New York’s Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, in a world of grey or greyer men and women, radiates charisma and high-energy promise.
She exudes the kind of new-brush enthusiasm that might eventually drain that infamous swamp. Newly-elected to Congress at just 29 she, in recent weeks, turned an online attack to her great advantage. A faceless opponent tweeted a clip of a student-days Ocasio-Cortez dancing on a rooftop, implying she was a “clueless nitwit”. Recognising an open goal as quickly as Bertie Ahern did in his mercurial pomp, she responded, by politicising the botched ambush. She accused Republicans of believing that “having fun should be disqualifying or illegal”. She elaborated: “I hear the GOP thinks women dancing are scandalous,” she tweeted, along with a video of her dancing joyfully outside her new office on Capitol Hill.
Democratic Princess 1, Republican Troll 0.
This virtual America’s Got Political Talent skirmish does not, by a long way, suggest she might be a new Roosevelt or even a new Merkle but she is adept at traditional, nail-on-the-head campaigning as well. In a three-sentence message, she earlier told her life story. She told of her father’s early death, her cleaner mother’s struggles and her own bar jobs ending with the kind of punchline that resonates with those falling behind and will endure: “I am the people I work for”.
It would be unwise to burden Ocasio-Cortez with too much hope, at least until she proves she is more substantial than the latest shooting star. Yet, in the world of the frightening, clearly unstable President Donald Trump and bumbling, tottering towards somewhere as yet unknown prime minister Theresa May, it is hard not to wonder if she or, say, California’s Senator Kamal Harris — who all but joined fellow Democrat Elizabeth Warren in the 2020 White House race yesterday — might ride to the rescue and help fill the leadership vacuums that have become such a threat to the world’s liberal democracies.
This deficit applies to this country too though primarily at a subsidiary level. Sadly, most Dáil members — almost Ocasio-Cortez’s peers — under 40 seem more chips off the old, immovable block than the kind of politician who might, as she has done, propose a 70% wealth tax. Most, even Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, seem far closer to Law Library fuddydom than, say another nascent Democratic redeemer the high-octane Texan Beto O’Rourke. Maybe, just as the young Enda Kenny did, they might blossom late in their careers but there hardly seems an urgent need to dust off the old, say-it-all sobriquets of Irish political history — The Big Fella, The Long Fella or most revealing and sinister of all, The Boss.
Leadership is no more than a kind of charisma and courage, supported by ambition, imagination, the capacity to manage and deliver a tolerable proportion of promises made. Despite that, and even allowing for rearview mirror delusions, it is difficult to point to even one democratic Western leader who has the heft to lead and deliver wide positive change. In a world crying out for unifying, positive leaders to recommit to social equity, we must settle for self-promoting “social influencers”. Disengagement costs us dearly.