, or have deluded themselves to think that tweets and dinner-gown-memes make a difference in peoples lives (although I’m quite sure that AOC, Pelosi, etc al. think they’re doing the good and noble thing). I don’t have enough background to say whether increasing tax rates on the ultra wealthy would really change anything, but it seems the issue lies not with tax rates as much as the structure of tax law itself. As Yves infers above, taxes don’t “pay” for anything, they just exert control over demand, the value of the currency, compel desirable behavior, advertise priorities, etc. And to me, the key isn’t taxes as much as spending and the distribution thereof.

      1. Wukchumni

        AOC strikes me as a classic see me-dig me type, and her message taped to a Hermes Birkin bag would have been a better deliverance.

    2. drumlin woodchuckles

      Or at least some sort of cultural reformation.

      Make love, not money.
      You can either make money or you can make sense. I’d rather make sense.
      Tune out, slow down, slack off.

      etc.

  9. KLG

    “It also seems sad that what passes for the left is so desperate for any hint of success that it will over-hype the actions of its allies.”

    Amen!

  10. The Rev Kev

    Hard to get optimistic about AOC. As an example, the House just passed funding for Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system because, ummm, Israel is too poor to pay for it themselves? This was going to be part of a larger bill but progressives forced a vote to have it done separately. She originally voted ‘nay’ as it was always going to pass overwhelmingly but after a brief talk with the other members of the squad, switched her vote for ‘present’ instead, even though she railed against Tulsi Gabbard for doing the same. So you wonder how much power she actually does have.

    But getting back to that gown, the ‘Tax The Rich’ motto was both garish and was way too general. It may have just as well had ‘Blah!’ written on it and only confirmed her growing reputation for performative protests. Perhaps she should have put more thought into it and had say, ‘Occupy Wall Street’ in black instead as it is the tenth anniversary. Or maybe something like ‘The 99% Are Watching You’ instead. Certainly something more elegant would have better suited her instead of this garish gown. I just think that she is doing herself no favours when given a chance to make a statement and this is just the latest example.

    1. Geo

      For what it’s worth, there may be many factors in this capitulation on the Iron Dome.

      1. There’s a C-Span video that shows Pelosi yelling at AOC on the floor during the vote. Haven’t seen any reporting on what was said but Pelosi is waving her arms and looks very animated while AOC is later seen pacing behind her with arms crossed and looking troubled. Who knows what threats and accusations were made there and behind the scenes.

      2. Much of the reporting on the issue refers to “The Squad’s” “anti-semitism” (NY Post and Fox literally said this in headlines while many others I’ve read bring it up in the body of the article referring to Omar’s many feather-ruffling statements. They have the entire MSM and moneyed class against them in this messaging battle. Though, voting “present” didn’t do much to appease them.

      3. Related to #2: There is talk about redistricting AOC’s district to include parts of Westchester – NY’s richest neighborhood. I did a few film shoots over the years there and the homes are the type you only ever see in movies with ten car garages full of cars I didn’t even know existed, personal golf courses, and other luxurious wealth that makes one’s mind melt. The owners were always bankers/investors and their kids were going to college for the same. That they are threatening to make her have to represent this district is purely spiteful against her. The Dems are using everything they’ve got to derail anything she does and keep her from having any leverage.

      4. That committee chair that AOC was denied was given to Kathleen Rice who is one of Pharma’s biggest donation recipients and is the one tanking the prescription pricing plan. If this doesn’t show the reality of what kind of systemic corruption she is dealing with, what does?

      Basically, all I’m getting at is there is a lot going on behind the scenes that make it seem obvious why she’s not making the bold stances she campaigned on. Anyone who followed the careers of Kucinich, Wellstone, Grayson, and even Sanders, knows how hard it is for anyone to stand on principle and not get totally marginalized, oustered, and defanged.

      Why we expect so much of a 30 year old with social media skills and good ideas is honestly baffling to me. She’s literally the popular face of everything the Dem establishment hates. What do we expect her to do exactly?

      The only other alternative is to disavow electoral politics as a tactic for change. Currently I’m reading a memoir of a Sandinista guerrilla (published in 1982) and it’s a harrowing read. Personally, I don’t want to go that route but that’s the alternative to electoral change.

