By J. Sam Williams
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is the Millennial of the moment. The 28-year-old—at the time—Bronx Native beat out 10-term Democratic congressman Joe Crowley, shocking Democrats, Republicans, and the political establishment. Now, at 29, she is dancing her way through congress, even while enduring boos from GOP Congresspeople, attack articles from Fox News, and the outrage of many on the right. She’s earning as much media attention as Democratic presidential candidates, and almost as much as Trump. Why? She’s a rock star for some, and Satan fto others.
While political experts scratched their heads as to how this young woman could have ousted a long-time congressman, Millennials did not. Ocasio-Cortez is, for the first time, bringing a voice to the table where a majority of Millennials truly feel represented. She isn’t walking in with a centralist agenda, working to appease those on the right to gather votes. She doesn’t give in to the arguments of “but how will we afford it.” She is prepared, she’s armed, she is willing to fight back—something Millennials have been calling for this past decade.
A Gallup Poll in August showed Millennials approved the economics of socialism by 57% while only looking positively on capitalism by 56%. Democratic-socialism has never been more popular. Ocasio-Cortez is bringing another Democratic-socialist voice to the table, but she’s doing so in a way people haven’t seen. If Bernie Sanders, a white elderly man, seems to be the Godfather of this current political movement, Ocasio-Cortez is the hero. She advocates for single-payer healthcare, for basic income programs and a New Green Deal. And when those who object say we can’t afford it, she points the finger right back: our current healthcare system costs more, you want to pay 5.7 billion for a wall, we increase military budgets that are already grossly oversized. Additionally, and perhaps more importantly, she asks the questions Millennials have been asking for years. “Why does no one ask ‘How we’ll pay for that’ when Republicans support budget increases, or tax decreases.”
Ocasio-Cortez truly represents a future to believe in for many young people. She also represents a symbol. She is the opposite of an outdated vision of the American politician. She’s not a white, clean-shaven 6’2” man, wearing a red tie, who talks of patriotism, a strong military, the need for working on both sides, and capitalistic fiscal responsibility. She’s Latina, smart, willing to speak her mind, a rookie congresswoman, and a supporter of taxing the rich 70%--a tax rate American’s used to pay if they earned more than $216,000 when Reagan took over as President.
Though Ocasio-Cortez belongs to a small and ever-growing coalition of Democratic-Socialists, she still represents the “different” to many Americans. We, the people, are now witnessing if Ocasio-Cortez can survive a political machine in DC that so often bucks those who dissent. For Ocasio-Cortez is not the typical Democrat. She has already broken from House-Majority Leader Nancy Pelosi, and we have seen how those who break from party loyalty can be ousted. Ocasio-Cortez condemned the selection of the new House committee on climate change, believing the committee too weak because the committee cannot draft legislation or issue subpoenas. She tweeted, “In DC + even in our own party, it’s apparently too controversial to ask that we keep oil+gas co’s away from enviro policy.” Ocasio-Cortez is smart enough to maneuver around inter-party turmoil, and she certainly seems independent enough to make up her own mind—something Americans desperately want from their politicians. But the collective often beats the individual.
Young liberal minded individuals are frustrated with the lack of movement in DC. There is outrage at Republicans for taxing the rich less, leading to more government debt and a possible economic recession. There is sheer disgust at the Trump administration for rolling back environmental protections and pulling out of the Paris Climate Agreement. But there is also a collective pulling of hair about Democratic choices. Many young liberals call for more and severer environmental protections, high taxes on the rich, free healthcare and free college—ideas that many democrats won’t touch. Whether perceived or true, young liberals see mainstream Democrats as part of the problem, in bed with corporations, banks, in love with their old-fashioned centrist ideals. Ocasio-Cortez seems to be the opposite Democrat, willing to take on her own party for the ideals she was elected for.
Fighting against an out-of-touch Democratic Party is not the biggest of Ocasio-Cortez’s problems. She has become the new target of GOP senators, congresspeople, past vice-president candidates, and Republican propaganda news stations. While Trump continues to levy insults against Elizabeth Warren, Nancy Pelosi or Adam Schiff, right-wing thinkers have zeroed in on Ocasio-Cortez. Why? Because she is the future they fear, incarnate.
Republicans fear what a future will look like with people like Ocasio-Cortez in charge. It would mean greater diversity of thought and phenotypes, less of a capitalistic mindset, environmental concerned governments, redistribution of wealth, and a diversification of the power generation. This threatens their world of isolationism, wealth hoarding, fossil fuel use, and divide and conquer tactics.
Ocasio-Cortez is young, she’s an outspoken free thinking, anti-establishment woman. If she plays her hands right, she could be in Congress for the next fifty years, be a major leader of the Democratic party, and become president. That could mean more Americans moving towards the ideas of green energy, income programs, wealth redistribution, etc. Republicans can’t have that, which is why they boo her, why they try and bring her down for dancing barefoot on a rooftop, and why they target her specifically in articles addressing progressive ideals like this one.
Unfortunately, for the GOP, Ocasio-Cortez has cultivated a specific image, one that is difficult to defeat: she’s cool. That’s likely to fade in the future—more because of socialized beliefs about women who age, rather than her personality—but for now Ocasio-Cortez is a political rock star. She is seen as the voice of the Bronx, the voice of urban dwelling young people, and a major voice of progressives. Constant belittling by those on the right only feeds this image. It gives Ocasio-Cortez the fodder she can use to point out Republican hypocrisy and misinformation.
Just recently Steve Scalise used Ocasio-Cortez’s 60 Minute interview to spread misinformation. He posted a photo of Ocasio-Cortez with the caption: “Republicans: Let Americans keep more of their own hard-earned money(sic) Democrats: Take away 70% of your income and give it to leftist fantasy programs(sic)” Of course, Ocasio-Cortez did not propose taxing all Americans 70% but only the very rich. She rebutted, “You’re the GOP Minority Whip. How do you not know how marginal tax rates work? Oh that’s right, almost forgot: GOP works for the corporate CEOs showering themselves in multi-million [dollar] bonuses; not the actual working people whose wages + healthcare they’re ripping off for profit.”
Ocasio-Cortez is not afraid to call people out,or to push the boundaries of what is “established decorum.” When David M. Drucker, of the DC Examiner, tweeted about Congressman Steve King of Iowa and his conversation with Congressman Scalise he wrote, King “initiated’ a convo today w/ @SteveScalise to inform them he would speak on floor to address his racially-tinged remarks.” Congressman King had recently defended White Nationalism and White Supremacy. Ocasio-Cortez took notice of Drucker’s tweet and replied, “You spelled “racist” wrong” adding, “At this point those who use the terms “racially tinged” or racially charged” to describe white supremacy should be prepared to explain why they chose to employ those terms instead of “racist”/”racism”. If the answer is their own discomfort, they’re protecting the wrong people.” This type of response by Ocasio-Cortez is exactly what many young people are looking for in their Congresspeople--strong pushback, a zero tolerance policy for intolerance.
Another tweet Ocasio-Cortez wrote said, “Republican hypocrisy at its finest: saying that Trump admitting to sexual assault on tape is just “locker room talk,” but scandalizing themselves into faux-outrage when [Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib] says a curse word in a bar. GOP lost entitlement to policing women’s behavior a long time ago. Next.” While the message of these tweets don’t sit well with everyone, they do play well with her supporters, specifically women.
It’s clear: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez isn’t here to play around. She’s a rebel, uninterested in the conventional, in playing nice, in being a good “little girl.” In other words, she’s a political rock star, whether you like or not.
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