Love her or hate her, we can't stop talking about her. Is she the female (Socialist) Trump?
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. That’s a name that anyone who’s interested in politics, whether they’re on the right or the left, can’t seem to stop talking about. Her supporters love her, and her detractors seem to hate her just as much.
When looking at her profile, it’s easy to see why everyone, for better or worse, is so fascinated with the new “it” girl on the Hill. At just 29 years old, Ocasio-Cortez is currently the youngest member of Congress. Also, in addition to her age, her much-publicized work experience as a bartender adds to her appeal as an “outsider” to the political establishment. And of course, that’s not even to mention her telegenic looks and bubbly personality.
While many on the left have been eager to brand this wunderkind as the new face of the Democratic Party, Republicans have been just as quick to smear her for things like her social media posts, her clothes, and even the amount of money she has in her savings account. In their willingness to attack her about trivial things, unrelated to policy, conservatives have essentially turned Cortez into the left’s version of Trump. She’s a figure who has become acceptable to mock for any and all reasons. Considering that Trump won the 2016 election in an Electoral College landslide, much to the left’s dismay, and will very likely win a second term in 2020, that similarity should give conservatives pause.
Don’t get me wrong, critics who take issue with Ocasio-Cortez’s policy positions are right to do so. However, a lot of people find her beliefs and persona so laughable, they refuse to take her seriously as a political figure. That is a huge mistake. Because sure, Ocasio-Cortez may not be able to tell you how she’ll pay for universal healthcare. She may not know much about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. She may fail to address the current humanitarian crisis in socialist Venezuela. But you know what she can do?
There are also a lot of people who find her beliefs and persona so laughable, they refuse to take her seriously as a political figure. That is a huge mistake.
She can attract the enthusiasm of millennials, a largely untapped voting bloc. She can get millions of people interested in a particular issue just by tweeting about it. She can appear to be fighting the political class, even as she seeks to extend their power. You see, what should make Ocasio-Cortez so terrifying for the right isn’t just her political acumen or her disastrous economic policy proposals - it’s the fact that she is something conservatives, by and large, aren’t.
Basically, Ocasio-Cortez is cool.
The Right’s “Cool” Deficit
Whether we want to admit it or not, the inescapable truth is that modern-day politics is a popularity contest that would give any high school cliques a run for their money. And in popular culture, especially among young voters, Democrats are the cheerleaders and quarterbacks, while Republicans more closely resemble a cross between the hall monitors and the teacher’s pets.
It’s a notable trend that young people of any generation tend to be more liberal, but as they mature and grow older, become more conservative. So the fact that our youth-obsessed society has identified liberal views as the “correct” ones shouldn’t surprise anyone. Couple that with the left’s hold on higher education, and the fact that creative types, who run the film and music industries, are overwhelmingly left-leaning, and it becomes clear that conservatives have been left in the dust in the culture war. What makes this so frustrating as someone who is both young and conservative, is that instead of trying to connect more with young people, the right is actually doubling down on their unpopularity.
Recently, a video of Ocasio-Cortez dancing during her college years went viral after a critic posted it mistakenly thinking he’d be able to shame her with it. The intention was to paint her as a silly, inexperienced “nitwit.” But instead, the video of the happy Cortez only served to make her more likable. If you’re trying to demonize someone, apparently showing footage of them being super charismatic isn’t effective. Go figure.
As it turns out, condemning this attempt to shame Cortez is one of the few things in recent memory that has united both liberals and conservatives. While a few angry conservatives were happy to have another reason to mock AOC, the overwhelming majority of right-wingers, and certainly all prominent ones, called out the ridiculous post.
But that opposition didn’t matter. The right’s history of attacking Cortez for things like the cost of her clothing or the neighborhood she grew up in, coupled with the few conservatives who were happy to use the video as an opportunity to finger wag at the youthful congresswoman, blew up into a story about how Republicans apparently hate dancing. And fun in general, I suppose.
AOC: Socialism’s Best Chance for Power
Make no mistake, despite her friendly demeanor and sympathetic persona, the policies Ocasio-Cortez advocates for are dangerous. Socialism is an ideology that not only infringes on personal liberties, such as property rights, but more practically speaking has caused the deaths of tens of millions of people. What makes Ocasio-Cortez’s participation in politics not just dangerous, but downright terrifying, is that her likeability may be enough to put her in a position to actually implement these policies.
If the right wants to expose the harm of Ocasio-Cortez’s ideas, then we need to stay focused on just that: her ideas. She says enough absurd things that there’s no reason to rely on these faulty attempts at character assassination. For example, her recent lamentation that people were more concerned with being factually correct than morally right was a treasure-trove of content for right-wing pundits. Beyond that, trying to attack the genuine charisma of someone who currently has so much more public goodwill toward them than the right does is a recipe for failure.
Ocasio-Cortez may not be ready to run for President, or even Speaker of the House just yet, but her quick rise to popularity illustrates how far behind the right is when it comes to cultural clout. If the right really wants to do something about this political trend toward Socialism, then we need to spend less time complaining about AOC’s dancing, and more time finding candidates who are just as charming as she is.