Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez: Disrupting Mainstream Democratic Politics

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Everyone feels something about Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Some adore the ex-bartender and what she symbolizes from a social perspective. Some despise her for various reasons ranging from causing fractures in an already damaged political party to holding views in direct disagreement with half of America. Some believe Ocasio-Cortez is a dangerous force that has the capability to ruin the American economy if given enough power. And to some, including President Trump's counselor KellyAnne Conway, she is the new face of the Democratic Party. Regardless of what one may feel towards her, she won the Democratic primary election in New York's 14th congressional district, the Bronx, defeating a 19-year-old incumbent, Joe Crowley.

Ocasio-Cortez has broken onto the scene as a democratic socialist, embracing socialism and its values rather than shying away from it as American politicians have done since the end of World War II. Being that a capitalist economy has become an identity of our nation, this is no doubt a risky move. Embracing socialism means alienating moderate Democrats who benefit off the spoils of American capitalist markets. Conversely, this economic philosophy is likely to attract many working-class American’s on the right and the left who feel disenfranchised by corporate strategy. Socialism is Ocasio-Cortez’s main talking point but many other policies have American’s scratching their heads or pumping fists.

One Ocasio-Cortez stance that has flown well under the radar is her controversial stance on Israel. American loyalty to Israel is a longstanding tradition that has recently come under fire by many fringe Democrats. Since the inception of the state, the American government has been known to take the side of Israel in its long-standing conflict with neighboring Palestinians and Hamas, a terrorist organization according to most Westerners. Israel stands as a lone democracy in the Middle East and thus, heavily relies on American support for defense and political clout.  In recent years, a group of liberal Democrats has veered from American precedent and spoken up for Palestinians, who feel that Israel has encroached upon their land and are thus responsible for the bloodshed and warfare that has played out. Ocasio-Cortez has placed herself in the center of this group of Democrats referring to Israel as, “the occupation of Palestine,” in a recent interview. This statement will likely rally support from her base but is also likely to alienate moderate voters who are used to American support of Israel. This stance is also sure to ruffle feathers within the Jewish community, whom predominantly vote Democrats, but are sure to find Israel a hot-button issue.

Ocasio-Cortez position within the Democratic Party is another cause for debate amongst liberals and conservatives. By campaigning with Bernie Sanders, a self-proclaimed democratic socialist, Ocasio-Cortez looks to play off of a rift in the Democratic Party. Traditional “machine” Democrats will feel threatened by the powerful young candidate teaming up with the force that fractured the party two short years ago. The Democratic machine, fronted by politicians like Kamala Harris, Nancy Pelosi and, of course, Hillary Clinton is known to push back on candidates like Cortez. In an interview with The View, Ocasio-Cortez spoke about the type of pushback she receives regularly from prominent figures who are scared of her policies. Alternatively, Bernie supporters feel reinvigorated by the presence of a fresh new face on the side of the Democrats. Now, the gospel of socialism is not only being preached by an old greying man from Vermont. It is being shouted from rooftops by a young, hip, Latina women from New York City. By positioning herself as an associate of Bernie Sanders, Ocasio-Cortez is also courting some Trump and third-party voters. With the corruption within the Democratic Party during the 2016 campaign, many ardent Bernie supporters jumped ship for Donald Trump or for third party candidates like Gary Johnson. Ocasio Cortez’s anti-establishment rhetoric makes herself a likely candidate to be backed by those warming up to the Democratic Party after the great disaster of 2016.

Aside from the obvious rivals of the Republican Party, and the old Democratic establishment, Ocasio-Cortez will face a tertiary set of rivals form young, up and coming moderate Democrats more aligned with the establishment. Politicians like Beto O’Rourke, of Texas, or Connor Lamb of Pennsylvania will be a true obstacle for Ocasio-Cortez in her goal of a political career. Politicians like Lamb and O’Rourke have beefed with the establishment for reasons other than fundamental socialism vs. capitalism issues, so the Democratic Party is likely looking at a three-way standoff for leadership. 

One thing that can be said for certain about Ocasio-Cortez is that she has found a way to reinvigorate a section of the Democratic Party that felt ignored and forgotten by Hillary Clinton: young people. Through rhetoric, fringe politics and tactical associations, Ocasio-Cortez has become a force to reckon with. On a much larger scale, she symbolizes a rift in the Democratic Party. The establishment now faces a choice to change their message, or find a way to eliminate the threat coming from the left.