Written by Timothy Lewis (@MrTeeLew) — January 16th, 2019
The 29-year-old Congresswoman from New York’s 14th district, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, has already elevated herself to a household name. She’s bold, eloquent, and passionate. In this time of doubt and political dichotomy, she brings an aura of confident righteousness.
The similarity between Ocasio-Cortez’s upset victory over Joe Crowley and Republican Dave Brat’s 2014 upset of Eric Cantor, is undeniable. Both were overwhelmingly out-spent by entrenched members of their respective parties, both embraced a populist platform, and both relied on support from their parties’ more extreme segments. For Brat, that segment was the Tea Party. For Ocasio-Cortez, it was the Democratic Socialists.
In fact, Merriam-Webster reported a 1500% increase in searches for “socialism” following her Democratic primary victory in 2018. This is unsurprising, considering her involvement with the campaign of former presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, as well as her commitment to the democratic socialist message. With that in her back pocket, and a constituency strongly related to her Puerto Rican heritage, Ocasio-Cortez’s election was a perfect storm of relatability and grassroots mobilization.
Now that the precocious 29-year-old is seated in D.C., let’s take a look at where she stands on three core issues:
The New York representative is a firm believer in a single-payer system. A number of countries across the world use such a system or offer a universal option. Their citizens tend to report superior health and greater healthcare satisfaction, while also spending less per capita. Additionally, the average life expectancy is higher, there are no private insurance costs and no co-pays. By acting as the singular insurer for the citizen base, the federal government also prevents employers from being burdened with employee healthcare costs. The expense is instead covered by taxes. Furthermore, a single-payer system makes for a stronger hand when negotiating, driving down the cost of medical services and pharmaceuticals.
Among Democratic Socialists, this initiative is a no-brainer. There are many angles of debate as to its efficacy, but the service quality and cost is likely an upgrade for the average American. What’s underestimated is the unwavering fortitude necessary to make this happen. As of 2018, a massive 18.2% of the United States’ GDP fell under the categorization of “health spending.” In 2017, there were 2.66 million jobs in the insurance industry.
Reforming to a single-payer system on behalf of the “greater good” is a swell sentiment from an ivory tower, or better yet, from behind a bar. The concept is more complicated for millions of working Americans whose livelihood and professional qualifications are to be made irrelevant. The implementation of an alternative universal option, comparable to what Germany offers, could mitigate costs per capita while saving some private sector insurance jobs.
Have no doubt, Congresswoman Ocasio-Cortez is a dedicated humanitarian. She has been rightfully critical of family separation and detainment practices at the United States’ southern border. In the impassioned interview above, however, she abuses the trust of her constituents by misrepresenting subject matter and conflating terminology. Here are two examples:
At 1:35, she makes the statement,
“Everyday, immigrants commit crimes at a far lower rate than native-born Americans.”
Here, she cites a statistic for immigrants. Not illegal, not undocumented, but “immigrants”. She uses this point to transition to:
“women and children at the border trying to seek refuge and opportunity.”
By conflating immigrant designations, she betrays the fundamental point of discussion — border security. Shortly after, in an inexplicable leap of logic, she intersects the aforementioned women and children with “Americanism” for the sake of declaring her political adversaries the opposite. In these loosely connected narratives, she fails to make a tangible point about policy, yet manages to monopolize the American identity under her own political agenda.
At 6:58, she makes a poignant statement.
“[The] majority of immigrant overstays, the majority of people who are undocumented, are visa overstay. It’s not because people are crossing a border illegally.”
It’s unfortunate that she never offers the distinction between “undocumented” and “illegal.”
To clarify: Being present in the United States without documentation is a civil issue, not a criminal one, so they are technically not participating in illegal activity. However, the government shutdown, which is the central subject of the panel, pertains to border security. Crossing the border without documentation is, in fact, illegal. While this particular border wall is indulgent and stupid (South America has shovels and ladders), the Congresswoman dramatically misrepresents the matter at hand. In the end, the viewer has to choose between one of two realities: Either Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez lacks the wherewithal to compartmentalize the politics of immigration, or she is willing to act disingenuously to confuse her constituents.
By now many have heard of Ocasio-Cortez’s proposal to tax income over $10 million at 70%. This idea isn’t inherently crazy and has actually been executed previously. And, contrary to the rhetorical drivel by some Republicans, it only applies to each dollar past the $10 million mark, meaning that the first $10 million would be taxed at the normal bracketed rate, and every dollar beyond would be subject to the 70% figure.
A strong argument can be made that the attainment of wealth should be credited to the country that made the feat possible. This 70% marginal tax rate would generate an estimated $720 billion over the course of a decade or $72 billion per year. Furthermore, Congresswoman Ocasio-Cortez has an ambitious application for the additional tax revenue: The “Green New Deal,” intended to address economic inequality and climate change.
Let’s introduce some more numbers:
In 2018 The Treasury Department reported $1.7 trillion in revenue from individual income taxes. That marks a $14 billion increase from 2017 and is the highest such figure in the history of the United States.
Despite the additional $14 billion, spending increased by $127 billion, resulting in a deficit of $113 billion. This reflects the trend of overspending and fiscal irresponsibility characteristic of the U.S. federal government. Had we applied the additional $72 billion estimated from the 70% marginal rate mentioned above, a deficit of $41 billion remains.
Using simple arithmetic, this proposal is pointless. Before the government is gifted such a large increase in revenue, it has to show the capacity to operate responsibly. Ocasio-Cortez is requesting we give the federal government a Porsche for crashing the Mustang. Responsible handling may be little more than fantasy, sadly. Beholden to countless conflicting interests, there is no incentive to operate at a surplus. Even with Ocacio-Cortez’s tax hike, room doesn’t exist for her “Green New Deal” without serious reform and hefty cuts elsewhere in the budget.
Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is brilliant. Her wit, charisma, and leadership are exemplary. She sees the United States as it should be: A place of healthy and cared for people; a country without bigotry; a nation that leaves behind paralyzing austerity.
Simultaneously, she is dangerous. She wrongfully equates good intent with good ideas and ignores compromising pitfalls in exchange for blistering idealism. There’s appealing heroism in the Congresswoman’s political crusade, but behind the fire and flash is rhetorical choreography and manic romanticism — a system of behavior that operates like a pendulum — leading constituents to embrace extremism in response to a turbulent administration.