Backfire: How a Stupendously Ignorant Tweet From Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Undermines Single Payer Healthcare

Posted: Dec 03, 2018 2:05 PM
Backfire: How a Stupendously Ignorant Tweet From Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Undermines Single Payer Healthcare

Before we delve into her new "argument," I'd like to make a point about why the conservative commentariat sometimes seems fixated on Congresswoman-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.  First, she entered the national spotlight as a media fascination and darling -- a young woman of color who shook up the Democratic Party from the left by defeating an establishment fixture.  She wasn't randomly plucked from relative obscurity by right-wing writers or pundits for sport; she was elevated by a mainstream media that loves covering, and sympathizes with, rising liberal stars.  And please recall the DNC Chairman referring to her as "the future of our party."  Second, because of the attention lavished upon her, she has built a massive online platform.  Among the dozens of newly-elected Democrats arriving in DC to serve in the next Congress, Ocasio-Cortez has, by far, the largest social media following.  One metric:

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has as many Twitter followers as the other incoming 60 Democratic freshman House members combined, according to numbers compiled by Elizabeth Hale at Mehlman Castagnetti Rosen & Thomas, a lobbying firm...In the next Congress, with so many young members, having a strong digital presence could be more important than seniority. Ocasio-Cortez in particular has used Twitter (1.38 million followers) and Instagram (just under 1 million followers) to connect people around the country, promote policy platforms and troll Republicans before she's even started her official job.

Third, Ocasio-Cortez can be sloppy and ill-informed, inviting easy criticisms.  But because she's an increasingly-visible face of the New Left, she's fair game for fact checks and substantive critiques -- which, incidentally, should not include sniping at her clothing or personal finances.  Fourth, she clearly pays a fair amount of attention to her righty detractors, dismissing them with unsophisticated, broad-brush laziness: 

She also pretended that an obvious spoof video was insidious fake news, and somehow 'proof' that Republicans are 'scared' of her, or something.  And don't forget the time she claimed Ben Shapiro's offer to debate her was tantamount to "cat-calling."  In other words, she's a lightning rod with a very large press and social media following -- and she's leaning into the role.   Which is why when she says things like this, a forceful response is warranted:

This astoundingly false talking point is rooted in a story from The Nation, a left-wing magazine, which attempts to track the Pentagon's various accounting maneuvers, gimmicks, and tricks.  Ocasio-Cortez, who either didn't read the piece or lacks basic reading comprehension skills, gives her followers the distinct impression that by merely recouping $21 trillion in military accounting errors, the US government could fund two-thirds of "Medicare for All," i.e., single payer healthcare (reminders: existing Medicare is going insolvent, and the realistic ten-year price tag for single payer is closer to $40 Trillion).  This represents a distortion so ludicrous that it can be comprehensively debunked from multiple angles, starting with this one:

The Pentagon has not misallocated $21 trillion in defense spending through shady accounting practices because the United States government has not budgeted $21 trillion in national defense spending...over the combined history of the country.  Yet Ocasio-Cortez apparently believes that $21 trillion is a relatively small portion of military waste, fraud and abuse that can be recouped for other purposes.  This is frightening ignorance that will be forgotten in many quarters just as soon as media types have a new anti-conservative zinger from AOC to wag their tongues at.  Allahpundit summarizes another egregious mistake in this "gotcha" fail:

The point of the Nation piece isn’t that Defense has spent $21 trillion, it’s that it’s used accounting tricks to move the equivalent of $21 trillion around on paper...The Nation never claims that the Pentagon actually spent $21 trillion. To the contrary: “Skidmore … does not contend that all of this $21 trillion was secret or misused funding. And indeed, the plugs are found on both the positive and the negative sides of the ledger, thus potentially netting each other out.

Not only has the military not misspent (or even budgeted) $21 Trillion, the article AOC is touting doesn't remotely claim that dubious accounting methods have led to massive hidden spending. The Pentagon's questionable math has netted out as an approximate wash when it comes to actual dollars spent.  Oops!  Also, bear in mind that oft-cited cost projections for single-payer (in the ballpark of $32-38 trillion) are over a ten-year budget window.  (For perspective, the federal budget would need to approximately double to fully fund a national socialized healthcare regime, requiring truly enormous tax increases on all Americans).  Even though she quite obviously doesn't understand what she's doing, Ocasio-Cortez has suggested that Uncle Sam could simply apply the Pentagon's all-time aggregate budget to pay for roughly half of one decade's-worth of "Medicare for All." Bravo.

In some ways, AOC's wildly inaccurate tweet is a gift to those of us who are desperate to demonstrate that single-payer healthcare is extraordinarily unaffordable.  She has accidentally illustrated the scope of its total cost, while helpfully allowing us to place military spending (a chronically-inflated, evergreen target for liberals seeking pay-fors) in proper context.  Perhaps the incoming Congressional freshman from New York would be better served to stick to tweeting substance-free potshots, such as lumping her ideological opponents together as a band of conspiratorial know-nothings who can't grapple with realistic solutions to big problems.  Talk about projection.