In June Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, identifying as a Democratic Socialist, won a Democratic primary in New York City against a sure-thing incumbent. It was a total come-from-behind victory; when people complained the media hadn’t paid enough attention to her I thought to myself “You guys are missing what makes an underdog story an underdog story,” but whatever.
In the weeks since she’s been getting a lot of love, but I’ve maintained my usual irritating skepticism (which has been tempered from the thinly veiled cynicism I used to hold to something closer to the true “I do not know” freedom from judgment to which I aspire). Ocasio-Cortez was a bartender a year ago; not at all a disqualifying thing, but she has no record or history as a legislator or even a major activist. To make any judgment seemed, to me, to be premature.
What’s more, Ocasio-Cortez is a Democratic Socialist, belonging to a political group that I approach with deep suspicion. It’s not that I disagree with any of their platforms or ideals – I wholeheartedly agree with literally everything they have to say on their website (I don’t think they go far enough, actually, and I find their lack of social justice campaigns to be an example of a myopic focus on economics; I strongly disagree with Marx on the central role of economic class in social history) – but rather that so many of the most prominent voices for the DSA are what we would disparagingly call ‘brocialists,’ those aggressive, wannabe alpha males who spend all day yelling at people on Twitter using communist language that sounds like a parody to someone raised in the 80s when Soviet communism was a real thing.
To me so many of these brocialists read as bitter, enraged white men who feel like they were promised an easier life than they have. I’ve noticed a lot of white men in the comedy world are significant brocialists, who seem to feel that they are owed a living as they pursue their dreams. Few of them appear interested in social justice issues except as a weapon with which they can beat their opponents (like me!). I’ve always felt these guys were closer to Trump voters than they let on – embittered, protectionist jerks who feel the world is out to get them.
In other words, I recognize a lot of my worst qualities in these guys. I am repelled by this, and thus by the movement for which they are the mouthpiece. Today I am interested in a politics of love, not of hate, and I am interested in a socialism that helps the truly disadvantaged, not just one that forgives student loans and makes it more affordable for dudes to get apartments in Echo Park while they wait to get stage time/writing jobs on Adult Swim shows.
In fact, I didn’t really think I was particularly socialist at all until this week, when I heard Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez on Pod Save America (the kind of neoliberal establishment show that probably outrages these brocialists. Also, why doesn’t Jon Lovett book them on Lovett Or Leavitt?). What I heard was a woman talking about her beliefs from a place of love and understanding, and it really bore no resemblance to the hardline nastiness I see coming from Twitter accounts with roses in their handles.
What I heard was a woman directly seeking the similarities with other people, not drawing lines in the sand based on differences. I’m sure this will piss some people off, but I found it inspiring; she talked about how socialism is a big tent term, and how she talks to Republicans who hold basic beliefs that are socialist in nature. She talked about meeting them where they are, a much better strategy than throwing stones at them. The reality is that we live in a country where some of our greatest achievements – the interstate highway system, the electric grid, public education – are socialist achievements. Most of all she didn’t talk about them in a way that sounded selfish; so many internet socialists sound, to my brain, like people who will walk away from the cause once they get theirs (see the generation that benefitted from the New Deal but turned its back on socialism). Ocasio-Cortez rooted her socialist rhetoric in not only the history of this country but also the needs of the many, not just her own experiences with expensive health care.
On top of it all, she was a great speaker. What she had to say inspired me, the way she said it lit me up. She spoke with passion but not anger, her messaging was positive and upbeat, she was smart as hell and put together sentences that sang. Most of all she spoke in a way that convinced me we share common goals – the reshuffling of the system to create the greatest good for the greatest number, a new world of equality and fairness that recognizes value in things beyond business and Wall Street. She expressed all of this without angry rhetoric that sounded like freshman year Marxism or reflexive hate of anyone who was doing better than she is, economically. She expressed it in a way that revealed the basic nature of her platform:
Common sense kindness that will help everybody, even the people who don’t like her.
How can I NOT get behind that? I’m still not sure the DSA is the organization for me, but if they find more representatives like Ocasio-Cortez I could truly get onboard. For the first time in a decade I heard a politician speaking in a way that resonated with me completely, that didn’t make me feel like I was going to have to compromise to support her… but that also didn’t sound like a raving nut who couldn’t get elected. Ocasio-Cortez has the politics of Bernie Sanders but the presence of Barack Obama, a most winning combination for me.
Of course I can’t vote for her – I don’t live in her district – and she’s running for a rather low-level office, but I will be following her career as she rises through the ranks, and I will be on the lookout for other politicians who follow in her footsteps of radical, fierce love.