Cepeda column: Despite her haters, youth is not wasted on Ocasio-Cortez
CHICAGO — It must be true that the widest cultural gulfs have always been due to age.
This is the only charitable way to explain the simultaneous reactions of fanatical adoration and pearl-clutching disgust over a tweeted video of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez dancing in college.
Not dirty dancing, mind you. Not suggestive or scantily clad or in any way undignified dancing. All the newly sworn-in Bronx congresswoman did in this 8-year-old video is some goofy (borderline geeky), happy, joyful, youthful twirling and hopping that would be perfectly appropriate for church.
But for all its innocence and charm, the outcry by Ocasio-Cortez’s detractors was typically sexist, puerile and telling.
She was called a know-it-all, a clueless nitwit, a hag; one Twitter post suggested she stick to pole dancing. Meanwhile, her fans responded with overwhelmingly fawning declarations of support.
In coffee shops, hospital waiting rooms and bus stops, debates over the leaked video pitted people who had the tone of scolding, close-minded parents that think they’re keeping the nation from getting itself into trouble against younger people who see a legitimately relatable politician.
Put it into perspective: Ocasio-Cortez graduated high school in 2007. The 2007 Mindset List, an annual compilation of facts about incoming college freshmen, designed to help professors understand the world view of their new students, had this to say about Ocasio-Cortez’s cohort:
— For them, “Ctrl + Alt + Del” is as basic as “ABC.”
— They have never gotten excited over a telegram, a long-distance call or a fax.
— Bert and Ernie are old enough to be their parents.
— There have never been dress codes in restaurants.
— They have never seen a First Lady in a fur coat.
— They never heard Howard Cosell call a game on television.
— They have always been able to make photocopies at home and phone calls from planes.
Many people involved in the Ocasio-Cortez controversy glommed on to the idea that the Republican finger-waggers disapprove of women dancing, or of politicians sullying the solemnity of their elected office by cutting a rug — who remembers any dust-up about British Prime Minister Theresa May or Donald Trump dancing while on-duty, or ex-Texas Gov. Rick Perry or former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie jiggling it on network TV? But it isn’t the dancing.
Nor is it her supposed hypocrisy for dressing well during her first days in Washington, even though she had said it would be difficult for her to scrape together enough money to move there before her new salary kicked in.
Some of it is surely the way in which she is — gasp! — proud to be Puerto Rican and unafraid to speak her mind about the inequality and economic issues she campaigned on.
But I’m betting that what gets stuck in her haters’ craws the most is her youthfulness. Ed Rollins, a Republican political strategist, almost said as much, calling her a “little girl” with a “big mouth” on Lou Dobbs’ cable TV show.
If you like Ocasio-Cortez, watching her be buoyant, graceful and fun is a breath of fresh air. If you dislike her, it’s offensive to have idealistic, unjaded and lighthearted juvenescence shaken in your face.
This is especially so for a portion of the country — older, white, non-college-educated — that already feels threatened by the projections about “their country” becoming increasingly young, non-white and highly educated.
It’s difficult getting old. The body hurts, opportunities dwindle, cultural currency goes away and people on TV and in the newspaper start talking — some, gleefully — about your generation dying off soon.
Think about how downright alien today’s youth must seem to elders in their 60s and beyond — especially those young people who see absolutely nothing wrong with videotaping themselves dancing in the halls of Congress, as Ocasio-Cortez did after her college video was leaked.
This is not to besmirch everyone eligible for Social Security. Politics being what it is, Ocasio-Cortez will always have a contingent of haters, people who openly deride her because they can’t say she’s “unlikable” in crowds that recognize that label for the naked misogyny it is.
There will always be people claiming she’s “unqualified,” even though Ocasio-Cortez has an undergraduate degree in international relations with a minor in economics and has worked as an educator, a publisher and a community organizer.
She’ll never stop carrying the baggage of being a woman from an underrepresented population. But look on the bright side: At 29, Ocasio-Cortez will someday grow out of getting belittled for being young.
Esther Cepeda’s email address is email@example.com, or follow her on Twitter: @estherjcepeda.
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