Oca­sio-Cortez: Why so much at­ten­tion?

The Week (US) - - News -

Is it any sur­prise that Alexan­dria Oca­sio-Cortez “makes con­ser­va­tives so mad?” said Matthew Ygle­sias in Vox.com.

The 29-year-old for­mer wait­ress from the Bronx was sworn in only last week for her first term as a Demo­cratic con­gress­woman, but she’s al­ready at­tract­ing more breath­less scru­tiny and crit­i­cism from right-wing me­dia than any woman since Hil­lary Clin­ton. Among the re­cent “bomb­shells” from Fox News and right-wing Twit­ter trolls: that Oca­sio-Cortez went by “Sandy” in high school (sup­pos­edly a be­trayal of her Puerto Ri­can roots), and she at­tended a high school in a mid­dle-class com­mu­nity in Westch­ester, not in the Bronx (sup­pos­edly in­val­i­dat­ing her work­ing-class au­then­tic­ity). These non­scan­dals, of course, are all prox­ies for con­ser­va­tives’ real anx­i­eties. As a charis­matic “young Latina” with dis­tinctly progressive ideas, Oca­sio-Cortez em­bod­ies “a lot of con­ser­va­tive fears about de­mo­graphic change.” They’re ter­ri­fied that in “AOC,” as she’s in­creas­ingly known, Democrats have found them­selves a “cool and tele­genic” star. Repub­li­cans should be scared, said Mike Kon­czal in The Na­tion. On 60 Min­utes this week, Oca­sio-Cortez made a pow­er­ful case for what she calls a “Green New Deal,” a sweep­ing over­haul of the U.S. econ­omy—with ma­jor in­vest­ments in high­tech train­ing, clean-en­ergy re­search, and mil­lions of new jobs— that “could save the Demo­cratic Party as well as the planet.”

Non­sense, said Dan McLaugh­lin in Na­tion­alRe­view.com. The main rea­son con­ser­va­tives are ad­mit­tedly fixated on Oca­sio-Cortez is that in pol­i­tics “you al­ways need vil­lains,” and AOC per­fectly fits the bill. Her utopian fan­tasies, cou­pled with her wild-eyed de­liv­ery, make her seem like the “un­bri­dled id” of a left-lurch­ing Demo­cratic Party. The more ex­po­sure Oca­sio-Cortez and her pro­pos­als to spend tril­lions get, con­ser­va­tives be­lieve, the more likely peo­ple are to vote Repub­li­can. AOC’s Green New Deal “isn’t just am­bi­tious,” said Rich Lowry in the New York Post, “it’s in­sane.” She not only wants to save the planet but along the way “achieve all of so­cial­ism,” in­clud­ing sin­gle-payer health care, free col­lege, and the erad­i­ca­tion of poverty, all some­how paid for with a con­fis­ca­tory 70 per­cent tax rate on the wealthy.

What’s so rad­i­cal about a 70 per­cent mar­ginal tax rate? asked Eric Le­vitz in NYMag.com. First of all, she pro­poses that it kick in only on in­come over $10 mil­lion. (It wouldn’t ap­ply to the first $9.9 mil­lion). That’s a far lower top rate than the 91 per­cent we had in the 1950s, a pe­riod of boom­ing eco­nomic growth that many con­ser­va­tives still con­sider Amer­ica’s Golden Age. On taxes, AOC is re­ally just propos­ing “a re­turn to the 20th-cen­tury norm,” said Noah Smith in Bloomberg.com. As re­cently as 1981, the top tax rate was 69 per­cent. Still, her 70 per­cent tax rate would in­crease fed­eral rev­enues only by 3.6 per­cent—not nearly enough rev­enue to pay for her Green New Deal, let alone “Medi­care for all.”

That’s why many of us on the Left have mixed feel­ings about AOC’s sud­den “rock star” sta­tus, said Christo­pher Dale in the New York Post. “Once her pie-in-the-sky agenda meets leg­isla­tive re­al­ity, her young base will have a cold awakening, fur­ther­ing the Mil­len­nial malaise” that keeps hurt­ing Democrats at the polls. Call her naïve if you like, said Nathan Robin­son in The Guardian. But her pro­pos­als have al­ready ig­nited a se­ri­ous na­tional de­bate over what the top tax rate should be, and what the na­tion should do about cli­mate change. “Even when con­ser­va­tives are fum­ing about Oca­sio-Cortez, they can’t stop talk­ing about her ideas.” Not bad for her first week of work.

An am­bi­tious agenda

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