      1. ambrit

        Since the public is being denied the electoral change route, the Sandanista route will come to pass. FDR knew what he was up against and managed to finesse the job. The present day politicos are nowhere near the political stature of the FDR progressive generation. They are already fubaring the job.
        Today’s politics in America are proving the contention made by Emma Goldman:
        “If voting changed anything, they’d make it illegal.”
        I used to think that the assertion was hyperbole. As ‘things’ get worse and worse, I begin to give it credence.

  11. Carolinian

    Apparently the rich people at the party didn’t seem to upset by AOC’s “radical chic” message. A few years back Banksy came to NYC and went around the city creating subversive graffiti and performance art–some of which was stolen off the street and then sold by a Hamptons art dealer. Virtue signaling is big among the urban swellegant as it is among the Democrats.

    1. JohnA

      Yes, the buyer who won the auctioned Banksie for some obscene amount, that was immediately shredded after the hammer fell, still bought the tattered remains.

  12. Jeff N

    MMT’ers cringe at “tax the rich”. You can tax the rich, fine, but don’t let a failure to get a tax increase passed hold up fed govt spending on good things.

    1. DanB

      Excellent remark. AOC knows about MMT and chose to pretend progressive policies require taxing the rich. That’s supporting the status quo, QED. And having workers carry her train strikes me as equally reinforcing of present class relations.

  13. Dr. John Carpenter

    It’s all theater, but “Tax the Rich” is pretty milquetoast theater. Had it been “Eat the Rich”, then she might have have had something. She could have called on someone like Vivian Westwood to design her a real dress, rather than sticking vinyl letters on a wedding gown. But, the best I can say about this is it’s consistent with her brand and probably did what she wanted and, ultimately, nothing will fundamentally change.

    I will deduct points however for the implication in both this and her follow up tweet that we need to tax to spend. While I agree that taxing the rich isn’t a bad idea, rich people dodging taxes isn’t what’s holding up “childcare, healthcare, and climate action for all”. That this continues this falsehood is what really drives me nuts about it all.

    1. tongorad

      rich people dodging taxes isn’t what’s holding up “childcare, healthcare, and climate action for all”. That this continues this falsehood is what really drives me nuts about it all.

      I can’t see how AOC’s stunt does anything else but advance the myth that we need to tax in order to finance spending. Why not focus directly on the policy? To me this is a neoliberal tell, and a measure of AOC’s insincerity as a politician.

      1. Rolf

        Agreed. Despite her earlier statements in years past regarding the primacy of policy versus budget balancing, and how she is receptive to “new ideas” about how taxes and deficit spending actually work, she (like Pelosi et al.) in the end retreat to highly destructive neoliberal PAYGO notions. I don’t understand this strategy at all, it angers and depresses me. Obama did the same (“We’re just taking out a credit card from the Bank of China …”). She squanders her position to advance an accurate understanding about the true role of taxes and fiscal versus monetary policy, talk about the structure of the economy, about why there is such historical disparity in wealth distribution. Taxing the rich will also sponsor more elaborate strategies of tax avoidance or evasion, and as said abundantly above, government “income” is not the limitation. SMDH

  14. marym

    I agree with much of the criticism of the Met caper, and have no particular ideas on what would have been a better form of protest in this case. So much of what she does is criticized as performative, though, or used as an excuse to raise the question of why she did or didn’t do something else relative to some other issue.

    If (??) there’s even a possibility of an inside/outside strategy for change, there has to be an expectation that the “inside” as it stands right now — a handful of people in within a largely corrupt entity and an absence of any coherent “outside” — will do a lot that’s only performative.

  15. jr

    “I think it’s time we bring all classes into the conversation.”

    Sooooooo where’s the “conversation” with all the wealthy degenerates she was hob-nobbing with? How many billionaires, corporate ghouls, congressional prostitutes, and media schwein-hunds sat aside their Prosecco and engaged in a heartfelt conversation about wealth inequality? I’m sure there were lots of off-hand comments and bold statements to the press but where was this conversation taking place?

    And an aside: I am officially putting the word “conversation” on a temporary hold. It’s verboten for one month. No one has conversations anymore, except on NC. The word is used as a cudgel and as a virtue signal, as in the ding-a-ling Wokel who, after I verbally turned her into a pile of pixie dust, spittle-screamed at me that “This is no longer a conversation!!!”

    “it took courage for her to confront those same elites with a bold call to tax them.”

