All Technology is Politics

Nicco Mele
6 min readFeb 28, 2021

Watching Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) volunteer at a food bank in Texas last weekend (while also raising millions of dollars for disaster relief), I thought of the legendary Tip O’Neill. In 1982 (when I was five years old), O’Neill was trying to get a giant infrastructure bill passed. The Republican Leader of the era, (Robert H. Michel, R-IL), opposed the bill… so the ultimate Bostonian O’Neill traveled to Peoria, Illinois to give a speech in Michel’s district where he explained how the bill would repair the local infrastructure (bridges, etc), wreaking havoc on Michel’s re-election prospects. All politics is local, and government can be good for people’s lives. That is a narrative for the ages.

I’ve written in the past about the danger of letting the margins drive our politics:

We must get away from politics decided on the margins and towards a politics decided by a more fundamental shift in worldview… How do we tell a different American story, one that reshapes the political landscape so we’re not chasing vanishing slivers in an ever-shrinking world?

AOC, that despised New York City liberal, headed to Texas to work at a food bank while ostensible Texan Ted Cruz headed to the Ritz-Carlton in Cancun. This should be a high chance for a clear cut narrative victory, but instead Cruz used the right-wing grievance-media complex to turn this mistake into a victory, callously boasting about it at CPAC as a badge of honor. While the reliable right-wing media lionized Cruz’s Cancun victimhood, the so-called “mainstream” media ignored AOC’s narrative — or worse, treated it as self-serving politics. But what did voters see?

Not just the Texas turn, AOC’s re-election campaign this past Fall was also a lesson in Tip O’Neill-style politics. Despite a guaranteed giant margin of victory, she didn’t sit on her laurels or spend that time advancing her national political prospects. She turned to her district, where she and her campaign volunteers made 200,000 community check-in calls, delivered 80,000 meals, distributed 100,000 masks and recruited more than 11,000 tutors for students in remote learning. And she didn’t stop there: “With a sliver of the almost $19 million that she raised on her glide to re-election, AOC bought and gave away 200 Thanksgiving turkeys [in her own district].” Politics this local means building bridges between people, a kind of human infrastructure too.

Emmett Soldati, in his bid to be the New Hampshire Democratic party state chair…

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Nicco Mele

formerly of @LATimes & @Kennedy_School - author of The End of Big - lots more at http://nicco.org — Opinions are my own and not the views of my employer.