All hail, Queen Alexandria!
You don’t have to support a person’s politics, or agree with their worldview, or suppress skepticism about their skills to admit that they represent something important and valuable.
To paraphrase Buffalo Springfield, there’s happening here. And what it is should be quite clear.
I’ve said for a while now that Democrats need to stop criticizing Donald Trump — and go out and get, well, their own Donald Trump.
Democrats need — as much as Republicans do — fewer politicians and more outsiders, fewer campaign promises and more straight talk, less pandering to the base and more reaching out to people who don’t usually vote, and less pampering of the privileged with more consideration for the disconnected and downtrodden.
The point is, we could have seen this coming.
Even so, who could have predicted that, when the Democratic version of the Donald arrived on the doorstep, she would come in such an unconventional package? A 29-year-old Puerto Rican woman from the Bronx whose most recent gig was as a bartender. Someone not born on third base or with a famous last name, but who took the long and hard road to Congress. Someone who still managed to defeat by 15 points Democratic incumbent Rep. Joe Crowley, who had been in office since she was in grammar school, and who was willing to brave an early round of slings and arrows from the establishment of her own party.
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is now a member of a select club, one of 435 individuals charged with representing more than 300 million people. And she had to fight hard and break rules and defy expectations to earn her membership. The insurgent built an upstart campaign on grit and nerve, stared down the Democratic Party pooh-bahs and the Washington DC power-brokers, and showed she can take a punch and throw it right back.
Ocasio-Cortez hasn’t even been sworn in yet, and already she has cheered on protesters who occupied the office of soon-to-be-named House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. And with Trump-like flare, she found time, on Twitter, to bash condescending Republicans who tried to talk down to her.
When Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina criticized her for seeming to compare Central American refugees with “Jewish families fleeing Germany,” Ocasio-Cortez brought up that Graham once insensitively joked that he feared a DNA ancestry test might reveal that he was part Iranian.
No sooner had Donald Trump Jr. taken a poke at her for being a self-described “Democratic socialist” than she shot back a not-so-friendly warning that he should tread lightly given that House Democrats would soon have subpoena power should they decide to launch a truckload of investigations.
In fact, Ocasio-Cortez has sparked a national discussion — started by the news site, Vox.com — about whether we should amend the Constitution and lower the age at which someone can run for president.
The current age requirement is 35-years-old.
Sure, ”AOC” Mania is getting way out of hand. And yet, there is a reason that she can’t make it past a group of tourists in the Capitol without being hit up for a selfie.
Consider the pluses and minuses.
First, the minuses. There is a lot she doesn’t know — not just about how Congress works, but also about history, economics, world affairs, etc. Still, she hasn’t let the fact that she doesn’t know what she’s talking about stop her from talking — or, for that matter, tweeting. Also, for someone who is about to enter an institution that runs on the creed that one can attract more flies with honey than vinegar, she sometimes acts like she is short on honey and has a surplus of vinegar. Lawmakers are supposed to build bridges; Ocasio-Cortez’s expertise is in blowing them up.
Now the pluses. At a time when so much of our politics is stale and predictable, she’s refreshingly real and human. At a moment when Democrats risk being identified as the boring, business-as-usual party that caters only to the liberal elites on the coasts, and seems perfectly well-suited to be Trump’s punching bag, here comes someone who seems intent on dragging them back to their roots as champions of the working-class. And while Democratic leaders still prefer to hash out their dealmaking and differences in private, she provides transparency — and, like Trump, understands how to use the media for her own ends.
Recently, during the normally secretive orientation process for incoming members of Congress, Ocasio-Cortez blew the whistle on the top 1 percent. She revealed that corporate CEOs were given a chance to influence the future lawmakers while union leaders, grassroots activists and the heads of non-profit organizations were frozen out.
What would the Founding Fathers say? Probably something like: “Finally! Now that’s what we had in mind.”
Ruben Navarrette is a contributing editor to Angelus and a syndicated columnist with The Washington Post Writers Group and a columnist for the Daily Beast. He is a radio host, a frequent guest analyst on cable news, and member of the USA Today Board of Contributors and host of the podcast “Navarrette Nation.” Among his books are “A Darker Shade of Crimson: Odyssey of a Harvard Chicano.”
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