    This is rich. How was she in any danger? Was she zip-stripped and tossed into a police wagon? Was she clubbed to the ground? Did a right wing mob appear at her home and smash the windows? Were her family members doxxed, threatened, followed around by hecklers? Desks riffled? Computers hacked?

    “whether it makes sense to demand taxation of the rich while evidently enjoying the celebration of glamour and wealth.”

    No, it doesn’t. Celebrating those things justifies their existence, it implies there is a sort of balance to be had when in fact those things are the very heart of the problem. Maybe this is postmodernist activism. Can anyone clarify for me?

    “If Ocasio-Cortez’s Met Gala stunt was performative, it was by design”

    Stunt’s are always performative, otherwise they wouldn’t be stunts but actions. Stunt’s are always by design, otherwise they are gaffes. How did this writer get hired on? No command of words at all here.

    “at the very least consistent with her political persuasion”

    Yes, about as “least” as one could get. And “persuasion” is going on the list with “conversation”. AOC shouldn’t have a political persuasion. She should have a position. Maybe she does but this writer seems oblivious to that distinction.

    “for an example of right-wing performative fashion that was just as sincere as Ocasio-Cortez’s (albeit appallingly callous), one need look no further than former First Lady Melania Trump.”

    I’d say Melanoma’s choice of fashion wasn’t performative at all. It was an honest expression of her disdain for those suffering families and for the people who grieved for them. Give me an enemy who looks me in the eye any day over an ally you can’t turn your back to.

    “she provoked a strong reaction, which in turn sparked a discussion of the words adorning her dress.”

    Oooo, a reaction, followed by a discussion. That’s never happened before. When do the barricades go up? Right after the press conference? I hope they get it all coordinated for maximum reaction. Don’t forget to call TMZ!

    “Increasingly, higher taxation of the rich is a very popular proposal, rejected by only the very wealthy and their allies, which is why the reactionary responses to Ocasio-Cortez’s dress are so puzzling.”

    Because the dress doesn’t make a flaming rat’s a$$-crack of a difference towards that effort. It sends the contradictory message that one can fight the powers that be by mimicking their lifestyles. By spreading “awareness”, another word for the banned list there. Not really puzzling at all except for the bright light who wrote this fluff-ball article. Donald Trump Jr. hit the nail on the head.

    “suggesting that Ocasio-Cortez’s dress could have sported the (somewhat less catchy) slogan, “This Event Is a Tax Loophole for the Rich.””

    How about “Wearing this Dress makes for Great Photo Ops but won’t actually Change a Thing!” instead? Or “I could have Auctioned off this Dress and Fed 20 families for a Month!”

    1. CarlH

      You hit all the nails on the head. Thanks for distilling my feelings much better than I could. I am really, really tired of the squad and their whole schtick. AOC’s vote on the Iron Dome was a reminder why.

    2. Akash

      A humorous, hard-hitting, and honest dissection of a rather flimsy puff piece in AOC apologetics. I appreciate the cogent breakdown.

    3. Yves Smith Post author

      This is lovely. And I too really really hate “conversation”. It evokes oh so modern parents talking to their children. In Dems speak, it means if you disagree, we’ll politely tell you not to raise your voice or even use plain verb-noun constructions, like “Who paid you to say such nonsense?” that they deem to be confrontational because true. And then they cut the mike or have you escorted from the room.

      1. Dave in Austin

        A few years ago I was at one of those “It is time we had a conversation about…” event here at the U of Texas, put up my hand and politely asked the speaker if, since we were about to have a conversation, it would be appropriate to ask the audience what should be the topic of the conversation. I hadn’t planned it, but for some reason I turned to the audience of 50-60 people and asked “Who here has a subject they would like to have a conversation about with Mr X (the speaker)?” A dozen hands went up and a real civil (but slightly uncomfortable) conversation ensued. I swear it reminded me of the South Kingston, RI town meetings back in the 1960s. The public can sometimes surprise you in a pleasant way.

  16. Rod

    Perhaps she/they just didn’t think their way through to a real bit of theatre:

    Abbie Hoffman enacted some of the more profound and
    notorious theatrical feats of this era. He was responsible for organizing the Festival of Life that
    lead to the riots at the 1968 Democratic Convention, the throwing of money onto the New York
    Stock Exchange floor and the magical exorcism of the Pentagon, to name only a few.

