Political news coverage consists of roughly three parts. First there is the reporting of an actual event that occurred (i.e., what makes up the ‘new’ in news). Second, there is an explanation of the context in which the event occurred that consists of the history and background that led to the event and the people involved, plus any actual consequences, such as how a new law that has been passed will be implemented in practice and how it will affect people. And finally there is the question of What It All Means, which consists of drawing broader conclusions and predicting future events based on the news event.
The first part is important but takes only a short time to report. The second part is arguably the most important but is one of the things that we get the least of. The news outlets tend to jump immediately from part one to part three and start speculating on future events based on the news item. One can understand the temptation. The first part requires reporters to actually get new information. The second part requires not only some knowledge and expertise but also time spent in careful analysis. But the third part requires only a point of view and everyone has that. You can take the news event and project on to it pretty much anything you like.
In the case of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s surprising win in the New York primary race, we see part three in overdrive, with much of the attempt being to downplay the role that Ocasio-Cortez’s embrace of socialism had on voters. But Briahna Gray provides some good analysis of the type two variety, looking at the conditions that led to her victory, and countering some of the fact-based speculations.
What gave Ocasio-Cortez’s platform its power is not just her rhetorical acuity — the fact that she’s frank where others are euphemistic. She’s able to be frank because her ideology is internally consistent and uncompromised by the influence of money — just as others are euphemistic where the truth would upset their donors.
Nor can her popularity be boiled down to the fact of her racial identity and the similarly brown demographics of her district — despite many attempts to do so. Wallace-Wells, for instance, notes early in his article that the 14th District is half Hispanic and only one-fifth white. “Crowley lost because of the changing demographics in his district,” writes Dana Milbank of The Washington Post. That implication is so pervasive that Ocasio-Cortez felt the need to push back, tweeting: “Some folks are saying I won for ‘demographic’ reasons. 1st of all, that’s false. We won w/voters of all kinds.”
And she’s right. The southwestern part of the district (located in northwest Queens) was where Ocasio-Cortez performed best, with 60 to 100 percent of voters choosing her over Crowley, even though that area is only 15 to 40 percent Hispanic.
Ocasio-Cortez’s socialist message is not an incidental part of a larger demographic story. And her socialism shouldn’t be treated as a virus opportunistically riding the vector of her Latina form. Socialism is inextricable from Ocasio-Cortez’s success because it’s the secret behind her ability to do what the Democratic party has long failed to do — articulate a holistic progressive vision for America.
Ocasio-Cortez put it best: “At the end of the day, I’m a candidate that doesn’t take corporate money, that champions Medicare for all, a federal jobs guarantee, the abolishment of ICE, and a green New Deal. But I approach those issues with the lenses of the community that I live in. And that is not as easy to say as ‘identity politics.’”
There’s more good analysis in Gray’s article.