Haters aside, youth not wasted on Oca­sio-Cortez

Daily Southtown - - OPINION - By Es­ther J. Cepeda Es­ther Cepeda is a colum­nist for the Wash­ing­ton Post.

It must be true that the widest cul­tural gulfs have al­ways been due to age.

This is the only char­i­ta­ble way to ex­plain the si­mul­ta­ne­ous re­ac­tions of fa­nat­i­cal ado­ra­tion and pearl-clutch­ing dis­gust over a tweeted video of Rep. Alexan­dria Oca­sio-Cortez danc­ing in col­lege.

Not dirty danc­ing, mind you. Not sug­ges­tive or scant­ily clad or in any way undig­ni­fied danc­ing. All the newly sworn-in Bronx con­gress­woman did in this 8year-old video is some goofy (bor­der­line geeky), happy, joy­ful, youth­ful twirling and hop­ping that would be per­fectly ap­pro­pri­ate for church.

But for all its in­no­cence and charm, the out­cry by Oca­sioCortez’s de­trac­tors typ­i­cally was sex­ist, puerile and telling.

She was called a know-it-all, a clue­less nitwit, a hag; one Twit­ter post sug­gested she stick to pole danc­ing. Mean­while, her fans re­sponded with over­whelm­ingly fawn­ing dec­la­ra­tions of sup­port.

In cof­fee shops, hospi­tal wait­ing rooms and bus stops, de­bates over the leaked video pit­ted peo­ple who had the tone of scold­ing, close-minded par­ents that think they’re keep­ing the na­tion from get­ting it­self into trou­ble against younger peo­ple who see a le­git­i­mately re­lat­able politi­cian.

Put it into per­spec­tive: Oca­sioCortez grad­u­ated high school in 2007. The 2007 Mind­set List, an an­nual com­pi­la­tion of facts about in­com­ing col­lege fresh­men, de­signed to help pro­fes­sors un­der­stand the world view of their new stu­dents, had this to say about Oca­sio-Cortez’s co­hort:

■ For them, “Ctrl + Alt + Del” is as ba­sic as “ABC.”

■ They have never got­ten ex­cited over a tele­gram, a long-dis­tance call or a fax.

■ Bert and Ernie are old enough to be their par­ents.

■ There have never been dress codes in res­tau­rants.

■ They have never seen a first lady in a fur coat.

■ They never heard Howard Cosell call a game on tele­vi­sion.

■ They have al­ways been able to make pho­to­copies at home and phone calls from planes.

Many peo­ple in­volved in the Oca­sio-Cortez con­tro­versy glommed on to the idea that the Re­pub­li­can fin­ger-wag­gers dis­ap­prove of women danc­ing, or of politi­cians sul­ly­ing the solem­nity of their elected of­fice by cut­ting a rug — who re­mem­bers any dustup about Bri­tish Prime Min­is­ter Theresa May or Don­ald Trump danc­ing while on-duty, or exTexas Gov. Rick Perry or for­mer New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie jig­gling it on net­work TV? But it isn’t the danc­ing.

Nor is it her sup­posed hypocrisy for dress­ing well dur­ing her first days in Wash­ing­ton, even though she had said it would be dif­fi­cult for her to scrape to­gether enough money to move there be­fore her new salary kicked in.

Some of it is surely the way in which she is — gasp! — proud to be Puerto Ri­can and un­afraid to speak her mind about the in­equal­ity and eco­nomic is­sues she cam­paigned on.

But I’m bet­ting that what gets stuck in her haters’ craws the most is her youth­ful­ness. Ed Rollins, a Re­pub­li­can po­lit­i­cal strate­gist, al­most said as much, call­ing her a “lit­tle girl” with a “big mouth” on Lou Dobbs’ cable TV show.

If you like Oca­sio-Cortez, watch­ing her be buoy­ant, grace­ful and fun is a breath of fresh air. If you dis­like her, it’s of­fen­sive to have ide­al­is­tic, un­jaded and light­hearted ju­ve­nes­cence shaken in your face.

This is es­pe­cially so for a por­tion of the coun­try — older, white, non-col­lege-ed­u­cated — that al­ready feels threat­ened by the pro­jec­tions about “their coun­try” be­com­ing in­creas­ingly young, non­white and highly ed­u­cated.

It’s dif­fi­cult get­ting old. The body hurts, op­por­tu­ni­ties dwin­dle, cul­tural cur­rency goes away and peo­ple on TV and in the news­pa­per start talk­ing — some, glee­fully — about your gen­er­a­tion dy­ing off soon.

Think about how down­right alien to­day’s youth must seem to el­ders in their 60s and be­yond — es­pe­cially those young peo­ple who see ab­so­lutely noth­ing wrong with video­tap­ing them­selves danc­ing in the halls of Congress, as Oca­sio-Cortez did af­ter her col­lege video was leaked.

This is not to be­smirch ev­ery­one el­i­gi­ble for So­cial Se­cu­rity. Pol­i­tics be­ing what it is, Oca­sioCortez al­ways will have a con­tin­gent of haters, peo­ple who openly de­ride her be­cause they can’t say she’s “un­lik­able” in crowds that rec­og­nize that la­bel for the naked misog­yny it is.

There will al­ways be peo­ple claim­ing she’s “un­qual­i­fied,” even though Oca­sio-Cortez has an un­der­grad­u­ate de­gree in in­ter­na­tional re­la­tions with a mi­nor in eco­nom­ics and has worked as an ed­u­ca­tor, a pub­lisher and a com­mu­nity or­ga­nizer.

She’ll never stop car­ry­ing the bag­gage of be­ing a woman from an un­der­rep­re­sented pop­u­la­tion. But look on the bright side: At 29, Oca­sio-Cortez some­day will grow out of get­ting be­lit­tled for be­ing young.

CAROLYN KASTER/AP

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