Only weeks into her first term in Congress, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has been attacked by many of the biggest grandstanders, opportunists, and trolls in American politics. A video of her dancing in college was used as a cudgel against her. As were her sharp pantsuits. And her childhood zip code. Once in office, her pro-ecology, pro-taxation-of-the-wealthy platform — which, it’s crucial to note, is generally favored by the majority of the nation — was grossly misconstrued by Fox News (which the New Yorker this week painted as a propaganda outlet posing as a new organization). After she celebrated the collapse of the Amazon HQ2 deal in Long Island City, the Job Creators Network hastily slapped up a billboard in Times Square to mock her (they added two more billboards this week).
The message from anyone opposed to her progressive platform seemed to be, “Shut up or feel our wrath.” But Ocasio-Cortez doesn’t play that. She’s a digital native who refuses to be silenced by the old guard. On days she’s not being interviewed, she’s swatting down those who come after her on Twitter. Both left and right-leaning media have helped make her one of the most famous politicians in the country, and she’s accepted that mantle with all it implies.
That’s not to say there haven’t been stumbling blocks. AOC — as she’s widely called — can play fast and loose with the facts. The Washington Post gave her four Pinocchios over a tweet about Pentagon spending. She can also sound troublingly unrepentant when she does make mistakes. After being asked about the Pentagon tweet by Anderson Cooper, she shrugged the error off, saying, “I think that there’s a lot of people more concerned about being precisely, factually, and semantically correct than about being morally right.” That seems reasonable if you agree with the Congresswoman’s idea of moral rightness, but that value is rarely absolute and, as such, it can be massaged by whoever wants to employ it for whatever means they desire. In other words, it’s a slippery slope.
Still, even her ideological enemies have to concede that Ocasio-Cortez has committed to sparking debate rather than simply fitting in. She’s quickly helped advance massive conversations about what it means to be a young American (and a woman! and a person of color!) in 2019 while demanding answers about where we’re headed as a nation. The conversations she’s focused on — from the effects of institutionalized racism to the viability of our very planet — are not easily navigable. But they’re the conversations young people like her want to have.
People of AOC’s generation, across the political spectrum, have been told since birth that they will inherit the world. Now that the process has begun, treating a politician who is focused on equality, the environment, and income disparity as “radical” is absurd.
A huge part of my agenda is to move the Overton window, because it’s a strategic position. I’m a first-term freshman in an institution that works by seniority. Procedurally, it is kind of like high school. You’re the new kid on the block. So, as a freshman, you have to look at the tools available to you, and in my first term, if we have the opportunity to frame the debate, then that is one of the ways to have the most power.
This quote, given to Rolling Stone, reveals a crucial piece of the Ocasio-Cortez agenda (it’s something her fellow Democratic Socialist Bernie Sanders modeled in 2016). The Overton window is the range of what’s deemed “acceptable” in public discourse and by talking about ideas like a seismic shift in how we approach climate change, the need for a sharp increase of the marginal tax rate, and intersectional women’s issues, she’s thrusting those conversations (which are already being had by young people online) into the mainstream.