If you don't regularly tune into the Fox News Expanded Universe, you probably don't remember that Sebastian Gorka, the credential-challenged, far-right-linked former Trump administration official who has since segued into a career as a conservative pundit, has an English accent. That's the second most surprising thing about the below clip of Gorka fear-mongering at the Conservative Political Action Conference, which is like comic-con for people who have long explanations for why they aren't racist. The first most surprising thing was the content of his speech.
"They want to rebuild your home, they want to take away your hamburgers. This is what Stalin dreamt about but never achieved," Gorka told the crowd Thursday. "You are on the front lines of the war against communism coming back to America under the guise of [_goofy voice_] 'Democratic Socialism'... Donald J. Trump is never going to let it happen, and as he said to Congress, America will never be a socialist country!"
The crowd cheered at this, because this is the sort of thing you cheer at CPAC, but wait, so—hamburgers?
Yes, hamburgers. Naturally, this is about Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the left-wing congresswoman who routinely gives the right a conniption simply by existing. More specifically, it's about the AOC-backed Green New Deal, a far-reaching plan to drastically reduce US carbon emissions by transforming the economy. (The Green New Deal includes a lot about upgrading buildings to be more climate-friendly, hence Gorka's ominous threats about leftists wanting to "rebuild your home.") One of the ways Ocasio-Cortez and other climate hawks want to fight the problem is by addressing factory farms, which produce harmful emissions in a variety of ways, including "farting cows," which was an infamous line from a controversial FAQ posted by Ocasio-Cortez's team after the Green New Deal was introduced. Many experts and environmentalists agree that eating less meat would help the planet because it would mean less meat production and therefore less emissions and pollution.
Ocasio-Cortez expressed this widely accepted view while talking to erstwhile VICELAND hosts Desus and Mero on their new show last week: "It’s not to say you get rid of agriculture. It’s not to say we’re going to force everybody to go vegan or anything crazy like that... It’s to say, listen, we’ve got to address factory farming. Maybe we shouldn’t be eating a hamburger for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Like, let’s keep it real.”
There are good-faith critiques of the Green New Deal—concerns about its most radical elements, like the jobs guarantee intended to ease the economy-wide shift the GND represents, as well as its presumably astronomic cost. But it's also been attacked by a wave of bullshit. That FAQ included a bit about how a goal was to reduce dependence on air travel, which in Republican hands became a ban on airplanes. Similarly, conservatives are now claiming that AOC is coming to pry your hamburger from your grease-stained fingers. It's not just Gorka, either—at a recent anti-GND press conference, GOP members of Congress ate hamburgers as props:
Then there was the storm of coverage from Lifezette-tier right-wing publications after Ocasio-Cortez and her chief of staff were photographed having a dinner that appeared to include a hamburger. It would be as a stunning bit of hypocrisy if AOC had called for a ban on hamburgers, which of course she never did—she just thinks people should maybe eat them less.
In isolation, this non-scandal is (sorry) a nothingburger, but it shows how the conservative spin cycle operates. Why attack Democrats' actual positions when you can invent a more extreme, hysterical version of those positions and then decry the imaginary socialists? This played out when Republicans falsely claimed Ocasio-Cortez wanted to tax 70 percent of Americans' income (she was only talking about people who earned over $10 million a year, and even then was only going to slap that rate on their income above that threshold), or when conservatives routinely compare late-term abortion to infanticide. A version of this also showed up when Senate Republican Majority Leader Mitch McConnell conflated an electoral fraud scheme allegedly perpetrated by a shady North Carolina operative to help a Republican get elected to Congress with the (extremely rare) phenomenon of in-person voter fraud. This happened in real time this week when Congressman Mark Meadows claimed that Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib called him a racist when she actually said he was merely doing something racist.
It can be an effective tactic because declarations about murdered babies and the seizure of meat attract coverage (like this article), rile up the base, and are easier to make than nuanced arguments about Democrats' real positions. It also puts Democrats on the defensive, forced to explain that wait, no, they don't want to end air travel, they just want to build high-speed rail because blah blah blah—as the saying goes, when you're explaining, you're losing.
The good news for Democrats is that policies like the Green New Deal have strong support, according to polls. They shouldn't feel obligated to respond to ridiculous bad-faith arguments, especially when the people making those arguments are for some reason angrily waving a burger around. They should talk up the benefits, spell out why these massive new programs are necessary, and hope that everyone who isn't at CPAC continues to not really care that Sebastian Gorka exists.
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This article originally appeared on VICE US.