This profile of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez says that her outspokenness and progressive views means that she has few friends in Washington, that cradle of the corporate-military-political establishment, but that does not bother her.
As the rest of the world has changed, Congress remains a place of traditions. Even the chaos merchants — the Ted Cruzes and Rand Pauls and tricornered tea-party Republican congressmen — still end up playing by the rules as laid out by the leadership. Ocasio-Cortez, at least so far, has not. She is at once a movement politician and a cultural phenomenon, someone equally at home on CSPAN and Desus & Mero. She isn’t especially interested in compromising with those who don’t share her values, and isn’t afraid to be the lone “no” vote, as she was last January, when she was the only Democrat to vote against funding the government because it meant continuing to fund ICE. Twelve months later, it is clear she isn’t trying very hard to amass power in Congress. Her heroes are Bernie Sanders, who withstood party pressure decade after decade in the Senate, and Howard Thurman, a mentor of Martin Luther King Jr.’s who believed in merging the spiritual and political.
“People come here, and they have served in state legislatures or they may have been executives for health-insurance or fossil-fuel companies or lobbyist groups or PACs, and they’re part of this whole club,” she said.
The Democratic congressional majority, she told me, is too acquiescent to the demands of its members in so-called red-to-blue districts — those moderates who flipped Republican seats and gave Pelosi the gavel. “For so long, when I first got in, people were like, ‘Oh, are you going to basically be a tea party of the left?’ And what people don’t realize is that there is a tea party of the left, but it’s on the right edges, the most conservative parts of the Democratic Party. So the Democratic Party has a role to play in this problem, and it’s like we’re not allowed to talk about it. We’re not allowed to talk about anything wrong the Democratic Party does,” she said. “I think I have created more room for dissent, and we’re learning to stretch our wings a little bit on the left.”
I asked her what she thought her role would be as a member of Congress during, for instance, a Joe Biden presidency. “Oh God,” she said with a groan. “In any other country, Joe Biden and I would not be in the same party, but in America, we are.”
Ocasio-Cortez told me how much she admires Bernie Sanders. (She was, by her own estimation, “a scrub” on his 2016 campaign, going door-to-door in the South Bronx.) Year after year, he was willing to be the lone vote on issues that mattered to him, withstanding the pressures to play along with the rest of the team on health care, on taxes, on wages. Eventually, the party caught up to him. Every senator running for president except Amy Klobuchar has signed on to his “Medicare for All” bill. The party is debating a wealth tax, something floated by Ocasio-Cortez on 60 Minutes last year and now pushed by both Sanders and Elizabeth Warren.
It is clear there is a shift happening in American politics, one that favors Ocasio-Cortez’s long-term prospects. Trump’s demagogic populism is a part of it, and so is the fact that Americans ages 18 to 24 are more favorably inclined toward socialism than capitalism, that 80 percent of young people think the federal government should address climate change, that over 70 percent say the wealthy should pay higher taxes, and that some of the highest percentages ever recorded call their politics far left or liberal. Post-millennials are majority nonwhite in 13 states and in nearly 40 percent of the nation’s largest metro areas; they are close to majority nonwhite nationwide. Sanders leads by large margins among the young, but also fares better than almost any Democrat against Donald Trump — proof, perhaps, of millennials’ desire for someone liberal and the heartland’s desire for different political ideas.
It cannot be said enough, the future for the Democratic party does not lie with trying to win back those past supporters, mostly older, white, and male, who defected to Donald Trump in 2016. The pickings are likely to be very slim. The future lies with those who have left out of the political process or who feel that the system is broken, such as the poor, minorities, the young, and the marginalized, who do not feel their vote matters. It is with these groups that hope lies.
But the Democratic party establishment does not really want to go there because to energize those groups would require them to articulate policies that would attract those groups and those policies would alienate those that the establishment is closest to and want to serve, which are the elites in the military-corporate-financial sector.