Joe Biden's AOC Problem

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez
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August 18, 2020

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez struck a dissonant note in an otherwise well-orchestrated second night of the Democratic National Convention. The freshman congresswoman's highly anticipated speech was devoted to seconding Bernie Sanders's nomination. Where much of the programming celebrated the geographic and population diversity of America, Ocasio-Cortez impugned American society for its supposed misogyny, racism, and colonization. She said it was Sanders, not his rivals, who could lead the country out of its overlapping social, economic, and health crises. Unlike Sanders, however, Ocasio-Cortez said hardly a word about the actual Democratic nominee. On Monday, Sanders urged his movement to back Biden in November. On Tuesday, we learned why he felt it was necessary to be so emphatic. The reason is voters like Ocasio-Cortez.

It's no secret that Millennials and Zoomers trend left. Racially and ethnically diverse, and less affiliated with religious institutions than their elders, the rising generation is reshaping both the Democratic Party and national politics. Ocasio-Cortez is its avatar. Her failure to endorse Biden forcefully is a reminder that, for all the inroads Democrats have made among suburbanites and college-educated white voters, the party is still worried about turnout among young people and minorities. For all the change Biden promises, it's not enough for Ocasio-Cortez and Generation Woke.

I doubt the appeals from Caroline Kennedy, Chuck Schumer, Bill Clinton, Colin Powell, Cindy McCain, and John Kerry did much to change their minds. If America has a ruling class, there can be no doubt after tonight who it backs for president. It's not the incumbent.

This second night was more focused than the first. Biden assumed center stage as the nominee, but he did so in a revealing way. The highlight of the evening was the roll call of the states, territories, Puerto Rico, and the District of Columbia in which a mix of elected officials, party activists, and men and women from the community touted their homes and told their stories. It was hokey, fun, gripping, and happy. And it showed how Biden is content to let others have the spotlight. That in itself would be a departure from the two most recent presidents.

It took Biden 48 years in national politics and three attempts to get from the Senate to the Democratic nomination. In the primaries, he assembled a winning coalition similar to the one that gave Democrats control of the House in 2018. Energizing that coalition to vote during a pandemic, amidst concerns about his age and drift to the left, is no easy task. One that's made all the more difficult by the congresswoman known as AOC.