Members Only | February 23, 2021 | Reading Time: 4 minutes
The fundamental and winning difference between Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ted Cruz
She gets it. He doesn't.
While Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was raising about $5 million for residents in a state Ted Cruz represents, Cruz decided it was the perfect time to take a vacation. Then he deflected blame for his awful decision onto his two young daughters. That happened less than two months after Ocasio-Cortez had to dodge a mob trying to harm or kill her on January 6 during an insurrection that left five dead, scores injured and our democracy on the brink, an insurrection sparked in part by men like Cruz.
The contrast between these speaks volumes not only about the differences between the gentlewoman from New York and the senator from Texas, but where the outer polls of the two parties currently stand. One is based on policies designed to help the vulnerable even in the face of harsh critiques from supposed moderates. The other is faking populism to hold fast to a shrinking, less-diverse base in service of an elite that cares more about power and comfort than improving the lives of the struggling.
In short: Ocasio-Cortez gets it; Cruz does not. Democrats should be excited to have her as a high-profile representative of their party. Republicans who neither worship at the altar of Donald Trump nor whose primary goal is to impress Fox News personalities should be terrified that Cruz continues speaking for theirs.
The obvious genuineness of Ocasio-Cortez is the thing that can crack a big red wall and lead to the kind of cross ideological-interracial coalition Democrats claim to want.
I suspect that voters in red states and red districts understand that truth, even if it’s hard to capture that sentiment in polling data or voting records. I say that because I’m one of those red state-red district voters who has long been more impressed with Ocasio-Cortez, whose ultimate goal seems to actually be the betterment of the everyday American and non-citizen, than I have been with the likes of Cruz, who gushes about freedom and liberty while comfortably undermining democracy when it suits himself and others of the privileged class.
When I speak to or overhear Republicans and independents in my neck of the woods in South Carolina and North Carolina, it’s clear that they get that, too. It’s why I believe Democrats would be foolish to buy into the notion that supposedly “far left” policies will turn off conservatives and conservative-leaning voters in red states.
I’m no political strategist. But I know the obvious genuineness of leaders like Ocasio-Cortez is the thing that can crack what seems like a big red wall and lead to the kind of cross ideological-interracial coalition Democrats claim to want. I know Ocasio-Cortez would not have foolishly deregulated the energy sector in Texas so severely it would lead to an 11-year-old boy freezing to death in his mobile home and a grandmother frozen in her backyard.
I know that the non-college white voter has been fleeing the Democratic Party since the Reagan era. I get that just about any policy that can be perceived as helping Black and brown Americans loses support among the white-working class—even if those policies will help the white-working class. I haven’t forgotten who provided an incompetent-dangerous bigot like Trump his most undying support. I will never forget. But I also know the longer Ocasio-Cortez keeps doing what she is doing—being who she clearly is—and other Democrats follow her lead rather than trying to turn her into just another politician, the more likely a breakthrough becomes, one in which party affiliation and race will no longer be the primary reasons the most vulnerable Americans find it difficult to come together.
The more often leaders like Ocasio-Cortez step up during horrific events, like the one Texans have been grappling with for more than a week, the less effective the demonization of the Green New Deal or pro-choice policies will be. Cruz and the like will no longer be able to use those things as bogeymen to gin up votes to retain power they’ve repeatedly proven they don’t deserve.
I don’t agree with Ocasio-Cortez on everything. I’m not a hard-left liberal. I’m not convinced the Green New Deal is the best way to deal with climate change (though it might be) or that Medicare for All is the ideal way to get us to universal health care (though it might be) or that a $15 minimum wage is the holy grail in our fight against poverty (maybe it is). I’m one of those pragmatic South Carolina voters who understood the appeal of Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren.
Just as Barack Obama’s embrace of same-sex marriage didn’t turn off the most conservative among us, neither will $50,000 in student loan relief or a push to “defund” the police, even if they aren’t our priorities. We want leaders whom we can trust to place our interests ahead of their own. Ocasio-Cortez routinely does that. A few policy disagreements will never blind us to that.
—Issac J. Bailey
Issac J. Bailey is a South Carolina-based journalist who has won numerous writing and reporting awards, was a 2014 Harvard University Nieman Fellow and is the Batten Professor of Public Policy at Davidson College. He’s been published by The New York Times, Washington Post, CNN, Politico Magazine, Time, among many other publications. He recently released his third book, Why Didn’t We Riot: A Black Man in Trumpland.
Published in cooperation with Alternet.
Issac J. Bailey is a South Carolina-based journalist who has won numerous writing and reporting awards, was a 2014 Harvard University Nieman Fellow and is the Batten Professor of Public Policy at Davidson College. He's been published by The New York Times, Washington Post, CNN, Politico Magazine, Time, among many other publications. He recently released his third book, Why Didn't We Riot: A Black Man in Trumpland.