By, Calla W. ’22
Although the 2018 midterm elections were months ago, on January 3, 2019, the 116th Congress convened, and its new members were inaugurated. Not only does this Congress have more women, people of color, and military veterans than ever before, but also many of those politicians broke barriers to win their elections and get to Congress; Native American and Muslim women will serve for the first time in history, as well as the first African-American women in several states, including Massachusetts’ representative Ayanna Pressley. However, these historic numbers are hardly bipartisan.
One particular candidate made history for being the youngest-ever woman elected to Congress: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the representative for New York’s 14th Congressional District. As a democratic socialist, she often receives backlash from Republicans and even members of her own party who fear that her somewhat radical socialist views could warp the Democratic Party’s image. She advocates for a single-payer health-care system, tuition-free public college, the cancellation of all student debt, and reform in the United States’ justice system.
One of Ocasio-Cortez’s most controversial stances is on tax rates. In a recent interview with Anderson Cooper on 60 Minutes, she said that the government programs she supports should be funded by raising the top marginal tax rate on the richest Americans from 37%, where it currently stands, to 70%. This statement, denominated as radical by Cooper and others, was not well-received. Instead of deflecting the characterization, she responded, “If that’s what radical means, then call me a radical.” Sarah A.R. ’20, co-head of Winsor’s Current Events Club, agrees with Ocasio-Cortez, remarking that “I personally consider myself to have progressive views, so I don’t often find ideas of that kind to be ‘too progressive.’”
Although a number of Americans seem to be worried by this attitude, it is not the first time it has appeared. Some have compared her political tactics to those of Newt Gingrich and Shirley Chisholm. When Ms. G, who teaches United States History at Winsor, was asked whom Ocasio-Cortez reminds her of, she said, “in some ways, ironically, Donald Trump. AOC is a disruptor… Like Trump, Ocasio-Cortez was helped into Washington by the growing tension within her party… And like Trump, Ocasio-Cortez is, depending on your perspective, a threat to or the hope of her party.”
Although she is still miles behind President Trump in follower count, Ocasio-Cortez has managed to gain attention by utilizing the powerful tool of social media. Axios reports that her platform has accounted for more interactions on Twitter than ABC, CNN, NBC, The Hill, and the New York Times, the site’s top five news companies, combined. “Giving the rising generation of new voters accessible information about politicians is a step in the right direction,” said Sarah. “As many young people spend a lot of time on social media, these platforms have the potential to become a clear channel of communication and understanding between politicians and their constituencies,”
Many others have been wondering why Ocasio-Cortez, a freshman Congresswoman, has become the face of the Democratic Party—and whether this is a positive or negative thing. “While one freshman Congresswoman may influence the evolution of the Democratic Party, on principle I believe that no one person should become its only spokesperson or sole director,” said Sarah. “The increased representation of our 116th Congress gives me hope that the newer, and often younger, voices will together shape and improve the image of the Democratic Party.” Following the end of the 35-day shutdown on Friday, January 25, Ocasio-Cortez warned that Republicans senators “should be scared for their jobs in 2020.” For now, Americans can follow along on Twitter (@AOC) or Instagram (@ocasio2018 or @repocasiocortez) and see whether the history-making freshman Congresswoman will continue to dominate the media and spark not only fear but also hope in both political parties.