On the day that the Senate rejected – by a vote of 0-57 – the broad strokes of the so-called “Green New Deal,” New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D), one of the leading voices for the legislation, went off on those who mock the effort as nothing more than an elitist fantasy.
It began when Wisconsin Rep. Sean Duffy (R) introduced an amendment in a meeting of the Financial Services Committee that would force a homelessness bill that was being debated to meet “green” standards. “The Green New Deal is one that if you are a rich liberal from maybe New York or California it sounds great because you can afford to retrofit your home or build a new home that has a zero emissions, that is energy efficient, affordable and safe,” he said.
Cue AOC. You should watch the entire two minutes of what she said, but here’s the key part:
“When we talk about the concern for the environment as an elitist concern, one year ago I was waitressing in a taco shop in downtown Manhattan. I just got health insurance for the first time a month ago. This is not an elitist issue. This is a quality of life issue. You want to tell people that their concern and their desire for clean air and clean water is elitist? Tell that to the kids in the South Bronx which are suffering from the highest rates of childhood asthma in the country. Tell that to the families in Flint whose kids, their blood is ascending in lead levels, their brains are damaged for the rest of their lives. Call them elitist. You’re telling them that those kids are trying to get on a plane to Davos? People are dying!”
The clip of Ocasio-Cortez’s speech, which was tweeted by liberal activist Brian Tyler Cohen at 8:32 p.m. Eastern Tuesday night, already has 4.7 million views. It had been retweeted almost 50,000 times and had almost 125,000 likes as of Wednesday morning.
Those are absolutely staggering numbers. But they speak to the chord that AOC has touched among liberals in the country. She is, without any question, one of the biggest stars in the Democratic Party at the moment – and that includes the roughly 73 candidates who are running for president at the moment.
(Here’s one anecdote that speaks to the Ocasio-Cortez sensation: At the SXSW festival earlier this month in Austin, Texas, the line to get into to see her speak ran the length of two full floors of a massive convention center. I went to a live taping of Binge Mode’s “Talk the Thrones” which was happening at the same time. Got to get that “Game of Thrones” content!)
And the clip above shows why. Unlike some Democrats who shrink when attacked as elitists by Republicans, Ocasio-Cortez takes that charge on directly – by leaning heavily into her own personal story. It is a remarkable story of an unbelievably rapid ascent into the upper echelons of national Democratic politics. And it is a story rooted not in fancy schools or a stack of graduate degrees but rather in AOC’s own very middle class life prior to being elected to Congress. It resonates with Democrats because it is authentic.
Then there is the fact, as the clip demonstrates, that AOC is not willing to let herself or the issues she cares about be stereotyped by Republicans. Climate change isn’t about the carbon footprint Al Gore leaves when he jets into Davos to deliver a speech, argues Ocasio-Cortez. Instead it’s about kids in places like New York City and Flint, Michigan whose lives are being negatively affected – and in possibly permanent ways by a lack of clean air and clean water.
You can see it all – the smarts, the unapologetic nature and the passionate conviction – in that clip.
For all the devotion and plaudits AOC draws on the left, she pulls in just as much derision and anger on the right. Of Ocasio-Cortez’s speech on Tuesday night, the conservative New York Post headlined their story “Ocasio-Cortez flips out after congressman calls Green New Deal ‘elitist’.” Fox News’ writeup of the back and forth was titled “AOC bristles as GOP lawmaker blasts Green New Deal as ‘elitist’ pet project of rich liberals.”
Politicians who generate passion – among their supporters, yes, but also among their opponents – are a very rare breed. And usually the ones who make the most noise in national politics. Ocasio-Cortez isn’t yet 30 years old but she’s already achieved that status.