After winning the Democratic primary in New York’s Fourteenth Congressional District, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is now a national political figure. On Wednesday, she made a series of media appearances, including spots on CNN and MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.” Later in the day, Stephen Colbert hailed her win, joking that when he was twenty-eight he got his first can opener. On Thursday, she appeared on Colbert’s show, and an article in the Times described her as “an instant political rock star.”
Ocasio-Cortez deserves all the attention she’s getting, but it’s important not to focus only on her personal traits: her age, her gender, her ethnicity, and her inspiring life story. As she pointed out in her post-victory interviews, she ran on a platform that transcended these things. “Our campaign was focussed on just a laser-focussed message of economic, social, and racial dignity for working-class Americans, especially those in Queens and the Bronx,” she told Mika Brzezinski, of “Morning Joe.”
Of course, all politicians say that they are dedicated to the interests and well-being of their constituents. But Ocasio-Cortez, who had the support of progressive groups such as MoveOn and the Democratic Socialists of America, isn’t your average pol. She delivered an important message to the Democratic Party by running an explicitly populist, anti-establishment campaign. And, as the Party prepares for the midterms and the 2020 Presidential election, it would do well to listen to her.
Ocasio-Cortez’s first point was that being opposed to Donald Trump and his actions, while essential, isn’t a sufficient political strategy. Ocasio-Cortez herself is vehemently anti-Trump. Last week, she visited a detention center on the Mexican border; after her victory, she said that she would vote to impeach the President. But she has also warned against fixating on him and his every offensive statement. “What we need to do is lay out a plan and a vision that people can believe in, and getting into Twitter fights with the President is not exactly, I think, where we’re going to find progress as a nation,” she said, on “Morning Joe.”
Ocasio-Cortez also expressed the view that Democrats have something to learn from Trump’s rise and, particularly, from his ability to mobilize voters who are detached from, or alienated by, the major political parties. “He spoke very directly to a lot of needs that were not being met by both the Democratic Party and the Republican Party,” she told the Intercept’s Glenn Greenwald. “Our neglect of that is something we wholeheartedly have to take responsibility for, and correct for.”
Listen to the speeches of Senator Sherrod Brown, of Ohio; or of Stacey Abrams, who is running for governor in Georgia; or of Beto O’Rourke, who is challenging Ted Cruz in Texas; or of Conor Lamb, who won a special election in western Pennsylvania earlier this year; or of Mikie Sherrill, a former Navy pilot who recently won the Democratic primary in New Jersey’s Republican-held Eleventh Congressional District. To be sure, these Democrats are attacking Trump and talking about immigration and the Supreme Court. But their main focus is on promoting social and economic empowerment for people living in their districts.