AOC’s Next Four Years

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez graces the cover of the December issue of Vanity Fair. Michelle Ruiz writes about Ocasio-Cortez’s trajectory to becoming a congresswoman and ponders her future. Read full article (with photographs by Tyler Mitchell) at Vanity Fair.

The history-making congresswoman addresses her biggest critics, the challenges that loom no matter who wins, and what she’s taking on next.

Her Republican colleagues had, up until then, been civil. But one day in late July, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez stood on the steps of the U.S. Capitol while Representative Ted Yoho lost his shit. The Florida Republican, incensed by the New York congresswoman’s recent comments linking crime and poverty, jabbed his finger in her face, calling her “crazy” and “disgusting.” She froze. The situation felt dangerous, with Yoho towering over Ocasio-Cortez, who calls herself “five-five on a good day.” Congressman Roger Williams, a Texas Republican, bumbled next to him like a wind puppet at a used-car dealership. She told Yoho he was being rude and went into the Capitol to vote. As Yoho descended the steps, he called her a “fucking bitch.” A reporter nearby witnessed the exchange, and soon the whole world had heard the epithet.

This part hasn’t been reported: The next day Ocasio-Cortez approached Yoho and told him, “You do that to me again, I won’t be so nice next time.” She felt his actions had violated a boundary, stepping “into the zone of harassment, discrimination.” His mocking response, straight out of Veep: “Oh, boo-hoo.” Publicly, Yoho doubled down, issuing a non-apology on the House floor, citing his wife and daughters as character witnesses.

Ocasio-Cortez flashed back to one of her first jobs out of school, when a male colleague whom she’d edged out for a promotion called her a bitch in front of the staff. She had been too stunned to reply, and no one came to her defense. She wouldn’t let it happen again.

Forty-eight hours later, Ocasio-Cortez delivered one of the most eloquent dunks in political history, a “thank u, next” for the C-SPAN set, taking on not just Yoho but the patriarchy itself. She took care to enter “fucking bitch” into the Congressional Record. “I want to thank him for showing the world that you can be a powerful man and accost women,” she told the House. “It happens every day in this country.” And the line that spawned headlines, T-shirts, hashtags, and memes: “I am someone’s daughter too.”

The 2020 horse race may be between two white, male septuagenarians, but it is a millennial Puerto Rican Democratic Socialist who produced a seminal political moment. Her Yoho rebuke inspired a fresh wave of awe for the youngest U.S. congresswoman in history and cemented her status as neopolitical icon—not just good on Twitter (where she schooled her congressional colleagues in a tutorial) and Instagram Live (where she gave an impromptu address on the dark night of Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death), but a skilled orator with the power to move even her most cynical congressional colleagues. “They were like, ‘I didn’t know you’re that eloquent,’” Ocasio-Cortez says with a wry smile. “ ‘I’m so pleased and surprised by your restraint.’ ” [. . .]

She has demonstrated a special talent for triggering white-male fragility on both ends of the political spectrum. Three months after her 2018 primary, Andrew Cuomo dismissed her victory as a “fluke.” Ron DeSantis, a congressman at the time, called her “this girl…or whatever she is.” That demographic of politico are allowed to be wunderkinds—Joe Biden was 29 when he first won his Senate seat; Mayor Pete Buttigieg launched a presidential bid at 37, the same age as Tom Cotton when he ascended to the Senate. But “we are not used to seeing young women of color in positions of power,” says journalist Andrea González-Ramírez, an early chronicler of AOC’s rise. [. . .]

Despite the base level of ego required to run for any office, Ocasio-Cortez seems uncomfortable with the mania about her future. “I think it’s part of our cultural understanding of politics, where—if you think someone is great, you automatically think they should be president,” she says. “I joke. I’m like, ‘Is Congress not good enough?’”

As Ocasio-Cortez puts it, “I don’t want to be a savior, I want to be a mirror.” [. . .]

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