    He fully
    embraced Antonin Artaud’s belief that theater was everywhere and that its true value “’lies in its
    excruciating, magical connections with reality and with danger.’” (qtd. in Raskin 119)

    1. jr

      “He fully embraced Antonin Artaud’s belief that theater was everywhere and that its true value “’lies in its excruciating, magical connections with reality and with danger.’” (qtd. in Raskin 119)

      This, over and over and over again…I’ve got to read this Artaud fellows stuff.

      Just a quick search and I’m already in love. Always nice to meet another Magician.

        1. jr

          “But certainly for the present age, which prefers the sign to the thing signified, the copy to the original, representation to reality, the appearance to the essence… illusion only is sacred, truth profane. Nay, sacredness is held to be enhanced in proportion as truth decreases and illusion increases, so that the highest degree of illusion comes to be the highest degree of sacredness.”

          Feuerbach, Preface to the second edition of The Essence of Christianity

          Sorry to double up L.S. but I had to post this, it PERFECTLY describes the “identity” movement and all of it’s attendant lunacies and irrationalities.

          It would seem that the Society of the Spectacle and the Theatre of Cruelty are prima facie contradictory but my intuitions tell me they are complementary, in fact. The Society points to the dismissal of the real for the illusory; the Theatre tells us that illusion is a path to the real when properly wielded. But more reading is required….

        2. drumlin woodchuckles

          The very first place I ever read about ( and therefor heard about) the situationists was in Acres USA ( ” of all places”?) Chris Walters who was the founder-editor Charles Walters Junior’s son wrote a very sincere and ponderous article about Guy Debord and the situationists and ” the society of the spectacle” and the role of all that in the difficulty which farm-country reformers had in making any headway or even being heard at all.

          If it were anywhere on line, I would try linking to it. But I suspect it is on paper only.

    2. Michael Fiorillo

      Abbie always gets the credit for the genius spectacle of dumping money on the floor of the stock exchange, but the idea and action were planned by Jim Fouratt.

  17. Jeff W

    It would have been a much more powerful gesture for her to have set up hard by the runway into the Met, in that same dress, and been feeding homeless people. Having homeless people swarm the approach to the event would have been vastly more awkward for the monied guests…

    It might have been more awkward but then Ocasio-Cortez risks being accused of using homeless people as “props” for a “performative” stunt, even if she is handing out real care packages. (If some group that advocates for feeding the poor were staging a counter-event to the Met Gala and AOC had joined them in support, that might be a bit different.)

    I’m not wild about the Ocasio-Cortez dress thing but the Met Gala marks the opening of the Costume Institute’s annual fashion exhibit—it’s ostensibly about fashion—and New York’s elected officials are routinely invited to the event due to “our responsibilities in overseeing our city’s cultural institutions that serve the public,” according to the congresswoman, so it makes sense that Ocasio-Cortez, if she attended it, chose to make the gown the centerpiece of her message. It was subversive—working within—in a way that doling out food to the poor—and making things “awkward” for the rich—would not be. (That’s to say, they’re different ways of undermining the established order, not that one is better than the other.)

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      Not if a homeless organization had helped her organize the feeding. And criticizing it would be a backfire. Against giving food and maybe clothing to the homeless? Seriously? You’d rather have them beg?

      I don’t see how this was awkward. Easy enough to turn one’s back to her. These people do much more difficult things on a regular basis, like run into former spouses and business partners with whom they’ve had bloody legal battle and maintain a veneer of politeness.

  18. barefoot charley

    Anna Wintour’s entire Met gala is New York’s successful stab at Hollywood-worthy bad taste in excess, for making the little people and their Fourth Estate swoon. So AOC made the swoon with a populist spin. Sure, it was too meta to be properly tasteless, but think of it as a bold salient to graduate students and irony-adulators everywhere, definitionally in need of glitzing. Keep on keepin’ it new, kid! It wasn’t an evening to look for meaning.

    1. deplorado

      Au contraire, there was plenty of meaning right in your face, and that was, “your representatives in Congress party with us, and we are so certain we are safe from any serious action from them, that we even let them wear dresses with communinst slogans that would have offended our parent’s generation — but not us!”

      No offence, but if you missed that, you are probably too comfortable and you should probably do better to wake up.

  19. WhatdoIknow

    It is an iron law of all “good intentions” initiatives: over time , they always end up producing the opposite of the intended result. And some worse. Social engineering never works.

