Newly-inducted congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, whose Manhattan bartender to Washington mainstay story I’m sure you’re all familiar with by this point, just cannot seem to stay out of the news. Her face, one unknown to a vast majority of Americans only a year ago, now appears in what seems like every other article in their news feeds. Of course, you can hardly fault someone who is newsworthy and does newsworthy things for being in the news; however, Ocasio-Cortez has become someone who is much more than just “in the news.” Her level of national prevalence is approaching a genuine cultural phenomenon.
Just the fact that it is growing common to hear questions about why Ocasio-Cortez is “always in the news” says something about the impact she is having on our political culture. Honestly, why is there anything questionable about a politician, especially a new one, being in the news often? Putting her views out there and getting in on the national conversation is a significant part of her job. It is frankly disheartening that we constantly question her newsworthiness while simultaneously tripping over ourselves to give any photogenic Neo-Nazi a platform. The double standard is even more ridiculous because her large news presence is split 50-50 between legitimate political discussions and her being forced to respond to ignorant comments or scandals fabricated by Republican lawmakers combing through her internet history, as if there’s something wrong about being young and having fun.
And that’s the thing. It’s becoming clear that in our current political discourse there really is something wrong with youth and, to a larger extent, the honesty that comes with it. For most of history, politicians have functioned without the internet’s living memory collecting their every action; they were able to completely fictionalize themselves, committing to a constant performance of their most-electable personality. Ocasio-Cortez is a part of the first generation of politicians to have grown up without the ability to control what chapters of your life people can see and judge. It’s a new reality that threatens to destroy the long-practiced theater of politics. The pushback against Ocasio-Cortez is both a symptom of people’s inability to cope with the realization of diversity in Congress, and the fears of practiced politicians that the change she typifies will unravel the dishonesty so long inherent to their career.
The current effects of this generational clash have been politicians like Ocasio-Cortez having to put up with aging congressmen pulling out somewhat-unprofessional content their interns could dredge up from Google and calling it a scandal. Eventually, we will have to seriously answer the question of how the internet changes what we expect from our public servants. When videos of politicians dancing in college are considered newsworthy, we have to question whether the facade of unadulterated professionalism that has pervaded politics for so long is still sustainable, and if we would all be better off just abandoning it all together and admitting that being human and enjoying life shouldn’t make anyone unfit for office.