What’s so radical about Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez?

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    New York U.S. House candidate Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s political agenda is consistent with the concerns of many American voters.

    Getty Images/Mario Tama

  • Will Tomer
    Will Tomer

    Since her upset victory in the Democratic primary for New York’s 14th Congressional District, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has entered the political arena and become a target for attacks by her political opponents.

    A piece in National Review dubbed Ms. Ocasio-Cortez the “unserious face of an unserious movement,” accompanied by a deliberately unflattering shot of her during a late-night TV appearance.

    After hearing that Ms. Ocasio-Cortez supports ideas such “paid family and sick leave” and “clean campaign finance,” The View’s Meghan McCain said it was “petrifying” that Ms. Ocasio-Cortez’s ideas could become “normalized” in the United States.

    On his show, Fox News personality Sean Hannity argued that her ideas, including “women’s rights,” “support seniors,” and “higher education for all,” are “downright scary.”

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    Figures from across the establishment political spectrum — including Joe Lieberman, Nancy Pelosi, the New York Times’ Bret Stephens, and Ron DeSantis, among others — have dismissed Ms. Ocasio-Cortez and her ideas. The common refrain? She’s too radical.

    But in my mind, the real question is: Too radical for whom, exactly?

    The word “radical” has been used deliberately to suggest Ms. Ocasio-Cortez’s ideas are dangerous.

    There is no question that Ms. Ocasio-Cortez may be “too radical” for those who either operate within the domain of establishment politics or those who have been convinced that those who have been slapped with particular labels can be dismissed out of hand.

    But perhaps the only “danger” posed by Ms. Ocasio-Cortez was that she proved an under-financed candidate with a populist message can defeat an establishment opponent backed by corporate money and wealthy benefactors.

    Joe Crowley, Ms. Ocasio-Cortez’s 10-term incumbent opponent, raised nearly $4 million, nearly half of which of which came from political action committees. He also received more than $400,000 from lobbyists for the real-estate industry, an industry which has made finding affordable housing in New York’s 14th District a significant challenge. Of the $1.1 million Mr. Crowley received in individual contributions, 97 percent came from contributions of more than $200.

    By comparison, Ms. Ocasio-Cortez raised only $860,000, none of which came from lobbyists. In fact, more than 60 percent of that figure came from “small individual contributions” of less than $200.

    Ms. Ocasio-Cortez’s fund-raising strategy, which eschewed lobbyists and big money donors, reflected how average Americans want political fund-raising to work.

    A recent poll by Pew Research Center found 77 percent of Americans believe there should be limits on how much money individuals and groups can contribute to political campaigns, 65 percent believe that new laws should be written to reduce the importance of fund-raising in political campaigns, and 74 percent believe it is “very important” that major donors not have more influence than ordinary citizens.

    But Ms. Ocasio-Cortez did not win her primary or mobilize large numbers of people over the past few months because of her campaign finance strategy. Rather, she has developed a political platform that reflects policies many Americans support.

    Some contend that Ms. Ocasio-Cortez’s appeal is limited to the neighborhoods of the Bronx and Queens where she won the Democratic primary in June, but polls taken earlier this year indicate otherwise.

    For example, a survey conducted by the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation found that six in 10 Americans “favor a national health plan, or Medicare-for-all, in which all Americans would get their insurance from a single government plan.”

    Another poll conducted the data analytic group Civis Analytics asked respondents to answer the following question about one of Ms. Ocasio’s Cortez’s most “radical” positions: “Democrats in congress are proposing a bill which would guarantee a job to every American adult, with the government providing jobs for people who can’t find employment in the private sector. This would be paid for by a 5 percent income tax increase on those making over $200,000 per year. Would you be for or against this policy?”

    The results? More than half the country was in favor of the proposal. While those who voted for President Donald Trump generally did not like the proposal, 32 percent of Trump voters said they did support a federal job guarantee.

    “Even with explicit partisan framing and the inclusion of revenue in the wording, this is one of the most popular issues we’ve ever polled,” said David Shor, a senior data scientist at Civis Analytics.

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    Unfortunately, Ms. Ocasio-Cortez’s ideas have not engendered meaningful debate. Rather, they’ve drawn snide shots from those who are intimidated by her sudden popularity.

    Her opponents will have to be savvier, because the superficial attacks that have worked on so many others only seem to make Ms. Ocasio-Cortez look better.

    Earlier this week, Sean Hannity’s personal website published a piece with the following headline (capitals and all): “HERE WE GO: Ocasio-Cortez demands ‘LIVING WAGE,’ ‘HEALTH CARE’ for everyone in U.S.”

    Ms. Ocasio-Cortez has been good natured in the face of such attacks, and why shouldn’t she? It is one thing to raise concerns about how her policies could be funded. But it is another thing when Ms. Ocasio-Cortez’s critics claim that her calls for livable wages, adequate health care, and well-funded education are an aberration.

    It makes them look foolish, particularly when you consider that Ms. Ocasio-Cortez’s political agenda is consistent with the concerns of many American voters, addressing desires and needs that those in the corridors of power want us to believe are radical and dangerous.

    It may well be that the only thing “radical” about Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is her willingness to ignore the political establishment and work on behalf of tens of millions of Americans who want a better deal where wages, health care, and education are concerned.

    Contact Will Tomer at wtomer@theblade.com, 419-724-6404, or on Twitter @WillTomer.