  20. deplorado

    AOC makes it fashionable among the young and bold rich to wear clothes that say “Tax the rich”.
    Everybody knows it’s just theater, and the rich know that best. That’s why it’s so fun. Protest commodified as a fashion statement – how cool is that, looks great on TV and TikTok! Makes actual protest seem way uncouth. We can’t all be as cool, young and good looking as AOC and that’s why no one fill care when we cutely offer OUR behind to the cameras.

    She will do well for herself – and protest fashion will do well. Protest is a great thing for capitalism to absorb. Capitalism so elegant, like AOC’s dress. More capitalism everybody, now we offer protest and political statements as entertainment. Served by young and accomplished women, of color nonetheless.

    PS. I knew AOC was done when she hit the public up for donations when Covid started in March 2020. She could block money giveaways in Congress and command millions of followers to all kinds of radical action but instead she chose to nag working people for dollars so she could do photo-ops in front of soup kitchens. Some people are just like that.

  21. juno mas

    It is pretty hard to Tax the Rich when the rich own Congress.

    What AOC did at the Met gala was probably more Progressive than the Kabuki theatre that passes as ACTION in Congress. At least AOC’s stylized dress had a more visceral message.

    How the US gets back to a progressive tax structure in a selfish society is well beyond my pay grade (and likely lifetime).

    1. drumlin woodchuckles

      Most non-rich Americans would benefit from re-introducing the New Deal-to-Eisenhower-era progressive income taxes and the estate taxes. Help to understand the poor majority why it is to their selfish advantage to bring back those taxes and you can get selfishness to work for progressive taxation.

  22. polecat

    At least Nicky Minaj had the cajones to poke a ‘jab’ at the whole Metaffair … and for good reason ..

    Wonder what all those face-diapered avox subservients thought re. THAT action .. as opposed to AOC’s paltry antics amongst the anointed Accela Corridorians?

    Me thinks the likes of Nicky gots much more public pull.

  23. ChrisRUEcon

    #AOCDress – Late to this gala, but boy oh boy, do I wanna dance!!! LOL

    From our esteemed founder:
    “It would have been a much more powerful gesture for her to have set up hard by the runway into the Met, in that same dress, and been feeding homeless people. Having homeless people swarm the approach to the event would have been vastly more awkward for the monied guests than having AOC’s dress in the room with them.

    Yes, a good opening salvo as it were, but I concur with Jeff W who states above:
    “It might have been more awkward but then Ocasio-Cortez risks being accused of using homeless people as ‘props’ for a ‘performative’ stunt, even if she is handing out real care packages.”

    Damned if you do, damned if you don’t! So how best to make a point then?!

    Here is my answer: I’m certain that somewhere out there, AOC is helping with some organization that helps the homeless. What she should have done is have someone who is receiving shelter or aid from such an organization attend on her behalf! How awesome would it have been if say, a single mother staying at a shelter, or being helped by a transitional housing non-profit would have attended on AOC’s (donor’s) dime?!

    Bonus: AOC could have babysat the lucky attendee’s kid(s)! Imagine if AOC was live-streaming while babysitting and talking about how the government:
    – Has absolutely abandoned and helped demonize the poor!
    – Has continued to pump banks and various other industries (like airlines) with bailouts!
    – Has perpetuated the policy failure of allowing billionaires to exist and exert undue influence in economic and social policy!

    Now that … would have been something!

    #BonusBonus – The dress!
    One liners are too easy! Imagine a dress replete with more powerful and pertinent slogans:
    – Every billionaire is a policy failure!
    – The gig economy is wage depression!
    – Money for bombs but not working moms!
    – #M4A
    – Mint The F***ing Coin Already!

    Imagine Gala photogs circling to record every tantalizing snippet!

    I could go on and on here … and I will! #OneMore

    Imagine having the attendee read a prepared statement that would start with something like this:
    I would like to thank Representative Ocasio-Cortez for the opportunity to attend this gala as a means of raising awareness of poverty, homelessness and economic equality.

    Shot your shot, baller … AOC would have made the biggest splash without ever laying a foot at the Met.

    #MicDrop

  24. KD

    AOC has great branding. Its too bad she’s not a Republican, she could join with Trump to sell MAGA steak knives at the end of the Old Time Gospel Hour. How about a supplement for male pattern baldness which goes to her own private charity? Even if she loses her seat, she can sell ghost-written books and merc for 10 to 15 years. Who wants raising wages when you can have raising consciousness?

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